Public relations is at the nub of politics. And, at the nub of public relations is branding. Defining who you are, defining your competition and doing it over and over and over again – never stopping. There is nothing particularly revelatory about this. This is Coke vs. Pepsi and Chevy vs.Toyota. Basic stuff – we’re inundated with it every day. But, if there is one thing the Democratic Party just refuses to do, it’s brand. They suppose if you work hard and do the right things, everyone will love and admire you. Marvelous, isn’t it.
Oddly enough, that never does seem to work out for the Democrats. No, the people’s love and admiration requires more than just doing the right things.
The airy idealists who once flitted around the White House singing, good policy makes good politics, no doubt have had their tutus removed and wings revoked. There will be no more of that. Please Axelrod and Plouffe, no more of that!
Barack Obama and his team have learned very late and very hard that politics and policy cannot be bifurcated. One does not make good policy without good politics – policy cannot be gotten to without the implicit power of the electorate. It is precisely this that Obama admitted earlier this month when he said, “[t]he most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”
He should know. Progressives watched in disbelief as month after month and year after year, Obama tried to change things from the inside. He believed that the completeness of his election victory suggested he should be able to move furtively behind the scenes. Surely his defeated foes would take their political medicine and work with him. After all, that’s what a Democrat would do.
So, the president would work the inside game – compromise with Boehner and Cantor and Ryan and McConnell – reasonable fellows. And, he’d compromise on favorable terms. Indeed.
Little did the new pragmatist who wanted to fix America know that the less than pragmatic bagger brigade would meet within days of the election to plot his destruction. America be damned.
We all know what would follow. Month after month and year after year of outright hostility and obstruction.
It is only now, in the twilight of his first term, that the president understands how much he needed the outside – the public – in order to move his agenda. It was only ever the power of the electorate that would force Washington or, more precisely, entrenched Republicans to act.
Instead of marketing himself and his agenda, instead of branding his opponents, the president left the public to the tender mercies of Karl Rove and Fox News. For more than three years Americans have been treated to a cacophonous cluster fuck of radical right-wing orthodoxy. A santorumy mix of teabag nihilism, Randian dystopia and and neoconservative imperialism. The loud incessant clanging has come from all corners of Republicanism and drowned out other less audible intonations – those whispers otherwise known as the Obama agenda.
The Republican noise machine has persuaded a significant portion of the public that a Marxist ascendancy made manifest by the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is responsible for a recession that antedates its origins by two years. That same battered public believes that Barack Obama has raised their taxes, expanded government and is plotting to impound their guns. Absurdities, all.
Not surprisingly, calls for draconian spending cuts, sweeping new tax cuts and radical deregulation fall on receptive if tortured ears. Mitt Romney has the base just where he wants them. Dumbed down.
It is up the the Obama campaign to interrupt the GOP cacophony. The only way to counter loud, relentless lying is with loud, relentless truth. Branding your truth and their falsehoods.
The American audience requires simplicity. Fine, keep the branding simple. Branding can be achieved with with nifty little sound bites but even more readily by eschewing policy discussion in favor of people discussion. Personify concepts.
Attach your concepts to good people and attach your opponents’ concepts to bad people. This is as simple as it gets. If you have no models from the past, simply invent them in the present.
Republicans have mastered the technique. Even as they dusted themselves off from a terrific drubbing in 2008 they were planning a counterattack so that Mitt and the boys would be in a position to win back the White House in 2012 and complete the Bush agenda for America. Plutocracy. They’d do it little by little and day by day – personifying concepts.
In the early days of the Obama administration, the president was too strong and too popular to attack directly and Republicans had the stench of Bush on them. They would not be able to sell themselves for some time – in the inimitable words of Tom Davis (R-Va) their brand was flat out dog food. There was no escaping that smelly reality.
The Fluntzian (Frank Luntz) strategy would be to make sure the other brand – Democrats – became dog food too. Republicans could re-brand the Democrats faster than rehabilitate themselves.
Did Republicans believe ‘merica knew who Nacy Pelosi was? No. All the better! They would turn her into whatever their bemused little minds could conjure up. In a diabolical twist, Nancy Pelosi would become the Republican spokes model for the Democratic brand.
By the time Republicans were done with poor Nancy, she was a San Francisco socialist and a surgically enhanced feminazi. Thereafter, any democratic proposal would be linked to the her and it became socialist too. Soon, Republicans would link Barack to Nancy and, sure enough, he became a socialist. In the end, the entire Democratic Party was dog food – socialist dog food.
Absent any rebuttal from the Plouffites at the White House, the dog food strategy worked like a charm. Luntz and Rove would celebrate a 2010 mid-term ass kicking.
Give Republicans credit, they can even take a dead economist, an English baron no less, and turn him into a teabag chimera. You see, it was the satanic economic theories of English gentleman, John Maynard Keynes, that informed the New Deal and saved America from a conservative depression. Damn him to hell!
If there are two things a good, patriotic teabagger hates its Nancy Pelosi and Keynesian economics. He can’t spell ’em, doesn’t really know a damn thing about ’em, but he sure can hate ’em. Now that’s branding.
To win this election and to move a progressive agenda, branding conservative ideas and attaching bad policies to the bad politicians who support them must a part of the Democratic strategy. It’s sure to upset and confuse the Beltway media and maybe even some pie in the sky liberals – Democrats aren’t supposed to be tough. That’s too bad. Branding works.
The Democrats have had some success branding Romney -as the out of touch plutocrat. They must keep repeating that over and over again – never stopping. But there’s more to do.
Attach Romney to the people who represent his ideology but who he’s loathe to be associated with. He’s done a bit of the work already – inexplicably tethering himself to Paul Ryan and his budget. Democrats must now attach him to other equally malodorous conservatives. George Bush and Dick Cheney spring to mind – no matter that the MSM and conservative media will moan and groan. Do it! And, just for fun, Democrats should find their own dead economist to demonize too. Perhaps, Michele Bachmann’s favorite Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, is a good place to start. Ludwig was a big believer in the magical powers of an unregulated market. Credit default swaps and junk bonds for everyone!
It’s long past time to put things in their rightful place- the Republican brand on the Alpo shelf and John Maynard Keynes restored to the pantheon of great thinkers.
Define who they are. Do it over and over and over again – never stop.