Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Politics as Marketing

Another year, another blog post.

So watching Obama's non-State of the Union speech last night and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's GOP response, I started thinking about the state of American politics.

It's no secret that the GOP for years has been microtargeting their messaging: Finding small groups of people to pander to and gathering enough of those constituencies together to cobble together a 50% plus one vote majority. You can't really blame them. They had success with this strategy in the 70s and 80s, with Carter being elected more or less as a backlash to Nixon's corruption; Bill Clinton, with the help of Mark Penn et al., used it himself to success, and Karl Rove adjusted the marketing and became perceived as the master of it.

Rove's greatest move was to realize that the conservative evangelicals were the great untapped demographic and the explicit overtures to this group he engineered were the key to great Republican success (at the expense of the Republic, one might opine).

Bill Clinton showed empathy with folks; George W. Bush got elected due largely to the aforementioned evangelicals, but he got enough of the more liberal constituency by repeating, if not demonstrating, 'compassionate conservatism.' He was then smart enough to keep America scared shitless for three years in order to get re-elected. But be careful what you wish for, my Republican droogies, as we've seen what your ideas can do now.

Which is why it's kind of amazing that for at least the near term, the GOP, institutionally, is convinced that the content of their message is unfailingly, cosmically Right, but the WAY they're saying it is wrong.

Since 2004 generally, and 2006 specifically, it seems like 'the party of ideas' (certainly not my words) is dedicated to being the party of Democratic ideas.
Let's start with Michael Steele, the recently-elected chair of the GOP. Steele has rightly taken a lot of flack for his recent pronouncement that the GOP will be 'Beyond the cutting edge' in its approach, and that they want to bring the GOP message to 'urban' and 'hip-hop' settings.

This is what's called Learning the Wrong Lesson.
And they do it all the time.

So you have the GOP lionizing folks like Jindal, who checks the young and attractive (and Evangelical) boxes. You have Sanford, who's going for the Trusted Advisor role, in marketing speak, with a libertarian You have Steele, who's, well, Black. And you have Huckabee, who is a 'nice' Evangelical.

But the message between these men does not waver. Amongst themselves, they argue about who will be tougher on immigration or abortion, about flat taxes vs. more tax cuts for the wealthy, about who is softer on defense.

Economy crappy due to private financial interests running amok? We should let the private financial interests sort it all out. Years of funding and arming small splinter radical groups have yielded armed and funded radical groups that hate America.
These folks don't take in information from outside sources. They don't independently verify information, and they rely on a small group of think tanks to, well, think for them. Check this out, from Obama last night:
Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

This style of communication is the power of the Democratic Party right now, and despite the pollster-driven mechanics of the 90s, Bill Clinton's greatest legacy. We'll see how it looks long term, but right now, the Democrats are much, much stronger. It's filled with people about my age who are fluent in information technology, we're media-savvy (ooh the kids Twitter! Let's Twitter.). Obama clearly gets this; every major initiative in the past month has been reinforced with a web/transparency component.

This openness will inject more empiricism back into the governmental process long-term and will make it difficult for dogma to be reinserted. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say, and the legions of unemployed folks out there will now have tons of time to vet the doings of their own government, which is kind of exciting, I think.

The GOP has years to go to make up any ground in the war of information, and only has a very small core of young practitioners possessed of the kind of openness required to re-examine the Goldwater/Reagan/Limbaugh canon. That being said, with the average tenure of a Senator at 11 years and a House member 9, real Change We Can Believe In will take a while.

So listen up, GOP, and not that I want you to succeed, I clearly don't. But if you kids want to stay in the big leagues and not end up the 21st century Whig party, you gotta work on more than the marketing. You folks need to take a good long swim in lake you and be able to admit when you're wrong. I could offer suggestions, but I'd only be repeating liberal dogma, and, well, that'd send you kids flipping to page 37 of the

In the meantime, I, for one, will welcome our new Democratic overlords.

A little rust showing from the year off, eh?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Strange things afoot

So here's the grand irony to the 2008 presidential race, as I see it:
Hillary Clinton is in a position comparable to that of Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic primaries.

How's that for an attention-getter? I'm gonna be the most famous blogger ever.

Anyway, Mrs. Clinton was the ordained frontrunner fairly early; by all external indicators it was/is her race to lose. For convenience's sake we'll ignore 1992's Tom Harkin Iowa showing. I crack me up.

But here's the thing: Four years ago, the party honchos decided that it would be a Good Thing (TM) to let a senatorial candidate from Illinois give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. This Mr. Obama, who ended up running against Alan Keyes (!) for the senate seat he now holds, nailed it. Nailed. It.

Now flash back to 1988. I remember watching the keynote that year as well, freshly aware at age 14 that I held different political views than those of my parents (I did have a Bush/Quayle bumper sticker on my notebook that my French teacher, a small-time Republican party operative, gave me. It was adolescence, I was confused.). It was a massively long speech, but one delivered by the governor of a small Southern state, one Bill Clinton. The sheer length of his speech (it took him an hour to introduce Michael Dukakis) at that convention got him an invitation to guest on Letterman, and his brilliant performance on that show went a long way in rewriting world history for the last 15 years.

I saw Mr. Clinton speak four years later(twice!) in the smallish, shuttered steel mill town where I went to college, and was very much moved. By then the nominee, he spoke to hope, to common purpose, and I absolutely ate it up. To this day I have a problem being objective about those years, to be honest. I shared his view that that Congress and the media were, to put it abrasively, acting like total assholes, and that he was simply fighting against them, and believe that his motivations were more or less pure while he held that office. I'm a sucker that way.
But I digress.

My point is that now, the once anti-establishment Clintons (and I am hesitant to refer to them as the same entity) are the insiders, even though their years in Washington hardly put them on the same level as a Preston Bush/George H.W. Bush/George W. Bush level. People forget the amount of contempt the 'establishment' had for the Clintons in those years.

Mr. Obama has strong parallels to the 1992 Bill Clinton. While people like to talk of Mr. Obama as if he's this magnificent pure character, independent of party and whatnot, the truth is that people in the Democratic party have had an asterisk by his name for a while. Now that establishment is in a bit of a quandary, with the seats of power necessarily being divvied up between Clinton-era pols, whose outsider approach earned them the Presidency (and seats on the DLC), and the more recent netroots sort of folks, whose influence has been made clear through the installation of Howard Dean as the DLC chair.

Which ultimately brings me to my point:
Hillary Clinton essentially has to run against her husband. Someone who fits all the descriptors that applied to Mr. Clinton in 1992: inexperienced, no substance, blah blah blah. But the guy can talk. And that's exactly the sort of thing that makes a good president, and I can only hope that underneath Mr. Obama's inspirational persona, someone as wonky as Clinton lurks.

Wonkiness aside, Mr. Clinton's ability to distill popular opinion into concrete talking points, combined with a studious application of classic oratorial technique, were enough to motivate a people to give him the reins, and also make a Congress who HATED the guy to do almost whatever he wanted (health care excepted) legislatively.
So how's it all going to end? God knows. The Republicans were never able to fully defeat Mr. Clinton (2000, arguably, but if he was on that ticket he'd have won), and I don't know if the Clinton camp has it in them to defeat this year's version of its 1992 self. And I don't know if I want them to.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


I've chosen to be anonymous on this blog. You can probably find out who I am if you try even a little, but for now let's keep it under wraps.
I make no promises re: quality of content or frequency of post.

Petey X = PDX. Get it?