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democratic question, Who controls the society for what purposes and by what mechanisms? Medicare is a liberal Cause; but consider how far liberals have backed away under the pummelings of American Medical Association cat-calls of socialism and the silence or contempt of most daily papers about “socialized medicine”from the national health insurance Mr. Truman advocated in 1948. The health of all the citizens is just as much a public utility as the publicly owned sewage system, and ought to be provided with the same impartiality, especially when society is rich enough, as ours is. Yet liberals battle mightily for hospitalization-only insurance for people whose lives are almost over as though this was a very rampart of idealism. Commercialism As Corruption I can illustrate my notion that liberalism has fallen back too far by the one subject, commercialism, as clearly, I think, as by any other. For commercialism is making us a nation of liars, it is rotting the very soul of the national life, the integrity of our communication, and who cries out? Not liberals, not anyone, except a few desperate poets, or Eric Severeid trapped in a hotel room full of pushbuttons. What, after all, can you say about the essential nature of most of the hard-sell advertising, except that it’s a lie? You can say that it’s “a sell,” in Paul Goodman’s phrase. But what is a sell but a comingon-strong for an ulterior motive? And what is that but a lie? My daughter asked my wife, about a woman who was speaking on the TV, “Mother, is that real, or is she a commercial?” My daughter is five years old, and she already knows she is being lied to on TV. Turn on your car radio: false exaggerations or plain lies, interspersed with jingles and weather reports. Why do we not stop to ask ourselves what effect it has on the idea of honor among our young that we now require them to grow up into to society where the entire economic business of life is oiled with the lies of advertising? If it is accepted to lie to make a profit, how can we expect our young to have pride in their culture, and to be shocked when a politician lies to get votes or makes a personal profit on a city contract? What has got started now among us is a system of self-supporting cynicisms: That’s a sell; he’s lying. The minister, well, he’s probably lying to get a big rake-in Sunday morning. The idealistic politician?: he’s getting his, or if he’s not, he’s a fool. This question of what we are doing to the sense of honor in our society through advertising is a -primary question of the national life, yet it is never discussed in the mass media or on the TV in the way I am discussing it with you now. This is because advertising finances the mass media. Soiled by the importunities and mendacities of advertising, our ordinary daily experience of society is becoming uglier and uglier. This is no mere matter of aesthetics, for beauty is not merely a pretty thing. It rose in the first place from harmonies, and uglineSs like a mace drives down into a person’s insides, shattering harmonies. Our main streets are a litter of commercials. Something of dignity and straightforwardness has gone out of our commercial life. A shop is not just a shop, it’s a front and a glitter. At peak hours, metropolitan radio stations are a third or more commercials; a disk jockey finds the instruction on his program log, “Play a record between the commercials.” The content of the TV programs that daily feed the minds of most of cur people is trivial or violent or base or silly, and very rarely serious or public in its values, and the commercials are also unspeakable. Beyond the cities billboards efface the landscapes. In any particular. the matter does not seem much, but taken togetheragain this is one of those intuitions that may be there or may not, depending on what one sensestaken together, it seems to me we have lost the sense of the commonwealth, it seems to me that we have suddenly found ourselves panic-deep in the one unforeseen consequence of basing our economics on competitive self-interest: the commercialization of our culture. Liberalism wants no formal part of the issue, apparently, perhaps because it leads fairly quickly to dangerous questions of values, but I think we must begin to subject advertising to much more severe social control. We must try to limit it to its legitimate functions of advising the consumer of the availability, nature, and price of goods, without twisting his mind or sneaking under its threshhold or telling him the same thing five times in fifty seconds. It is not merely the ugliness that makes this littered landscape so dead a loss. It is that which is not there where it could be. Radio and television are great gifts of nature and man’s invention, gifts that should help transform andlet us dare use the worduplift the lives of the people. Our phenomenal abundances make possible a nation of boldly planned cities and towns of various and marvelous variety . Mexico, impoverished as it is, has nourished itself with worthy public buildings and public art. What could not we do, but we dedicated ourselves to the idea of having a general purpose! Mr. Kennedy gave us a start, and perhaps we will be able to go on with it. But it is clear that something has gone wrong. In a way we seem to be blinded into a drive toward the moon, with so much unfinished business here; in a way we seem trapped in nuclear weaponry, when nobody sane wants to kill 300 million people in one hour, oh, even if they are Russians, even if they are Chinese. There is a reason for everything, but that is not much comfort, since there is a reason for obtuseness, too, and for calamity. I want to quote to you a brief passage from Edmund Wilson, whom I think to be the principal American -man of letters, in his introduction to Patriotic Gore, which I think to be a work of genius, about our civil war. He is saying that Russia and the United States are now becoming similar: “. . . we were actually, for better or worse, becoming more and more alike the Russians emulating America in their frantic industrializing and we imitating them in our persecution of non-conforthist political opinion, while both, to achieve their ends, were building up huge government bureaucracies in the hands of which the people have seemed helpless. We Americans, whose public officials kept telling us we were living in ‘the Free World,’ discovered that we were expected to pay staggering taxes of which it has been estimated that 70 per cent has been going not only for nuclear weapons capable of depopulating whole countries but also for bacteriological and biological ones which made it possible for us to poison the enemy with every abominable disease from pneumonia and encephalitis to anthrax, cholera, diptheria and typhoid, as well as with such new devices as the chemical agent called ‘GB,’ which imitates the natural weapons of the Australian stone fish and the black widow spider in paralyzing the nerves of July 10. 1964 3