FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Exit, the Vicar of Visuals

by RICHARD RHAMES

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, (Aldous) Huxley and (George) Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

Neil Postman, 1985

On Saturday, August 18th, Michael Deaver died quietly at his home. From 1966 to 1985, he was steward to the political advancement of a dimming former TV and movie personality, Ronald Reagan. Deaver’s Washington Post obituary characterized him as the “Reagan Image-Maker” who “changed American politics.” The Post reminded readers of Time magazine’s naming Deaver the “Vicar of Visuals.” Post writer Patricia Sullivan called him a “media maestro who shaped President Ronald Reagan’s public image for 20 years.” She asserted that he “introduced the ‘photo-op’ which positioned the former actor in visually irresistible locations where troublesome reporters’ questions could not intrude.”

As a former ad-man/public relations guy, Deaver simply brought standard sales techniques (ordinarily used to convince people that they can’t live without some planet-killing disposable doo-dad) to the political arena. Of course, selling murderous thugs and morons to the population as “leaders and statesmen” has long been a staple of American politics. Deaver certainly broke no new ground there. But he happened along at a time when the country was ripe for a coup. With most of its institutions hollowed out and useless, the population addicted to the manipulative fantasy-world of television, and a media system too lazy and prostituted to resist or question Deaver’s “line of the day,” the stage was set for the waging of class war from above.

Maybe you’ve noticed–it continues today.

Rather than advocate for particular policies in an intellectually serious and honest manner, Reagan’s class war was sold to the public through a series of attractive images. They had to be. Mark Hertsgaard observed in his useful 1988 work “On Bended Knee…” that the Reagan administration’s masterminds accomplished nothing less than, “one of the greatest government-engineered transfers of wealth in modern US history.” Hertsgaard notes that since “Reagan’s extreme views put him well to the right of the majority of the American people.” If he and his friends were going to pick their audience’s pockets they needed distractions. Said Reagan insider David Gergen (later advisor to Slick William Clinton), “The whole theory going in was, if we go to the country and just try to sell conservatism straight up, it’s not going to work.” Enter Deaver and his understanding that “marketing a product required the same simple message over and over again.”

So Reagan’s huge tax cuts for the wealthy and the cuts to Medicare, Social Security, housing and basic support for working people became “economic reform.” When the reactionary cuts were passed, Deaver sent Reagan to a bar where the compliant press corps captured cynically manipulative images of him “hoisting a beer with the working stiffs.” And so it went. The right-wing agenda was implemented and even if a few troubling details happened to make it into the coverage, there was always a comforting and masking image present to visually overwhelm unpleasant reality. In post-literate America, nobody of importance was paying much attention to the facts—least of all the fawning media.

Deaver’s obits often mentioned his spinning of the “housing starts” story. As newly deregulated loan policies were unleashed and massive deficit spending on weapons systems poured no-questions-asked money into the economy, a bubble began to form. Rather than simply announce that home construction numbers were up a bit, Deaver famously created a visual. He later recalled the 1983 effort. After some quick political analysis and picking the south as a key area, “…we flew down there and went up to a framed-up house with a couple of hard hats and Reagan had a sign in front of the house showing the line going up on housing starts. Now the press can say , ‘They brought us all the way down here to Fort Worth, Texas, just to make the President look good.’ But the guy sitting there with his six-pack that night is looking at it and saying [here Deaver imitated the viewer, leaning sideways and squinting at an imaginary television set], ‘What’s the President doing down there with those hard hats? Oh! Housing starts have gone up. Things must be getting better.” (See, Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee…)

As Bill Moyers observed years ago, the sea-change that was accomplished by the Deaver crew (with connivance from supine corporate media minions) was to fundamentally alter the political landscape so that now constituencies were “courted not with policies but with images.”

It’s a short hop to the present and our time of entrenched downward mobility, more bi-partisan tax cuts for the rich, more housing bubbles, ruthless loan-sharking, corporate crime, and murderous wars of aggression. Today it’s run out of an administration fronted by an old-money guy (cousin to the Queen of England) who courted a constituency by touting schizophrenic nonsequitors like “compassionate conservatism,” affecting a cowboy personna and claiming a Reagan-like passion for “clearing brush” on his “ranch”—complete with mandatory photo-ops focusing on sweat, cowboy boots and big belt-buckle. Later, after “The Events of September 11th” the latter-day Deaver-ites ran a massive disinformation scam on the trembling public, and promptly attacked two defenseless countries.

The brush-cutter-in-chief donned a flight suit complete with bulging inflatable manhood protector and swaggered/waddled onto the Abraham Lincoln flight deck to announce (somewhat prematurely) a great victory in Mesopotamia. He served a plastic turkey to US mercenaries in that shattered land. He is not only post-literate, but apparently pre-verbal.

Mike’s tradition endures.

R.I.P. baby.

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine whose place is just north of the Kennebunkport town line. When the swaggering cod-piece king is in town one dreams of Paris. He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

 

 

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rivera Sun
Nonviolent History: South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Boycott
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail