The Philosopher-Lobbyist: John Dewey and the People's Lobby, 1928–1940

SUNY Press
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The history of John Dewey’s leadership of the progressive People’s Lobby.

John Dewey (1859–1952) was a preeminent American philosopher who is remembered today as the founder of what is called child-centered or progressive education. In The Philosopher-Lobbyist, Mordecai Lee tells the largely forgotten story of Dewey’s effort to influence public opinion and promote democratic citizenship. Based on Dewey’s 1927 book The Public and Its Problems, the People’s Lobby was a trailblazing nonprofit agency, an early forerunner of the now common public interest lobbying group. It used multiple forms of mass communication, grassroots organizing, and lobbying to counteract the many special interest groups and lobbies that seemed to be dominating policymaking in Congress and in the White House. During the 1930s, Dewey and the People’s Lobby criticized the New Deal as too conservative and championed a social democratic alternative, including a more progressive tax system, government ownership of natural monopolies, and state operation of the railroad system. While its impact on historical developments was small, the story of the People’s Lobby is an important reminder of a historical road not traveled and a policy agenda that was not adopted, but could have been.
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About the author

Mordecai Lee is Professor of Governmental Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of several books, including The First Presidential Communications Agency: FDR’s Office of Government Reports, also published by SUNY Press, and Promoting the War Effort: Robert Horton and Federal Propaganda, 1938–1946.
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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Jan 8, 2015
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Pages
314
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ISBN
9781438455303
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / Political Advocacy
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
Philosophy / Individual Philosophers
Philosophy / Movements / Pragmatism
Political Science / History & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Though historians have largely overlooked Robert Horton, his public relations campaigns remain fixed in popular memory of the home front during World War II. Utilizing all media -- including the nascent technology of television -- to rally civilian support, Horton's work ranged from educational documentary shorts like Pots to Planes, which depicted the transformation of aluminum household items into aircraft, to posters employing scare tactics, such as a German soldier with large eyes staring forward with the tagline "He's Watching You." Iconic and calculated, Horton's campaigns raise important questions about the role of public relations in government agencies. When are promotional campaigns acceptable? Does war necessitate persuasive communication? What separates information from propaganda? Promoting the War Effort traces the career of Horton -- the first book-length study to do so -- and delves into the controversies surrounding federal public relations.

A former reporter, Horton headed the public relations department for the U.S. Maritime Commission from 1938 to 1940. Then -- until Pearl Harbor in December 1941 -- he directed the Division of Information (DOI) in the Executive Office of the President, where he played key roles in promoting the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's unprecedented third-term reelection campaign, and the prewar arms-production effort. After Pearl Harbor, Horton's DOI encouraged support for the war, primarily focusing on raising civilian and workforce morale. But the DOI under Horton assumed a different wartime tone than its World War I predecessor, the Committee on Public Information. Rather than whipping up prowar hysteria, Horton focused on developing campaigns for more practical purposes, such as conservation and production. In mid-1942, Roosevelt merged the Division and several other agencies into the Office of War Information. Horton stayed in government, working as the PR director for several agencies. He retired in mid-1946, during the postwar demobilization.

Promoting the War Effort recovers this influential figure in American politics and contributes to the ongoing public debate about government public relations during a time when questions about how facts are disseminated -- and spun -- are of greater relevance than ever before.

Government bureaucracy is something Americans have long loved to hate. Yet despite this general antipathy, some federal agencies have been wildly successful in cultivating the people’s favor. Take, for instance, the U.S. Forest Service and its still-popular Smokey Bear campaign. The agency early on gained a foothold in the public’s esteem when President Theodore Roosevelt championed its conservation policies and Forest Service press releases led to favorable coverage and further goodwill.

Congress has rarely approved of such bureaucratic independence. In Congress vs. the Bureaucracy, political scientist Mordecai Lee—who has served as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill and as a state senator—explores a century of congressional efforts to prevent government agencies from gaining support for their initiatives by communicating directly with the public.

Through detailed case studies, Lee shows how federal agencies have used increasingly sophisticated publicity techniques to muster support for their activities—while Congress has passed laws to counter those PR efforts. The author first traces congressional resistance to Roosevelt’s campaigns to rally popular support for the Panama Canal project, then discusses the Forest Service, the War Department, the Census Bureau, and the Department of Agriculture. Lee’s analysis of more recent legislative bans on agency publicity in the George W. Bush administration reveals that political battles over PR persist to this day. Ultimately, despite Congress’s attempts to muzzle agency public relations, the bureaucracy usually wins.

Opponents of agency PR have traditionally condemned it as propaganda, a sign of a mushrooming, self-serving bureaucracy, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. For government agencies, though, communication with the public is crucial to implementing their missions and surviving. In Congress vs. the Bureaucracy, Lee argues these conflicts are in fact healthy for America. They reflect a struggle for autonomy that shows our government’s system of checks and balances to be alive and working well.

Much maligned in the past as wasteful and self-serving, government public relations provides several distinct services that can be used to advance the substantive mission of an agency in ways that save money, time, and effort. In the same manner as budgeting, HR, strategic planning, and performance assessment, public relations must be included in the contemporary public administrator’s toolbox. Using unorthodox yet cost effective measures, public relations can increase the utilization of governmental goods and services, promote voluntary compliance with new laws, improve media relations, and strengthen the standing of the agency with the public at large. In short, public relations is public administration.

Addressing the theory, practice, and context of government public relations, Government Public Relations: A Reader compiles contemporary writings from international sources to provide an understanding of the importance, value, and uses of public relations as tools to advance the goals of government. Each section begins with an introductory overview and short preview of the section topic. The end of each section provides additional reading and a list of discussion questions that can help identify key points.

Beginning with an introduction to the general subject, the book focuses on the discrete purposes of public relations to make their benefit and application more tangible. Topics include media relations, public reporting, responsiveness, and outreach, as well as the integral role of PR in crisis management. The book stresses the “publicness” of government public relations as distinct from business PR and examines the increasing use of non-profit agencies to deliver government funded services. The last section summarizes the overall themes along with trends likely to influence the future of the field such as globalization and e-reporting. An extensive appendix consists of an annotated bibliography of the historical literature.

The Watergate scandal of 1973 claimed many casualties, political and otherwise. Along with many personal reputations and careers, President Richard Nixon’s bold attempt to achieve a sweeping reorganization of the domestic portion of the executive branch was also pulled into the vortex.
Now, Mordecai Lee examines Nixon’s reorganization, finding it notable for two reasons. First, it was sweeping in intent and scope, representing a complete overhaul in the way the president would oversee and implement his domestic agenda. Second, the president instituted the reorganization administratively—by appointment of three “super-secretaries”—without congressional approval. The latter aspect generated ire among some members of Congress, notably Sam Ervin, a previously little-known senator from North Carolina who chaired the Government Operations Committee and, soon after, the Senate’s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities—known to the public as “the Watergate Committee.”
Asserting that Nixon’s reorganization effort represents a significant event in the evolution of the managerial presidency and public administration, Nixon’s Super-Secretaries presents the most comprehensive historical narrative to date concerning this reorganization attempt. The author has utilized previously untapped original and primary sources to provide unprecedented detail on the inner workings, intentions, and ultimate demise of Nixon’s ambitious plan to reorganize the sprawling federal bureaucracy.
Much maligned in the past as wasteful and self-serving, government public relations provides several distinct services that can be used to advance the substantive mission of an agency in ways that save money, time, and effort. In the same manner as budgeting, HR, strategic planning, and performance assessment, public relations must be included in the contemporary public administrator’s toolbox. Using unorthodox yet cost effective measures, public relations can increase the utilization of governmental goods and services, promote voluntary compliance with new laws, improve media relations, and strengthen the standing of the agency with the public at large. In short, public relations is public administration.

Addressing the theory, practice, and context of government public relations, Government Public Relations: A Reader compiles contemporary writings from international sources to provide an understanding of the importance, value, and uses of public relations as tools to advance the goals of government. Each section begins with an introductory overview and short preview of the section topic. The end of each section provides additional reading and a list of discussion questions that can help identify key points.

Beginning with an introduction to the general subject, the book focuses on the discrete purposes of public relations to make their benefit and application more tangible. Topics include media relations, public reporting, responsiveness, and outreach, as well as the integral role of PR in crisis management. The book stresses the “publicness” of government public relations as distinct from business PR and examines the increasing use of non-profit agencies to deliver government funded services. The last section summarizes the overall themes along with trends likely to influence the future of the field such as globalization and e-reporting. An extensive appendix consists of an annotated bibliography of the historical literature.

Government bureaucracy is something Americans have long loved to hate. Yet despite this general antipathy, some federal agencies have been wildly successful in cultivating the people’s favor. Take, for instance, the U.S. Forest Service and its still-popular Smokey Bear campaign. The agency early on gained a foothold in the public’s esteem when President Theodore Roosevelt championed its conservation policies and Forest Service press releases led to favorable coverage and further goodwill.

Congress has rarely approved of such bureaucratic independence. In Congress vs. the Bureaucracy, political scientist Mordecai Lee—who has served as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill and as a state senator—explores a century of congressional efforts to prevent government agencies from gaining support for their initiatives by communicating directly with the public.

Through detailed case studies, Lee shows how federal agencies have used increasingly sophisticated publicity techniques to muster support for their activities—while Congress has passed laws to counter those PR efforts. The author first traces congressional resistance to Roosevelt’s campaigns to rally popular support for the Panama Canal project, then discusses the Forest Service, the War Department, the Census Bureau, and the Department of Agriculture. Lee’s analysis of more recent legislative bans on agency publicity in the George W. Bush administration reveals that political battles over PR persist to this day. Ultimately, despite Congress’s attempts to muzzle agency public relations, the bureaucracy usually wins.

Opponents of agency PR have traditionally condemned it as propaganda, a sign of a mushrooming, self-serving bureaucracy, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. For government agencies, though, communication with the public is crucial to implementing their missions and surviving. In Congress vs. the Bureaucracy, Lee argues these conflicts are in fact healthy for America. They reflect a struggle for autonomy that shows our government’s system of checks and balances to be alive and working well.

In addition to traditional management tools, government administrators require a fundamental understanding of the tools available to address the ever-changing context of government communications. Examining the ins and outs of the regulations influencing public information, The Practice of Government Public Relations unveils novel ways to integrate cutting-edge technologies—including Web 2.0 and rapidly emerging social media—to craft and maintain a positive public image.

Expert practitioners with extensive government communications experience address key topics of interest and provide an up-to-date overview of best practices. They examine the specifics of government public relations and detail a hands-on approach for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the wide-ranging aspects of government public relations—including how to respond during a crisis.In addition to the tools provided on the accompanying CD-ROM, most chapters include a Best Practice Checklist to help you successfully utilize the communication strategies outlined in the book.

Focusing on the roles of government managers enacting policies adopted by elected officials and politicians, this book is ideal for program managers seeking innovative and inexpensive ways to accomplish their programs’ missions. While no manager can be an expert in all aspects of public administration, this book helps you understand the external communications tools available to advance the mission and results of your agency.

In addition to traditional management tools, government administrators require a fundamental understanding of the tools available to address the ever-changing context of government communications. Examining the ins and outs of the regulations influencing public information, The Practice of Government Public Relations unveils novel ways to integrate cutting-edge technologies—including Web 2.0 and rapidly emerging social media—to craft and maintain a positive public image.

Expert practitioners with extensive government communications experience address key topics of interest and provide an up-to-date overview of best practices. They examine the specifics of government public relations and detail a hands-on approach for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the wide-ranging aspects of government public relations—including how to respond during a crisis.In addition to the tools provided on the accompanying CD-ROM, most chapters include a Best Practice Checklist to help you successfully utilize the communication strategies outlined in the book.

Focusing on the roles of government managers enacting policies adopted by elected officials and politicians, this book is ideal for program managers seeking innovative and inexpensive ways to accomplish their programs’ missions. While no manager can be an expert in all aspects of public administration, this book helps you understand the external communications tools available to advance the mission and results of your agency.

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