MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A photoshopped image of journalist and author Fran Lebowitz (not to be confused with Annie Leibovitz the famed photographer) has been making its away around the internet. The image may be created on software, but the quotation from Lebowitz is unerringly accurate: "In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy."
Perhaps one can argue that there is still hope for democracy, the kind of faint pulse that an experienced paramedic detects when others have declared a person found lying in the street dead. Perhaps there is the chance that defibrillation or emergency surgery can yet resurrect an actual robust democracy and not just the appearance of one. In short, the last rites haven't yet been given to democracy in the US, but the priest is hovering near the body.
Lebowitz's quotation suggests the fundamentally overarching reality that a global oligarchical system has, at an accelerated pace, been steering democracies to achieve plutocratic goals. They are an unaccountable force deciding the future of the world's economy - and within that framework - it's political direction. Plutocrats, the likes of those who meet at Davos every year and those whom The World Bank and IMF represents, are the new superseding political force in the world. The plethora of trade agreements give corporations, for example, sovereign powers over certain areas. More significantly, economic issues favoring the ultra-wealthy and corporations are the key focus of governmental entities such as the G-8 and G-20.
Democracy still exists in nations such as the United States from a technical standpoint. However, it plays out in a context of what has been called "manufactured consent" that is crafted by those with vast fortunes to influence election outcomes. George Orwell's emphasis in his classic novel "1984" was on the pervasive presence of image generators that would basically embed a subservient world view in the minds of the general population. That is not hard to see today in the omnipresence of plasma television screens in our homes, restaurants, airports and even taxis, which blare out a 24-hour cycle of headlines constructed to provoke fear and hatred or to distract the viewers with sensationalized celebrity news.
News, such as it is determined by the corporate mass media, is primarily embedded in us as emotional reactions to headlines and stories that cause us to react viscerally instead of cerebrally. As BuzzFlash at Truthout has noted before, choosing the frame of what is considered news in a journalistic world where advertising determines profitability is largely dependent upon engaging the viewer emotionally. This is also true of political advertising, faux think tank studies from the right, talking point memes from the likes of Frank Luntz, etc.
In short, much of what constitutes a debate within democracy about public policy is largely restricted to the confines of issues that evoke an emotional reaction in us, not thoughtful reflection. In a public where a large segment of the population is misinformed or only aware of the world through the images transmitted through visual media such as television, this allows the wealthy corporate forces behind television - and the political advertising and third-party "issue" ads that TV heavily profits from - to shape the contours of a democracy that exists in a very narrow fast-paced highway of "manufactured consent."
The limited width of that highway of "news" that benefits the wealthy and the ruling elite leads to pre-determined policies, such as happened with the manipulation of the public leading up to the Iraq War or the feverish rounds of tax cuts over decades. Those who benefit the most from capitalism - the 1% and the government that safeguards the wealth of the oligarchy - channel us like cattle into confined pens of “conventional wisdom.”
This, in large part, is the triumph of capitalism over democracy, as Lebowitz calls it. Through the corporate mass media - particularly television news (and particularly cable TV news) - the "masters of the universe" capitalists embed a world view in enough voters to create the semblance of a democracy. In reality the real decisions are being made upstairs, where the money is counted and continues to pile up to the rafters.