The Pope recently published a 50,000 word essay or encyclical or the like, Evangelii Gaudium. As the name suggests (to all three of my Latin scholar friends), the theme is evangelism. In short, evangelism is the assertive spreading of the Gospel, the “good news,” i.e., Christian doctrine.
Among the minor themes is that people in contemporary society go overboard in consuming things, worshiping money, and generally hosing the poor. That theme is hardly a new one in Christian thinking. “Red Letter Christians” – those who seek first the words of Jesus, which are printed in certain editions of the Bible in red – read prominent warnings against love of money and disdain for the poor.
Rush Limbaugh, sturdy feldwebel of American ideology, boldly penetrated the Pope’s shtick this time. Rush assures us that the Pope’s ramblings are pure Marxism. He points to the possibility that leftists (hiding in the Curia?) intentionally mistranslated what Il Papa actually said in the original language. (Spanish?) Or, Limbaugh theorizes, the College of Cardinals goofed and elected a guy as the Vicar of Christ who is really the Shade of V.I. Lenin.
Since the English translation is on the Vatican website, that kind of narrows it down to the "goofed" theory.
So is Francis a Commie-Red-Marxist? Is Rush just not too bright? Or is this Rush’s own propaganda flimflam?
I’m voting “C,” the flimflam option.
The length of this post so far proves how effective the flimflam is. And how easily we can be pointed opposite to the clear teachings of Christ or against the clear imperatives of generally accepted moral behavior. Incidentally, the same teachings are found in nearly every religious/ ethical/ moral system – Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Humanism, whatever. I look at the teachings of Jesus but the flimflam is on all people of goodwill.
So why is calling the Pope “Marxist” such an effective slur? This quick characterization is really good propaganda because it is quick and uses already-existing negative images – and, most importantly, it takes reasoned argument to dispel the fraud. In our sound-bite-Tweet era, if you can’t say it in 10 seconds or 140 characters, 80% of your listeners will lose interest and their minds will wander away.
We Americans don’t like Commies, even now that the “old” Cold War is ended. Without the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, good opinion manipulators are moving the appearance or name tag of Marxism to the American so-called political left. Mind you, that has nothing to do with actual Marxist doctrine.
[Oh, yes it does!, whined someone in Tater Junction, South Elbonia just now. Fine, get out your Classics Illustrated Comic Book on Political/Economic Doctrine and fondle yourself quietly.]
Rush has merely borrowed a term with a high negative index – “Marxist” – and slapped it on someone who mentions money, the poor and, by inference, class. And the tag sticks. But like a pile of manure with icing, it's still not a birthday cake. The beauty of this technique is that the user need not explain or even have the first clue about what the tagline means. Nobody likes Commies, he’s a Commie, q.e.d.
Propaganda is a fascinating subject about which there is a lack of understanding. Propaganda is a toolbox which contains methods of persuasion. Period. The doctrines promoted are not the propaganda. As such, true propaganda is neither inherently good nor bad, moral nor immoral. The subject may be.
Nor does calling something “propaganda” make it so.
If anybody asks, “Who’s the best propagandist ever?,” most people say Goebbels.
The guy couldn’t use 3 words where 73 would do. Goebbels' information campaigns were successful in that the targeted population kept their opinions consistent with the “party line,” even in the face of eventual good reasons to the contrary. But let’s face it, he started with a very soft target (people in a depression & quasi-anarchy) and had huge resources devoted to “public information.” Eva Braun - a noted Teutonic dim bulb - might have pulled that off.
A few really skilled propagandists immediately pop to mind. There is Reagan (and his writers) – “Evil Empire.” “Tear down this wall!”
Bush II – “… Cowardly [9/11] terrorists.”
Ayatollah Anybody – “Great Satan.”
And with good propaganda, it becomes absolutely offensive to resort to logical reason to disagree: The terrorists were craven cowards!
No they were ideological zealots, morally bankrupt and bat shit crazy. But flying an aircraft into a building – especially when you’re sitting in front – isn’t cowardly.
Right, tell it to the True American.
To refute the sharp tang of propaganda when it is applied randomly and illogically. “What the hell are you talking about?” is an acceptable and reasonable response, but is not very persuasive.
Even Rush has had illogical propaganda used (poorly) against him. Al Franken wrote the quirky book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, where a lot of footnoted facts and reasoning were buried in hysteria. (We have heard little from Franken lately. He became a United States Senator, where he is indistinguishable from the other 99 straight-faced comedians.)
With the response to Rush’s latest, I have to ask: “Rush, what the hell are you talking about?” I don’t think you can warp Marxism out of Frances’ nice (if wordy) exposition of Christian doctrine even if you borrow that other guy’s comic book.
Marxism is a doctrine of materialism which posits predetermined historical forces which supposedly develop in a predictable manner. A primary focus is the relationship of different economic groups to the means of production and how that changes. Bending that into a moral warning against worship of money and consumption and respect for “the least of these” is the non sequitur game-of-the-week touchdown.
Yet some significant part of the American public – 1%? 5%? – will have a reduced respect for this Pope and for a part of Christian/moral doctrine by virtue of this little episode.
To paraphrase both our Lord and Savior and Harry Truman, “Nitwit’s will be with us always.” And we need to expect that.
The fault lies squarely with an intellectually and morally lazy and scared American people. Control and naked power used push us around will become more and more heavy-handed until and unless Americans generally develop a habit of thinking and then find the guts to speak up.
Rush, I liked you when you were a nonpolitical and funny DJ on WIXZ in Pittsburgh. These days, you and whoever writes your stuff are poor excuses for citizens.