Sunday, October 6, 2013

The History Of Political Spin

We can blame Ramses for introducing "spin" into the political arena - not that it wouldn't have been invented by someone else at a later date, for necessity is the mother of invention after all.

Ramesses went to the throne at the age of just 15. He immediately faced serious challenges. The Egyptian empire was under threat from the Hittites, who lived in what is now Turkey. They were far more advanced than the Egyptians and were already pushing against the northern border of Egypt's empire.

An inexperienced, young king presented them with the perfect opportunity to extend their own empire. Within a few years, they had invaded and captured the strategically important trading town of Kadesh.

Ramesses raised an army and sped off to fight the Hittites. He was a young man, highly confident, but also impulsive. This would cause him some serious problems. 

The Egyptian advance party camped outside Kadesh and waited for the others to catch up. He was not expecting battle any time soon and the capture of two spies confirmed that the Hittites were still some distance from the Egyptian camp. Ramesses believed them and didn't bother sending out any scouts of his own.

This was a massive mistake: the spies were Hittite agents sent to lull the Egyptians into a trap. The Hittites were actually camped just across the river, ready to attack. At the very last minute, Ramesses discovered their plan and immediately sent for reinforcements.

But it was too late. The Hittites attacked. The Egyptians soon crumbled and the battle looked all but lost. Luckily, the reinforcements which Ramesses had ordered arrived just in time. They surprised the Hittites and left the Egyptians holding the battlefield.

Ramesses had been fortunate, but had not achieved the decisive victory he wanted. He knew the Hittites would return to attack towns like Kadesh.

Despite this, Ramesses began a huge campaign that claimed that he had won the battle single-handed. Across Egypt, temple walls were carved with this official version of the battle. It was spin-doctoring on a grand scale.

Today, with the internet highway in almost every home, there are no limits or boundaries to the spin the average person is subjected to. It costs a lot of money to spin. It costs a lot of money to shut a government down by 20%.

But somehow along the way humor is interjected, and when it is, it becomes priceless.

Here come the political cartoonists, not quite as impressive as the battle Ramesses portrayed on his monuments, but twice as funny :

But we have to be very cautious not to allow voter apathy prevail for the United States government officials ARE elected officials, public servants. They are not demigods, even if they think they are.

Across the globe reactions cannot be ignored.

From the Chinese government:

"Zhu Guangyao, the vice-finance minister, told reporters in Beijing: “The United States is totally clear about China's concerns about the fiscal cliff. We ask that the United States earnestly takes steps to resolve in a timely way before 17 October the political [issues] around the debt ceiling and prevent a US debt default to ensure safety of Chinese investments in the United States and the global economic recovery. This is the United States' responsibility.”

From the South China Morning Post:

The world looked on with a little anxiety and a lot of dismay, and some people had trouble suppressing smirks.

"To be honest, people are making a lot of jokes," said Justice Malala, a political commentator in South Africa.

Over the years, Malala said, South Africa often has been lectured about good governance by the United States as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are heavily influenced by Washington.

"They tell us, 'You guys are not being fiscally responsible'," Malala said. "And now we see that they are running their country a little like a banana republic. So there is a lot of sniggering going on."

Many analysts abroad said they were dumbfounded at the game of political chicken playing out in Washington. They worried that instability in the United States would further damage the already shaky world economy.

"It would be great if we didn't add something more onto this precarious recovery; we really don't need this," said Jorge Castaneda, a Mexican academic and former foreign minister.

"Everything that happens in the United States affects us directly," he said. "The last thing we want right now is another problem in the United States which will make things worse in Mexico."

In Britain, there was a sense of incredulity about the looming US shutdown.
In the Guardian newspaper, columnist Michael Cohen decried Senator Ted Cruz as the Republican Party's "self-made monster".

He argued that Republicans had reached the "point where Cruz's brand of crazy, heartless, morally wanton, uncompromising conservatism is now the default position of the party".

A Times of London editorial slammed President Barack Obama along with the tea party, saying: "An argument that is so bitter, prolonged and apparently incapable of resolution cannot but damage America's diplomatic standing."

In South America, where US proselytising about fiscal responsibility has rankled with some countries, economists and policymakers watched the shutdown drama with disbelief.

"It's incredible, it's surrealism," said Jose Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister of Colombia. "I had to negotiate budgets and debt ceilings in Colombia, and this situation is frankly unreal."

Ocampo said he was astonished at Republican efforts to overturn Obama's health-care law, a key factor contributing to the potential shutdown. "I don't remember, as minister of finance of Colombia, a blackmail so absurd," said Ocampo, who teaches at Columbia University.

In Pakistan, analysts noted that the country's 66-year-old national government has never had a formal shutdown.
Economist Saqib Shirani said there "are lessons to learn" for Pakistan from events in Washington. In a country with 12 major political parties, he said, "there must be political consensus on economic issues, and taking the political bickering to extreme can backfire".

In India, a government minister said the US problems were similar to the struggle between his government and political opponents trying to block its policies.
"It's heartening to note that administrative paralysis is not unique to a particular democracy," said Manish Tewari, India's information and broadcasting minister.In the Middle East, few expressed interest in a crisis seen as complex, distant and unlikely to affect the Arab world.

But in a region where political strife stemming from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings has battered economies, some analysts were sympathetic to Washington's politically driven financial woes.
"It's a political struggle that is being played out on the economy's battlefield," said Rashad Abdo, a finance professor at Cairo University.

The US crisis has received only fleeting attention in Moscow, where the government is wrestling with budget problems.

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