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Monday, November 29, 2004

Chomsky on Election 2004

a little off the narrow topic of this blog, but worth the diversion: noam chomsky has written a gem-studded piece on the lessons of the 2004 elections - or rather, on the futility of trying to draw conclusions about the "national mood" from the election results, and the usefulness of the public opinion polls that have been suppressed in assessing opportunities for organizing. the findings: americans strongly support the progressive agenda. the essay can be viewed here:

some excerpts:

As usual, the electoral campaigns were run by the PR industry, which in its regular vocation sells toothpaste, life-style drugs, automobiles, and other commodities. Its guiding principle is deceit. Its task is to undermine the "free markets" we are taught to revere: mythical entities in which informed consumers make rational choices... (businesses) seek to delude consumers to choose their product over some virtually identical one.


In 2000, "issue awareness" – knowledge of the stands of the candidate-producing organizations on issues – reached an all-time low. Currently available evidence suggests it may have been even lower in 2004. About 10% of voters said their choice would be based on the candidate's "agendas/ideas/platforms/goals"; 6% for Bush voters, 13% for Kerry voters (Gallup). The rest would vote for what the industry calls "qualities" or "values," which are the political counterpart to toothpaste ads.


In some polls, "when the voters were asked to choose the most urgent moral crisis facing the country, 33 percent cited `greed and materialism,' 31 percent selected `poverty and economic justice,' 16 percent named abortion, and 12 percent selected gay marriage" (Pax Christi). In others, "when surveyed voters were asked to list the moral issue that most affected their vote, the Iraq war placed first at 42 percent, while 13 percent named abortion and 9 percent named gay marriage" (Zogby).


A large majority of the public believe that the US should accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court, sign the Kyoto protocols, allow the UN to take the lead in international crises, and rely on diplomatic and economic measures more than military ones in the "war on terror."


Few if any commentators noted that Spanish voters last March were taking about the same position as the large majority of Americans: voting for removing Spanish troops unless they were under UN direction. The major differences between the two countries are that in Spain, public opinion was known, while here it takes an individual research project to discover it; and in Spain the issue came to a vote, almost unimaginable in the deteriorating formal democracy here. These results indicate that activists have not done their job effectively.


overwhelming majorities of the public favor expansion of domestic programs: primarily health care (80%), but also aid to education and Social Security.


Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to try to induce pessimism, hopelessness and despair, the real lessons are quite different. They are encouraging and hopeful. They show that there are substantial opportunities for education and organizing, including the development of potential electoral alternatives. As in the past, rights will not be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions – a few large demonstrations after which one goes home, or pushing a lever in the personalized quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic politics." As always in the past, the tasks require day-to-day engagement to create – in part re-create – the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies.


Yesh Gvul
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