I think the Reagan administration was sort of a peek into the future. It’s a very natural move. Imagine yourself working in some public relations office where your job is to help corporations make sure that the annoying public does not get in the way of policy-making. Here’s a brilliant thought that nobody ever had before, so far as I know: let’s make elections completely symbolic activities. The population can keep voting, we’ll give them all the business, they’ll have electoral campaigns, all the hoopla, two candidates, eight candidates-but the people they’re voting for will then just be expected to read off a teleprompter and they won’t be expected to know anything except what somebody tells them, and maybe not even that.
I mean, when you read off a teleprompter-I’ve done it actually-it’s a very odd experience: it’s like the words go into your eyes and out your mouth, and they don’t pass through your mind in between. And when Reagan does it, they have it set up so there are two or three of them around, so his head can keep moving and it appears as though he’s looking around at the audience, but really he’s just switching from one teleprompter to another. Well, if you can get people to vote for something like that, you’ve basically done it-you’ve removed them from decision-making. It won’t work unless you have an obedient media which will fall over themselves with what a wonderful, charismatic figure he is-you know, “the most popular President in history,” “he’s creating a revolution,” “the most amazing thing since ice cream,” and “how can we criticize him, everybody loves him?” And you have to pretend that nobody’s laughing, and so on. But if you can do that, then you’d have gone a very long way towards marginalizing the public. And I think we probably got there in the 1980s pretty close to there, anyway.
In all of the books that have come out by people in the Reagan administration, it’s been extremely difficult to hide the fact that Reagan didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on. Whenever he wasn’t properly programmed, the things that would come out of his mouth were kind of like they weren’t lies really, they were kind of like the babbling of a child. If a child babbles, it’s not lies, it’s just sort of on some other plane. To be able to lie, you have to have a certain degree of competence, you have to know what truth is. And there didn’t seem to be any indication that that was the case here.
Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky