Oh! My! God! Organizing for America, the successor to Obama for America, is searching for a Social Networks Manager: apply here. But before you do read this.
When Obama was elected some PR theorists said it was the dawn of a new age of democratic and decentralized public engagement. In the words of Richard Edelman, delivering the Grunig lecture at University of Maryland, the main evidence for this was:
…Obama campaign’s mobilization of five million volunteers, who are able to make decisions on how best to contact voters, attract funds and communicate on social media.
But one year on, the evidence does not stand up. The trend today is toward disengaged elitism, not mass engagement.
As Obama’s popularity plummets, Jacob Weisberg’s writing for Slate blames the childish, ignorant American public – not politicians – for his country’s political and economic crisis. He whines about how the GOP has put the nation in an angry, populist, tea-partying mood.
The Tea Party Movement is a kick in the goolies (English slang) to the Obama Presidency. According to Reason Magazine, the campaign is materially affecting things as big as Scott Brown’s election and as little as a Virginia state vote to outlaw health insurance mandates. It adds that its core messages appeal beyond the movement’s ranks.
Meanwhile, Kurt Andersen rants in New York Magazine about how the walls that the founding fathers erected to contain the mob may no longer hold. He says irregular passions and artful misrepresentations are being whipped up to an unprecedented pitch and volume by the fundamentally new means of 24/7 cable and the hyperdemocratic web (the author of Reset is dead set against nonsense and the worst aspects of modernism).
In contrast, Andersen describes the essence of America’s democracy as being, by the people and for the people, definitely; of the people, not so much. Lamenting the emergence of the tea-party citizens, he says they are:
…under the misapprehension that democratic governing is supposed to be the same as democratic discourse, that elected officials are virtuous to the extent that they too default to unbudging, sky-is-falling recalcitrance and refusal. And the elected officials, as never before, are indulging that populist fantasy.
It seems, then, that critical thinkers are “deserting” dialogue and increasingly seeing Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model as a threat.
The reason is that Middle America is feared. It’s a case of What’s The Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank’s bestseller, which attempted to solve the conundrum of how so-called ruling class conservatism became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans. His answer was that the masses were so stupid they’d been duped. Our old friends, cognitive dissonance, false consciousness and denial are in play.
Obama nearly let his elitist contempt for the masses – the white and black working class – out of the bag during his campaign with his ‘cling to guns and religion’, remark.
Anybody who still harbours a hope today that Obama’s regime is listening to criticism from friend or foe, let alone engaged in dialogue, hasn’t taken note of the recent rant from the White House’s chief of sfaff Rahm Emanuel. He’s been dismissing liberals as “retards”.
Regular readers of this blog know that I admire elite thought and achievement. They will also know that I believe that it is the job of leaders to lead.
I’m a critic of the two-way symmetrical “orthodoxy” that Grunig espouses. It is my belief that if one seeks answers or to find one’s direction in the crowd, one comes up with confusion (or worse, a horrible gungho certainty), which leads to paralysis (or a parity of unpleasantness).
Nevertheless, I maintain that dialogue, consultation and two-way communication has its place. But so does decision-making, which must not be shirked.
In reality, I don’t think there is any correct model for conducting PR. That’s because PR is an art, not a science. It is more results-driven than method-driven. It is a flexible tool designed for a specific purpose, which comes from above. Put simply, PR serves whoever pays for it, or whomever else it is accountable to, including the law and other stakeholders.
Moreover, how could anybody have ever really thought that somebody with Obama’s preacher-style approach to politics could ever become the leader of a new engaged movement based on real-time dialogue?