Because it's refusing to fight.
'a morally ambiguous case like the Israel-Gaza War'
There is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the state of Israel in this war. Their fundamental aims are completely different. Hamas' stated goal -- stated again and again -- is to wipe Israel and the Jews out of existence. Isarael's goal is to live peacefully. Hamas brags about brutalizing and killing babies, children and women. Israel goes to tremendous effort to avoid killing civilians even as Hamas pushes their own civilian people into the front lines by hiding behind them or preventing them from leaving. One is pure evil; the other is not.
The United States has liberal norms and liberal institutions. But we don’t have a firm liberal consensus and the polls currently suggest that an illiberal candidate might win the next presidential election.
What’s the version of this proposal that is still a good idea if Donald Trump is president and the whole apparatus of government funded media is run by Steve Bannon?
More broadly, trusting markets to get it right is idealistic. Marketing bends preferences. Mispricing (lack of a carbon tax) makes price signals wrong. I like the idea of promoting basic American values, but we don't have consensus on those anymore. Maybe we need a much larger non-profit media sector. The control of so much media (especially talk radio) by the Right has "pulled the invisible wires that control the public mind." (Bernays 1928 book on Propaganda)
You haven't even mentioned Telegram. Some of the most powerful pro-Hamas content (or propaganda, if you would prefer to call it that) is spreading via Telegram and WhatsApp channels, and literally no-one has any idea what to do about it.
The US government is involved . The problem is they spend too much time censoring Twitter, Facebook , and people like Matt Taibbi for political reasons . They need to go after the Russian and Chinese illiberal propaganda . But they don’t want to offend the foreigners as in COVID and the lab leak . Who controls the propaganda machine and for what reasons and the benefit of whom ?
“Fast forward eight decades, and government messaging efforts like FDR’s are basically nonexistent.”
Have you read the lawsuit against the Biden administration for its various nefarious efforts to coerce social media companies to censor speech? Under the guise of “misinformation”?
For some of us, Frank Capra is still a famous movie director. He is director of such favorite films as, " It's a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
BUT I am very dubious of the government getting into the propaganda business. It was justifiable during WW II, because Congress had voted to declare war and committed the whole country up to its neck. There were a lot of people who needed to be caught up on basic facts. The "Why We Fight" series was made first and foremost for draftees. A similar situation is when the government was handing out information on COVID.
However, not everyone accepts the idea that we are living in a crisis of illiberalism and demagoguery. Today, Government warnings about demagoguery would just come across as governmental weaponization of the information space. The people who most need the message are those who trust the government least.
This reminds me of a discussion several decades ago, when people were asking, “Why is there no good liberal talk radio?" Rush Limbaugh and his unwashed buddies were busy preparing the path for Trump, and there was no one making the case for the other side.
Well, we need to find someone who can make that case.
The path forward is to find talented people who can talk to ordinary people. That's why I lamented the fall of Al Franken because I saw that kind of talent in him. Then, then some anti-trumper with deep pockets needs to get this person on the air. Hopefully, it would soon be commercially successful.
In terms of visuals, the Lincoln Project is good at making things that irritate the MAGA world. But not at saying that Communicate with the average human being. Again, we need a privately funded operation that can get make such visuals and get them out to the various types of media.
Finally, BTW, the Axis powers of Germany and Japan simply did not have the capacity to conquer the world. No country ever has had that capacity. There was a great book out, some years back that showed that every single empire in world history has fallen because it has tried to do too much. The overreach is the death of empires.
The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires by Andrew Taylor
If you want to see more on this bit of geopolitical wisdom, here's a link.
"We are all somehow expected to sacrifice hours of day to do thankless, unpaid work pushing back against illiberal narratives spread relentlessly by people for whom spreading those narratives is a full-time salaried job."
This seems like one of the most damning indictment of the current state of free speech law I've ever read. When legacy media outlets dominated it simply wasn't logistically possible for foreign powers to have outsized influence on the information received by the American public, so it made sense for our laws to take a hands off approach: technology didn't provide one side an inherent advantage. But now technology has changed and provides illiberal actors an inherent advantage, and our laws need to change to reflect this new equilibrium.
This film has not aged well.
Most of Europe today is struggling to control antisemitism in their streets, having embraced diversity over nationalism for decades. It turns out that inviting large numbers of Middle-Eastern Muslims into their continent has a few downsides.
Hungary (the example used in the movie) is the safest place in Europe for Jews today. I have friends in Budapest and they report that Jews go to synagogue without fear, Catholics go to mass without fear, and gay men walk down the street holding hands without fear. You can't say that about Paris or London today, and If that's not the essence of pluralistic liberalism, I'm not sure what is.
"It should be obvious that this is a recipe for liberalism’s utter defeat."
This ship has sailed, Noah. Locke's core, Enlightenment liberal claim of a value-neutral state is dead. You and Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan are playing Weekend at Bernie's with its corpse. Meanwhile, the Left and the Democratic Party have moved on to wokeness (a distinctly value-laden proposition) and the Right is still trying to pull its head out of its butt. The current GOP warfare is mostly between those who realize that value neutrality is gone vs. those who still cling to it.
"The U.S. government needs to get back into the information warfare game."
Isn't that with the "misinformation bureaus" of the various federal agencies are about? And look what happened. For the federal government to do this requires deep trust and some kind of broadly shared ideological (or theocratic) core among the populace. We lack both of those today.
I'm not sure what the answer is, but doubling down on Enlightenment liberalism (via federal information warfare) isn't going to work. It was Enlightenment liberalism (Locke and especially Mill) that got us here.
Information warfare has been part of warfare pretty much as long as there’s been war. You mention these instances of films, but popular war slogans, posters, “Buy War Bonds!”, etc. was everywhere during that time period. And it didn’t really seem weird.
And even during the Iraq War, there was a much more concerted effort (not “propaganda”) to message the war and why it was being pursued. That case was one where the power was abused, but it was still done and is part of government’s job to explain itself to its citizenry.
It’s very weird right now why the US is so allergic to this. Europe doesn’t have the same level of allergic reaction (though it’s always cared less about free speech—both on a law level and societal level). Definitely do agree that left completely unchecked, we’re going to see US citizens start to just get unfiltered talking points from authoritarian regimes.
I actually had a conversation recently with some friends who became alarmed about tankies, and the general disconnection of the Democratic Party from real minority and working class voters (vs. caricatures put out by usually white progressive elites). The conversation was about both things, which, in this context, are distinct (one is US government vs external, the other is a party’s messaging). However, in both cases, they kind of wondered what forces were pushing back.
My answer? Largely Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias. A bit tongue-in-cheek, but also not actually that wrong in my estimation... It’s a solemn duty you bear, Noah, in my narrative of this...
Twas ever thus
The Obama administration, and Obama himself, seemed to understand this and did a fairly good job of reminding us of our values and tying it’s policies to them. The Biden administration (and Biden) has done a terrible job of this, and has its head in the sand in regard to social media, traditional media, and the role of the President as our “Influencer in Chief.” They just don’t think it’s important. It is. Obama would have been all over Tik-Tok.
"Totalitarian powers are on the march, and social media gives them the opportunity to reach American hearts and minds more directly than ever before. One of our government’s essential functions is to guard us against such powers."
Guarding our homes and lives from those powers is the essential function. Not trying to guard our hearts and minds! I see no reason to stop believing the case for liberalism is self-evident.
Russian and Chinese propaganda - so convincing it has to be a monopoly (paired with mandatory "Xi Jinping thought" study sessions in China's case)..
The only reason the propagandists of Russia and China have succeeded within their countries is because they've silenced any dissenting voices. As long as we keep our marketplaces of information free, we have nothing to fear from their propaganda efforts.
Russian troll farms - the greatest threat to democracy! Really the government has to get into the censorship and propaganda business asap (the Biden admin has been too passive!)- oh wait.
How about politicians getting paid by China? Should we ban them before we ban Tik Tok?
What about pols getting paid by China who get into office and then end the DOJ initiative that had been targeting Chinese espionage and influence buying at corporations and universities?
By the way, I am in favor of reciprocity when it comes to China and other trading partners. If US firms or products are banned then their related firms and products are banned. If US firms can’t acquire majority stakes in Chinese firms or any stakes in certain industries, then China cannot make similar acquisitions in the US. I think this solves the TikTok problem without censorship and without singling them out for a ban or a forced sale.
A significant section of the Republican Party now talks openly about a Red Caesar heading an authoritarian government chosen by the elite.
Not so long ago, leading Republicans only whispered among themselves about how America was always meant to be a republic, never a democracy. But now the whisper has become a roar and authoritarian garbage, like the writings of the self-styled Bronze Age Pervert, have become part of the acceptable discourse among young republican hopefuls.
MAGA, Christian Nationalism, Putinism, Jihadism - we're in the fight of our lives!
It's crazy that we let Russians undermine our democracy and country without consequences. Every time it's revealed that some Russian troll farm is targeting Americans or Europeans there should be new sanctions, new punishments against Russia. Just go nuts and turn them into the slavic North Korea they seem to wish to become.