During a recent stay in Berlin, I visited the old headquarters of the East German Ministry of State Security, better known as the Stasi. The building, in a suitably bleak part of what used to be East Berlin, is now a museum devoted to the communist surveillance state. The upper floors display some of the tools of that surveillance — miniature cameras, listening devices, files on everything — that the German Democratic Republic used to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives.
But the first floor of the Stasi Museum is not about spying. Instead, it is devoted to the propaganda that East German bureaucrats used to foster socialist consciousness in an unwilling public. One display explains the GDR’s efforts in the 1950s to politicize what in the past had been family and religious occasions. The state sought to transform weddings, confirmations, and other personal events into “socialist celebrations,” to be “committed collectively and aimed at a confession to socialism,” according to the awkward English translation of the exhibit….
Here at home, this Thanksgiving brings an effort by the Obama administration to turn a day of giving thanks into a day of discussion about the virtues of national health care. On Wednesday afternoon, just hours before Thanksgiving, President Obama’s Twitter account — which has more than 40 million followers — sent out this message: “Make sure everyone who sits down with you for #Thanksgivukkah dinner is covered.” (“Thanksgivukkah” refers to this year’s rare overlap of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.)