Yesterday, Hillary Clinton offered her concession at the History National Museum Building in Washington, DC. It was quite a remarkable event, given the context of what had transpired in the last 18 months. Her speech could be viewed at her campaign web-site.
Ms. Clinton's speech will best be remembered for the context and circumstances under which it was delivered. Remember Al Gore? His concession to George Bush in 2000 was so much easier, not because the loss of the presidency mattered less. Mr. Gore was never asked to endorse George Bush after his loss, and then to follow it up with a promise to campaign for him. It is one thing to concede and to walk away. It is another to concede, and then to promise to fight for him. Media pundits and journalists, and many in the public will probably never know the degree of difficulty, since we are not in her shoes.
The 2008 campaign was really the first one incorporating the full power of the Internet. Never before have the voices of so many been heard from, and yet never before, have those voices been so filled with the same talking points.
I recently finished reading a novel by NY Times best-seller David Baldacci called The Whole Truth. In it, he describes of a new business--Perception Management. It is the world of manipulating information available to the public so that people would believe whatever the manipulators want them to believe.
Replacing critical thinking with talking points, the perception managers seek to flood the Internet with one-sided propaganda--the other side could do nothing right. Every eventuality is considered--Obama is a liberal, Clinton is a divider, McCain wants another 100 years. If the candidates say something different, they're a flip flopper. If they say the right thing for once, they are appeasers or opportunistic. They use words such as "but here's the main thing," or "let's not forget about.." or "in the bigger picture, this is the more important issue." When we visit blog-sites and read comments, we have the distince feeling that everything being said came from someone's playbook.
Watching CNN or other news networks, we see reporters trying to ask that one killer question, then repeating that interview over and over, as if that is the most important thing in the world. Sound bites take the place of insightful discussions, text messages are preferred over written analyses, cutting & pasting is chosen over creative writing, and Powerpoint presentations become the modern day policy white papers.
Our minds are brainwashed by the constant messaging. If we don't believe the networks, we will certainly believe Aunt Millie living in Ohio who heard from a friend of a friend who heard from a relative that has inside information that Mr. Obama is really a Muslim. And if comment after comment on the blogosphere says that Mrs. Clinton and her husband are crooks who would do anything to recapture the White House, then that becomes a reality.
In America, if you say something loud enough and enough times, it becomes the truth.
At home and at work, we are told to keep things short and to the "point." We are told to hold adversarial positions, spending more time to make our "point" rather than listening to other people's arguments. We are told it is a good thing to hit a "homerun" in a debate than for us to seek meaningful dialog.
We read less today than we did yesterday, than we did a year ago or a decade ago. Our children will read less. In Japan, cell phone novels with terrible grammar and questionable plots rule, as the media try to battle it out for the short attention span of the public. We are led to believe that data is information, information is knowledge, and that somewhere along the line, how we think no longer matters.
In a place where I used to work, everytime bad news was about to emerge, a memo would come out informing employees of "key talking points." Created by public relations and organizational consultants, the memos told us to suspend our belief in reality, and to rehash the company line.
"No, we are never wrong, and we will vigorously defend our position."
Years later, we learn that our company settled the dispute by paying millions. Those who dare question the company line will be dealt with severely. Those who dare think on their own are discouraged, and those who seek the truth are simply told to go look for it in a philosophy book.
The news is filled with examples of Perception Management. Only now are we being told of the manipulation of the media and information by individuals in the highest office of our nation in the runup to the Iraq War.
In David Baldacci's book, the main characters fight Perception Management by challenging the norms, by questionning what is accepted, and by the individuals drawing their own conclusions, without relying on what is fed to them.
The process requires critical thinking and can be arduous. It requires individuals to look beyond the obvious and to ask their own questions. And it is a process that make us think about what we truly believe in...
And isn't that the only way to get to the Whole Truth.
(PS. Read the Clinton speech. It is probably the best one she'd delivered the entire campaign season)