The New Propaganda Wing of the Obama Administration

September 21, 2009

“‘Artists’ as Servants of Power”—In a big conference call with artists on August 10th, one Mike Skolnik explained, “I have been asked by folks in the White House and folks in the NEA” (the National Endowment for the Arts) to “help bring together the independent artists’ community around the country.”  Why?  Well, “You are the thought leaders.  You are the ones that…tell our country and our young people sort of what to do and what to be into, and what’s cool and what’s not cool.”  Given their cultural power, he wanted to encourage these artists “to support some of the president’s initiatives”.

Again, not to put too fine a point on it, this sounds pretty Orwellian to me.  I assume there’s an implied quid pro quo:  If you make us some pro-administration art, the federal government can subsidize you through the NEA.  (This is only the latest reason the NEA should be closed.)  Isn’t a government’s commissioning pro-government art to engineer public opinion supposed to be limited to places like the old Soviet Union?  Even if no subsidy whatsoever is involved, I still think it sounds pretty scary—an unholy alliance between the highest levels of a statist government (“I have been asked by the White House”) and the cultural elite (“You are the ones that…tell…our yong people…what’s cool…”).

But I forget—you may not have seen the Utah video!  If my calling Obama’s propaganda “scary” sounds a little over-the-top, watch this creepy propaganda video which had started being shown to elementary-age children in Utah public schools (I believe it has since been canceled for any future school performances, but inasmuch as The New York Times and other mainstream press, as far as I can tell, have again declined to cover the story, I have limited information).  In it, Hollywood celebrities tell the absorbent little ones, among other things, “I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama,” and “I pledge to be a servant to our president…”—!

As Mark Steyn said in a slightly different context (the “study materials” originally created by the White House and others to accompany Obama’s telescreen speech to public schools a few weeks ago), I think it is “unbecoming to a self-governing republic” to go around saying “I pledge to be a servant to our president” at all, much less create propaganda art to try to rub it off on our nation’s children.  Sure, we expect that sort of thing out of the old Soviet Union or any of a number of dictator-centered Third World parts of the world to this day, but American civilization was created, in no small part, to protect us from such barbarism.

10 Responses to “The New Propaganda Wing of the Obama Administration”

  1. DennisVega Says:

    Hey, great blog…but I don’t understand how to add your site in my rss reader. Can you Help me, please :)

  2. chillingworth Says:

    Thanks! Sorry about the delay, I’m new to this kind of thing myself, but I just looked into it, and yes, I think I can help you:

    Try going to your RSS reader and adding this URL as a feed:
    It’s just the main address of the blog with “/feed/” added at the end.

    Alternatively, your browser may have a little RSS icon on the toolbar when you’re viewing the blog; try clicking on that.

    If neither of those works, read this WordPress help page and you’ll know as much as I do. But let me know if you still can’t get it to work, and I’ll try to learn more about it.

  3. Glenn Beck Says:

    The assertion that “a government’s commissioning pro-government art to engineer public opinion [is] supposed to be limited to places like the old Soviet Union,” in addition to being a disastrously unconvincing and poorly worded attempt at Glenn Beckian-style hyperbole, betrays a grave and fundamental understanding of one of this nation’s most longstanding democratic pracies. The government as speaker has been a staple of our republic since its inception, and it is foolish to even suggest that government speech is an unwelcome component of the larger public discourse. And as if emphasis were needed, The Supreme Court held this very year in an unanimous opinion Pleasant Grove City v. Summum that the government as speaker knows no bounds. Thus, unless you are prepared to contend that this nation’s highest court, in a unanimous voice, has set our nation on a path toward Orwellianism, I would strongly suggest you brush up on American history. Indeed, your arguments are so poorly reasoned that it takes little more than a rudimentary understanding of this nation’s institutions to rip gaping holes through your thinly veiled rhetoric.

    • In the case of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, et al. vs. Summum, the Supreme Court held that a town which displays a Ten Commandments monument (the “government speech” to which you allude) is not therefore also constitutionally required to allow some weird New Age religion to set up its own monument on the same public property. Do you honestly see no difference whatsoever between the Ten Commandments monument and “a government’s commissioning pro-government art to engineer public opinion”? You’re basically accusing me of painting with too broad a brush and being obtusely oblivious to nuance, but it looks to me as you’re the one painting with the broad brush here.

      • Glenn Beck Says:

        Again, your response is disappointingly inadequate. Whatever the distinctions between endorsing religion and endorsing your own administration, the general principle remains; the government as speaker knows no bounds (outside of the Establishment Clause and other rights-protecting provisions of course). The Court’s holding in Summum would apply to all forms of government speech, irrespective of content.

      • Glenn Beck Says:

        P.S. – It was not the “town” that displayed the Ten Commandments monument, it was a private group. Please read cases before commenting on them.

      • Cool it, man! The Supreme Court in that case decided that under the circumstances, the town’s acceptance of that gift from a private group was as good as the town’s putting it there itself—in effect, it was “government speech”, which was the whole reason you brought up the case in the first place, remember?

        There may be situations in which it is difficult to tell whether a government entity is speaking on its own behalf or is providing a forum for private speech, but this case does not present such a situation. Permanent monuments displayed on public property typically represent government speech.

        (top of section III of the opinion, page 7 (10) of this PDF)

        Anyway, if you want to split hairs over word use, I said that the town displayed the monument (i. e., that the monument continued to stand on the town’s property, regardless of its origin), not that the town put it there.

        The main problem with the rest of your argument is that you fall into the common error of confusing constitutionality with good public policy. Take abortion, for example: Some who think that abortion ought to be legal (as a matter of good public policy) assume that anti-abotion laws must therefore be unconstitutional. Non sequitur. It doesn’t follow. I called two stories about pro-Obama propaganda (one instance of which may not even have been produced or funded by the government, by the way) “scary”, “creepy”, and (quoting someone else) “unbecoming to a self-governing republic”—in other words, I was arguing that it was not good policy. (My argument was a little more complex than that, but let’s start with that.) You responded by bringing up an irrelevant Supreme Court case. If you are trying to imply that, because the Supreme Court may not attempt to interfere with pro-Obama propaganda as unconstitutional, it is somehow illegitimate or ignorant of me to debate whether such propaganda is a bad idea, that’s obviously wrong. If, on the other hand, you are implying that our country has a long, proud tradition of presidential administrations secretly funding propaganda in their own favor, that sounds like a potentially interesting contribution to this conversation, and I would love to hear some examples.

      • Glenn Beck Says:

        Your exact words – “a government’s commissioning pro-government art to engineer public opinion [is] supposed to be limited to places like the old Soviet Union.”

        This assertion goes far beyond merely saying that what the administration did was bad policy. The assertion implies, if not expresses, that what the administration did was somehow anti-American. And what better way to refute an outrageous charge such as yours than with an explication of this nation’s constitutional norms. In short, Summum is not only relevant, is it essential to our conversation. If one is to contend that a government action is anti-American, a wise adversary would respond that the government action is enshrined in our Constitution, thus leaving no doubt as to the Americanism (is that a word?) of the action. Unfortunately, such a rational line of reasonsing may not find a comfortable home in this blog.

        So to summarize, I have not confused a discussion of constitutional principles with a discussion of public policy. Quite to the contrary, I have used constitutional principles to refute the ill conceived claim that the administration speaking through the medium of art is somehow akin to the “old Soviet Union” (as opposed to the “new” Soviet Union?).

      • I think I’ve made my point. May the readers judge between us.

  4. Glenn Beck Says:

    *sic – “misunderstanding of one of this nation’s longeststanding democratic practices.”

    My apologies, I had relations with a strange man last night and seem to have a slight fever.

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