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Sunday, June 3, 2007

A Tough Question From Christy

Before I address the subject of this post, I want to take a moment to marvel at the ability of bloggers I admire to post as much, and as deeply, as they do. As a fledgling blogger myself, I am all too aware of how much reading is necessary for intelligible and marginally relevant posts to be developed. I don't even come close to some of the "bigs" in this respect, and I read my ass off (and I quit my job last year, so I have no excuse. BTW - I am struggling, and any purchases or donations are wildly appreciated.)

For example, I read FireDogLake.com every day (since Katrina) - and I am now mustering to respond to a post which has already been supplanted by another on that site. Because I am "behind," I am doing so without taking the time to review the over 250 comments - so far - to Christy's post, something I would normally do to get a sense of what the "firepups" are brainstorming up. Most of the time, that community has the subject well-covered, and after a good lurk I usually decide that I have nothing illuminating to add, and I move on.


Christy's post is about perception, specifically on how Republicans do so well in "branding" themselves, and she is exploring the whys and wherefores of how Democrats utterly fail in this. This has come up often in the prog-blogosphere, and it is a real problem. Being a deconstructionist, I sop up subjects like this with relish.

The problem with this whole question is - wait for it - the framing (surprise!) Very quickly, the frame is that "marketing works," and how do we get some of that?

The problem with this frame is simple - marketing may "work," but it is inherently disingenuous. Serious people don't market. Period. Oh, in a society as complex as ours, you can separate the wonks from the salesmen - theoretically leaving space for the serious folks to do policy, while the song-and-dance men can then put the pretty bows and shiny jangles on it for the public. I think this is what is implied by trying to find that emotionally binding "core value" which will "sell" the party.

I personally feel that the only reason "branding" works at all is if your target audience is cynical about policy. This is the true "core value" which binds the Republicans with their base - the salesmen and their target audience both embrace cynicism with a nod-and-a-wink and - voila! - they are on the same page. They are bound by mutual cynicism, they understand each other, they trust each other, however despicable that may be under the circumstances. Form over substance flourishes in this way.

The only way for Democrats to emulate such "success" is to become as cynical as the Republican party is - basically to become the Republican party. Which they are rightfully accused of whenever they become triangulating centrists, and the liberal (serious) base of the party rightly fillets them for it every time.

I think Al Gore understands this all too well. The constant anti-intellectual denigration he suffers is a direct outgrowth of this nod-and-wink cynicism. He understands that the only way for honest, serious policy to prevail is the hard work of education, education, education. There is no Madison Avenue shortcut to awakening people to honest, serious thinking. The shiny objects may be a formidable competition to this end, but the way will never be found by adopting such disingenous, and frankly contemptibly undignified, means. Seriousness is boring and therefore Al Gore is boring (well, not to me, but I'm one of those boring intellectual types myself.)

So my answer to Christy, for whatever it's worth, is I think we have to drop that whole idea and continue with the hard work. You folks at FireDogLake.com have done some amazing things, and all of your successes have come from serious, boring-ass, policy and issue work. You have not stooped to marketing and shiny-object creation for your most successful achievements (OK, "The Kiss" Liebermobile was pretty fucking funny - I'll admit. But that was comic-relief, and a bit of a distraction in the whole Lamont campaign. It was worth it, though, because it illustrated how seriously the opposition takes branding.) Bottom line is that you guys are the grown-ups and the grown-ups always - sigh - have to do the serious, boring stuff.

I just hope the kids have fucked the sandbox up so bad for now that there will be some true space for the serious to get some well-deserved consideration.

2 comments:

  1. I followed you over from FDL to see what you had to say. It is a most interesting discussion. The words "Framing" and "Archetype" come first to mind. The GOP has been winning at both for many years now as you well know. Their framing and their "archetype" (strong Daddy party) has had a winning run but is now under serious threat. Unfortunately for the dems, we have not rebranded ourselves (formerly known as the tax and spend librul dirty f*** hippy party.

    The impoloding GOP brand needs to be replaced by a strong brand that resonates with the American people. Democrats know that we stand for level playing fields and equal opportunity. We haven't been able to turn our policy objectives into strong messaging. Whatever our messaging becomes, in order to be successful it will need to transform cynicism into hope. A very tall order given the cynicism rampant in the media and the right wing noise machine. I am hoping that the subject of democratic branding and messaging is included at YearlyKos. We sorely need it.

    Kevster

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for reading and commenting, Kevster. It really is a serious issue.

    ReplyDelete

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