Paul Jacob

Perhaps the current propaganda offensives had their humble beginnings in politicians realizing the significant value of mugging for charities on "public service announcements," or PSAs, which provide real benefits to politicians in terms of name recognition and positive association. But taxpayer-financed political propaganda has come a long way. And don't think it is just a few idiotic programs of the current Executive Branch, faking news stories and turning a handful of columnists into ideological harlots. (Though that is indeed bad. Shameful, even.) It's many things . . .

  • It's the government-paid-for advertising campaigns touting legislation passed by candidates running for office, conveniently broadcast during the election campaign. This has been done at the national and state level, giving those candidates a taxpayer-funded propaganda voice for their political position on an issue.
  • It's the massive government advertising, in many cases for tourism, which puts the governor on television and thus before the public again and again and again in a very positive light ? without having to spend a dime from campaign coffers.
  • It was the Clinton administration's deal with the networks: cut back on the required PSAs, and instead surreptitiously embed the government-approved propaganda into your regularly scheduled shows.
  • It's even propaganda for dead politicians, like FDR. Courtesy of the National Endowment for Humanities, new generations of youngsters are being fed "the official line" about the Great Depression, even when that line is being rejected by more and more economists and historians.

And it gets even worse: while our government is spending ever more money telling us what to think, Congress and the Supreme Court have united to shove a government-regulated system for political speech into the very heart of our democracy.

What am I talking about? The Trojan Horse put into the American system, that vile tangle of Trojan-horse-droppings piled high, Campaign Finance Reform, of course.

The McCain-Feingold law has exchanged America's heritage of a free-for-all of advocacy and spending and debate for a government-approved and regulated line. It has not merely regulated who may give what amount of money. It coerces candidates into saying certain government-approved phrases, and prohibits some people from saying some things at all come election time.

Precisely when we need as many voices as possible. Speaking as freely as possible.

I've argued against the law many times, before it was enacted, and now, after we've endured an election cycle under its thumb. (Where? Here. And in my Common Sense e-letter.)

While its loudest advocates may think that campaign finance reform is just about money, and a few savvy political operatives may know it's mainly about keeping incumbents in power, the kids are taking the policy to its logical conclusion: government should be in charge. With widespread support for a law that undermines freedom of political speech, of course we should expect rising numbers of young people to draw the lesson that controlled speech is good, that free speech "goes too far."

It's time, now, for adults to draw (and teach) the right lessons: Government by propaganda, where after winning an election one side grabs the public purse for propaganda purposes, is something taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for. It's the very opposite of republican. Or democratic.

And prohibitions on political speech, whether courtesy of McCain-Feingold or the next bit of legislation coming from Capitol Hill, are not merely anti-democratic. They're the very stuff of tyranny.

These government programs are not scattered missteps. They are integral parts of an emerging system, and one that is becoming more permanent every day. They provide more evidence that ? absent a watchful populace and effective popular controls on politicians ? government tends to grow and liberty to diminish. This new system has got to go. Government by propaganda and by restricted speech deserves to be crushed with revolutionary fervor . . . and before the kids eagerly submit to tyrannies far worse.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.