If you can fake authenticity you have it made

by Henry Farrell on September 11, 2009

The Economist’s Brussels correspondent “muses on the difference between German and American campaigning”:http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2009/09/campaigning_in_germany_and_ame.cfm.

bq. The Bavarian event was genuine, in a way that stage-managed American politics cannot match. There is a lot that is creepy about an American campaign event. Arriving early at Bush rallies, I would watch aggressive and chilly young Republican aides in smart suits kneeling on gymnasium floors with fistfuls of different felt tip marker pens, and large rectangles of white card. Frowning with concentration, they would then write things like “South Dakota Loves W” in deliberately babyish writing, or pick out the words “Hello Mr President” in red, white and blue lettering. The styles and slogans would be carefully varied, and the end results were impressive: a stack of signs that looked as though supporters of all ages had lovingly written them out on homely kitchen tables. Then, when the crowd arrived (all of them invited and vetted as bona fide Bush supporters) any of them who had forgotten instructions not to bring signs of their own would have them politely confiscated. Then they would be handed one of the ersatz home-made signs by one of the chilly, bossy young munchkins from campaign HQ. On television, it all looked very sweet.

‘Chilly, bossy young munchkins’ is pretty good, I thought.



Zamfir 09.11.09 at 7:14 pm

Europe is still years behind.


Chris 09.11.09 at 7:25 pm

I’m embarrassed to admit that it never occurred to me that they would do that. It’s obvious in retrospect, though — professionals can make much more amateur-looking signs than amateurs, who might accidentally make them look too good.

Although it does make me wonder about the infamous “morans” sign and others like it. It’s often said that the American right revels in ignorance and stupidity, but would they go so far as to deliberately misspell their own signs and expose themselves to ridicule? (Oh, wait. They also revel in persecution. Of course they would. Faking stupidity is a great way to get some elitist egghead worked up about how stupid you are.)


Substance McGravitas 09.11.09 at 7:26 pm

Or ahead, if the press is bothering to concentrate on stage management.


Substance McGravitas 09.11.09 at 7:26 pm

3 in response to 1 of course…


Jim Harrison 09.11.09 at 7:27 pm

The signs are faked. The stupidity is authentic.


Steve LaBonne 09.11.09 at 7:53 pm

One should read the column to which the blog entry refers- it’s a piece of work. It’s an exercise in what one might call reverse Schadenfreude- a right-wing Brit, jealous that Germany with its “social market model” has ridden out the global crisis so much more effectively than his own country and his beloved Thatcherism-Blairism, is reduced to thumbing his nose and saying saying “nyah-nyah, it all MIGHT fall apart tomorrow.”


Ian Cooper 09.11.09 at 9:13 pm

I thought the subtitle of that Economist story was essentially the subtitle of every Economist story about the German economy for the past twenty years: “Why Germany is dangerously complacent about its social-market model.”


LFC 09.11.09 at 9:23 pm

@6 – Well, it is The Economist so the column’s outlook as you describe it isn’t too surprising.
But the quoted passage is great, esp the munchkins line. (One of the definitions of that word being “a person who keeps busy doing things that are often unimportant, unnecessary, or annoying.” Webster’s New World)


JM 09.11.09 at 9:55 pm

They polished these techniques abroad (e.g., William Robinson, A Faustian Bargain: U.S. Intervention in the Nicaraguan Elections and American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era, Oxford: Westview Press, 1992.) and then brought them home, to practice them on their own people.

This is not news.


flubber 09.11.09 at 10:10 pm

“They polished these techniques abroad”

During the recent demonstrations in Tehran, I kept wondering about similarities with previous stage-managed protests in Iran in 1953.


Steve LaBonne 09.11.09 at 10:47 pm

I thought the subtitle of that Economist story was essentially the subtitle of every Economist story about the German economy for the past twenty years: “Why Germany is dangerously complacent about its social-market model.”

I imagine so. Fortunately for my sanity and blood pressure, I don’t read The Economist very often.


Maurice Meilleur 09.11.09 at 11:23 pm

Didn’t Alexandra Pelosi show this in Journeys with George? Not that it gets less distasteful with time. The part I have the most trouble with is not that the Bushies insisted on making signs, but that the vanguard party of ‘real America’ leading the charge against those snobby pointy-headed elitists Gore and Kerry didn’t trust their own f*cking hand-picked audiences to bring their own signs as well.


yabonn 09.12.09 at 12:13 am

I imagine so. Fortunately for my sanity and blood pressure, I don’t read The Economist very often.

Me? I just read it for the photos of very poor people with a deadpan caption.

And the “there’s a sick man in Europe” bits, of course. And the articles about France!


Matt Austern 09.12.09 at 3:42 am

What I find especially frustrating is that this kind of game isn’t possible without the collusion of the press. Surely if an Economist reporter knows about it, all the reporters know about it. But we’re getting that report now, in 2009, more than five years after the last Bush campaign rally. All of the TV news reports showed people waving signs that the reporters must have known were faked, instead of pictures of campaign operatives manufacturing them. The real story just didn’t make it into the reporting.

Presumably the press colludes in this sort of thing because the press and the campaign operatives have the common goal of getting good pictures.


Martin Bento 09.12.09 at 4:43 am

Nah, it’s ideological. Especially from the Economist. Had the Kerry campaign been caught doing this, it would be news. After all, pictures of crowds waving signs are completely banal and uninteresting, whereas pictures of staffers faking them would have had novelty news value and the opportunity for controversy. Unsupported rumors of Kerry botox use were news for several days. Liberals have to stop bending over backwards to find “innocent” explanations.


urgs 09.12.09 at 1:18 pm

Nevermind the column itsself. In extend to what you would general expect from the economist, this one also seems consider everything bad when its not done exactly as in the UK. Now if something might be German or French its also per definition bad since he considers the EU some kind of geopolitical power game arena with France and Germany being the main rivals for his beloved UK.


Steve LaBonne 09.12.09 at 1:43 pm

Had the Kerry campaign been caught doing this, it would be news.

Hence the now-famous tagline (originated by Atrios, I think): IOKIYAR (It’s OK If You’re A Republican).


P O'Neill 09.12.09 at 5:26 pm

I wonder about the DC tea party signs. Some seem too poorly thought through to be systematic (e.g. note the embrace of pro-choice slogans as an argument against healthcare reform). But then again, there seems to be systematic clowning at work.


bert 09.12.09 at 5:28 pm

This alltime classic piece of Bush potemkin villagery was widely written up at the time, for what it’s worth. It happened within a week of Colin Powell’s shitfilled presentation to the Security Council. It’s one example of the curtain getting tugged back, but there’s plenty to choose from. I remember the loyalty oaths at Bush events being reported at the time. And on and on …
I’d suggest that the problem is not so much that the facts go unreported. Rather, it’s that when the facts contradict a consensually-held “narrative” they are selectively ignored. Such facts aren’t selected as part of the package that gets processed into mainstream product and fed to the inattentive masses.
The political media has two complementary instincts: telling stories and travelling with the herd. And, before we build these defining flaws into a partisan narrative of our own, in 2008 they helped Obama.
What you’re seeing isn’t a conspiracy. It’s more of a profile in cowardice.


nick 09.12.09 at 6:37 pm

here are the regular people, here are the unschooled and heartfelt signs: what more is necessary? sorry, you don’t have a VIP pass–no backstage access….it’s not so much that the media need to have an “ideological” bias; the media has a bias in favor of cynicism, deception, insiderhood. they like the spectacle; they respect those who can use it effectively. individual journalists may have commitments to truth, objectivity, exposing corruption, etc–but these commitments have very little to do with how the mass media, especially TV news, actually works….


jholbo 09.13.09 at 5:04 am


bad Jim 09.13.09 at 8:49 am

The heterogeneity of liberal signage is its own reality check. If the people next to you are proclaiming “Latinos for the Metric System” or “Menopausal Matriarchs of Mendocino for Peace” then you are almost certainly marching up Market Street in San Francisco. There will be giant puppets and an assortment of musicians.


aflandshage 09.13.09 at 1:34 pm

@15 not sure it matters, but if I remember correctly The Economist did actually endorse Kerry in 2004, as they endorsed Obama i 08, but underneath that – deep down in their dark right wing hearts – they surely wanted him to loose…


Alex 09.13.09 at 4:39 pm

The heterogeneity of liberal signage is its own reality check.

Aren’t we forgetting our dear colleague Diego Gambetta here? By accepting the fake sign, you’re demonstrating that you don’t particularly care which sign you wave. If you weren’t a real Republican, you’d be outraged by the fakery and the censorship, and would be exposed. Mindless obedience and tolerance of kitsch are properties they have in relative abundance, so they require a display of them as identification. It’s a signalling protocol helping people high on the social authoritarianism index to find each other and to exclude possible infiltrators.


John Quiggin 09.13.09 at 7:56 pm

A bit of Googling suggests that fake signs aren’t in fact confined to the GOP, which is kind of depressing. Still, I haven’t seen anything suggesting Dems are going to the extent of confiscating unapproved signs. That sums up the two-party system, I guess.


urgs 09.14.09 at 12:31 pm

Well, expect that Democrats do the same Alex :-). For sure they also confiscate private signs. Heck, that was well reported here – in Germany.


JM 09.14.09 at 2:35 pm

Of course it’s not limited to Republicans, just as Democrats’ organizations (e.g., the NDI) and Soros support many of the NGO’s through which the USA’s money and influence have been laundered into “pro-democracy” “uprisings.” Robinson’s point is that these Democrats tend to be foreign policy and military wonks from the right of their own party who, when their party is in power, work in government.

When their party is out of power, they are stabled in these kinds of organizations to await the pendulum’s swing.


engels 09.15.09 at 1:30 pm

Maybe one reason for confiscating banners is to avoid this kind of thing


engels 09.15.09 at 2:01 pm

A few others


james 09.16.09 at 8:43 pm

Sometimes the organizers provide the signs, sometimes people bring their own. Union ralies in the US are known for providing the signs, chants, and press talking points each protester is meant to learn. To me this speaks more to being highly organized and on message. The legitamacy of the event is only questionable when the people showing up are paid to be there.

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