Image: Salvador Dali, Premonition of Civil War
Hard Rain Journal 8-31-07: "Tyranny is a Continuum" -- Robert Kennedy, Jr. & George Soros Debate Fascism, the News Media, & the Role of the People
On a recent Ring of Fire broadcast (8-18-07), two heroic fellow citizens, Bobby Kennedy, Jr. and George Soros engaged in an important and inspiring debate on where we are as a nation and what must be done to rescue this open society. I have transcribed a portion of it, and posted it here to further the dialogue and encourage greater activism.
Bobby has distinguished himself as a fierce and formidable protector of the environment in his work with the National Resources Defense Council. (See Crimes Against Nature, Rolling Stone, 12/03)
He was also perhaps the first prominent American political leader to dare utter the term "fascism" in regard to the direction this country is being taken, and has urged the impeachment of Bush and Cheney as a "civics lesson" if nothing else.
In 2006, he upped the stakes by declaring that the 2004 election stolen, and documented how it was done (Rolling Stone, 6/06)
George Soros is a billionaire financial speculator, stock investor, philanthropist, political activist, and author. He is chairman of Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Institute, and has provided vital support for pro-democracy movements of historical and global signfigance, e.g., the Solidarity labor movement in Poland, the Czechoslovakian human rights organization Charter 77, and Georgia's Rose Revolution.
He also put his money where his heart is by burning many millions of dollars in an effort to defeat the Bush-Cheney regime in the 2004 presidential election.
On a weekly basis, Bobby co-hosts Ring of Fire on Air America Radio, with his friend and colleague, the indomitable Mike Papantonio. Ring of Fire is, indeed, the best weekly news and opinion magazine on the air waves. Imagine how different our public debate would be if Ring of Fire took the slot of Sixty Minutes or 20/20 or Face the Nation or ABC Week in Review or the PBS News Hour. (For a refreshing alternative, tune into GoLeftTV.)
Is the US news media the problem, as Bobby suggests? Or are the American people as a whole the problem, as George Soros suggests?
The answer is not either/or, of course, it is both.
Yes, the US mainstream news media has done worse than fail our way of life, they have betrayed it. And yes, we should all know this by now, and those who still listen to Jim Lehrer or Tim Russert or Katy Couric or George Stephanopoulos as if they had credibility are simply lying to themselves, and taking the easy way out.
Please spend a few moments reading this dialogue, and then share it and discuss it with other concerned citizens. -- Richard Power
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: I have always been a big fan of yours because of your love for this country. You were born in Hungary, you were raised in totalitarian regimes, and yet you fell in love with America, you see that it is in my uncle's words, the "last, best hope for mankind." And it has been a great disappointment to you, and to myself, and many others, over the past six years, America seems to have lost its sense of leadership, its moral authority, and our prestige in the world. The book, The Age of Fallibility is your attempt at analyzing what went wrong with America, and why we are no longer serving that leadership role in the world. One of the things you talk about is the respect for truth.
George Soros: It is really amazing that we have a free media, and yet, nevertheless the leadership has been able to distort the truth to such an extent that they are acting on a false conception of what they need to do, and I think it has a lot to do with the way they exploited the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Declaring war on terror was accepted by the public ... But the way that is has been used has really been counterproductive, we have a much bigger terrorist threat today, and our security has really been endangered, because our power and influence in the world has been impaired by how the leadership has exploited the war on terror. It has also had a very negative consequence for the world at large, because not only are we less secure, but the rest of the world is in turmoil. And what had been a figure of speech, "war on terror," has become a real war on a number of fronts. ... I find it amazing that the President can keep on invoking the "war on terror" and actually claim that there is still victory in sight ...
RFK, Jr.: One of the frameworks that I disagree with in the book is that you really blame the American people for re-electing President Bush -- and I have to say this, George, I published an article in Rolling Stone, which shows pretty decisively that he was not re-elected, and in fact, that they stole the election -- and you blame the American people for not caring more about these issues. One of the themes that we have had on this show is really targeting the American press, and saying, you know, in the beginning of our national history, our greatest leaders understood that democracy cannot last if we have an uninformed public, that the principle mechanism today for informing the public is the American press, and that after 1988 when Ronald Reagan abolished the fairness doctrine and lifted from the electronic media the obligation that they serve the public interest, ever since [the American press] have served their own corporate interests, their shareholders' interests, by giving us sex and celebrity gossip and very little in the way of news and real analysis, and that this is one of the big problems in our country, it is not that the American people don't care -- because I speak all over the country, in red states, to Republican audiences, and people deeply care about these issues when they understand them. The problem is we have a press that is not telling the people what is going on.
Soros: Bobby, first of all, I am delighted that there is something about which we disagree, because otherwise the conversation would get less interesting. Let's pursue the disagreement. The media is a business, and the business caters to the market. Now there is a problem with that, because of course the media ought also to be an institution of an open society, and there is a problem with the media not fulfilling its institutional role, we only have maybe two and a half newspapers left that actually serve that institutional role and even they were wayward during the early months after the "war on terror" was declared. That's how we got into Iraq. But there is also something wrong with the public, because the public wants to be entertained, and not informed, and so the media as a business caters to the public. If the public insisted on information, there would be services that would provide that information. And the people who are interested, actually, these days, get a lot of their information from the Internet. It is really up to people to find the news sources they want, and it is really up to the people who actually care about these issues to engage in discussion with others, and try to persuade them they we are really being very badly misled.
RFK, Jr.: George, the debate that I think you should read is the debate that took place when the fairness doctrine was passed at the dawn of commercial radio in 1928, and both Republicans and Democrats invoked these old arguments that occurred between Jefferson on one side, who was advocating full democracy, and Hamilton and Adams, and some of the other founders, who were saying, no, democracy should remain just in the hands of the landed classes. They weren't snobs, what they said, and Jefferson agreed, was that an uninformed public will trade a hundred years of hard fought civil rights for a half hour of welfare, and the first tyrant or demagogue or religious fanatic that comes along and essentially promises them a three hundred dollar tax break ... And Jefferson said, yes, that is true, but the remedy is not to deprive the public of power, but rather to forcibly inform the public and educate them, and that's why both in Massachusetts and Virginia, after the revolution, Jefferson an Adams enacted these very strong mandates for public education, mandatory public education, because if you weren't informed, you were regard as a threat to the whole society, if you have large amounts on uninformed people, those people will choose to listen to sex or celebrity gossip rather than the news, and they become a threat to our society. So the obligation of the press, of the electronic media, was to inform the whole public. Now, if you own a printing press, you can write anything you want, but if you are broadcasting on the air waves (and that's where most Americans get their news), that's a publicly owned resource, and you have to use that to inform the public, and to advance our democracy, and Ronald Reagan abolished that rule in 1988, and that is when you see the devolution of the American press, and this lack of interest now, among the American public, in our democracy.
Soros: You are right about the excessive concentration of the media in a very few hands, and the lack of choice and pluralism. And, in fact, in the so-called red states usually you only have one source of news and that tends to be from the right side ... So in that sense, you are right. But now, the whole industry is in turmoil, and actually, with the advent of the Internet and so on, and even the networks don't have the audiences that use to have. So it is really up to people to find the news source that they want. And it is really up to the people who care about these issues to engage in discussion with others, and to try to persuade them that we are being really very badly misled.
RFK, Jr.: You donated or spent almost $27.5 million on the last campaign, trying to get George Bush out of the White House, and you made a lot of enemies on the right. You are an outspoken man. One of the comments that you made during the campaign was that some of the propaganda techniques that had been used by the Bush administration were reminiscent of the propaganda techniques that you had seen used in Hungary, first by the Nazis, and later on by the Communists, but actually more skillful because of the technological capacity and the degree of sophistication. You took a beating for that. You were trying to make the right wing look radical, but instead they used their very sophisticated propaganda techniques to make you look like a radical. In your book, Age of Fallibility, and it's a wonderful book, you elucidated on that experience and what your impressions are, and you reaffirm some of those comparisons. I want to read you something that I keep on my wall, and it's a list of the early warning signs of fascism. There are fourteen characteristics of fascism, or totalitarianism, that Lawrence Britt put together, after reviewing the commonalities between seven fascist regimes: Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos' Greece, Pinochet's Chile and Suharto's Indonesia. These are the warning signs: a powerful and continuing nationalism, a disdain for human rights, the identification of enemies or scapegoats as a unifying cause, the supremacy of the military, controlled mass media, the cultivation of fear as a governing tool, the obsession with national security, religion and government become intertwined, corporate power is protected, labor power is suppressed, disdain for intellectuals and the arts, obsession with crime and punishment, rampant cronyism and corruption, and fraudulent elections. All of those are things we see with this administration, and I have made the comparison myself, and also taken the beating for it, but this isn't to say that this administration is a fascist dictatorship, but tyranny is a continuum, and if we are to survive as a free people, we need to be able to recognize all the milestones of that continuum.
Soros: The list you gave is a very good one. I will try to memorize it, but I do not know if I can count up to fourteen. But it is a good list. And, of course, open societies and democracies are always endangered, but the big thing we have to remember is that we still are a democracy. We do have strong institutions. We have the separation of powers. All of those things are endangered. One of the nefarious effects of the war on terror, which is a war that will never end, is that you now have a war president, who claims an extension of powers, which may or may not be appropriate in a time of war, but certainly undermines the very foundations of our democracy. Our democracy is in danger, but it is still our democracy, and when I draw the comparison with Hitler's Germany, the first thing that I point out is that we are a democracy and they were not.
RFK, Jr.: Except that Germany started out as a democracy ...
Soros: And that is the danger.
RFK, Jr.: Hitler was elected in a democracy by the most educated people on Earth.
Soros: Right, and that is why we really need to go out of our way to defend democracy. With all of that, however, I really was reminded particularly of the Nazi propaganda machine when President Bush said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Because that doesn't leave any room for criticizing the President's policy, and pointing out that they are counterproductive, and that we now have a bigger terrorist threat, and we are less safe than when we embarked on it. He has declared that any kind of opposition is unpatriotic and that is a big threat to our democratic and open society, and that is what I am fighting for.
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