Friday, August 31, 2012

The Republican Brand—2012

When I was growing up you could spot a young Republican a mile a way. He was eager, clean-cut, had perfectly trimmed hair, and wore a red tie and a big grin. He looked—to me and my friends—like a snot-nosed dork.

In those days leftists were cool, Republicans hopelessly out of it. Young Republicans wanted to shake hands and get ahead. Leftists thrilled to the possibilities of change. My friends and I took risks. Republicans were intellectually constipated.

In those days a Republican mother had perfectly saloned hair and was insufferably earnest. Her walk, face and voice exuded dreary platitudes. She hosted dinner parties with neatly placed cloth napkins—while we leftists lived full, fiery lives on campus, in the streets, and at home with our colorful parents.

We on the left stood for freedom of expression. We were cultural outsiders. We shocked the earnest Republican mothers and mystified their eager offspring.

Now I’m grown up. The cultural landscape has changed. Political personalities are reversed. Leftists of all stripes—from Occupiers to Hollywood liberals—are the earnest dorks. Leftists seem narrow-minded and uptight. Staunch liberals are shocked by fiery speeches and colorful characters.

Today, Democrats own the establishment. They wag their fingers, suppress insensitive speech, and scold and lecture like the Republican mothers of my youth. Democrats are the nerdy fact-checkers, pouring over the words to find any error for use in an inquisition.

And behold today’s Republicans! Like you, I watched the major Republican speeches, listened to the pundits, and followed the internet chatter. Here is Brandsinger’s take on the Republican National Convention:

1 Political parties are big, institutional brands. Candidates are their products. The Republican product line-up offers a sparkling young Governor Marco Rubio. An eloquent, bookish Condoleezza Rice. A solid, defiant Governor Susana Martinez. A stunning, steely-eyed Governor Nikki Haley. An amazing creature from outer space called Paul Ryan—poised, passionate, purposeful.

One old model needs to be retired: John McCain. What was his point, a call for World War III? 

2 Brand messages—The big themes were personal freedom, America’s unique role in the world, the celebration of individualism, faith in God, the glory of personal achievement, reverence for the immigrant, denunciation of divisions by race and class, homage to the wide-open possibility of living your dream in America.

3 An odd and discordant trope: Every inspiring personal story-line climaxed with the opening of a business. “And they came here, worked hard, had children, and they… (drum roll, bulging eyes) opened their own business!” (delirious cheering)

Are Americans, in the Republican narrative, a nation of shopkeepers? Not sure the Republicans—so eager to align with job creators—want America to be known as a culture of fruit stands and dry cleaners. Missing were farmers and machinists, clerks and programmers—a big swatch of voters!

4 Clint Eastwood—Weirdly authentic and unscripted. It was riveting to see an old guy using his own words—clichĂ©-less!—reveling in the spotlight. He’s done everything, thrilled millions, and come to the political stage to have his say. Deliciously unpredictable theater.

5 Romney—Looks like Republican men of my youth. Cool but trying to be warm. Little known or loved—and trying to be open and appealing. Romney is a stiff in the tradition of Gore and Kerry. It is said that he wrote his own speech. What a botch.

As counselor to Romney I would have advised a different approach. “Hi, I’m Mitt Romney… and my advisors want me to open up tonight and show you my real, human side. I’ll try to do that. But I warn you: I’m no slick politician and performer. I’m actually somewhat shy—that’s right. But I burn—deep inside—with a passion to lead this nation back to prosperity and global greatness.”

That’s an alternative option. Romney should have confined his tedious family history to a written resume. All you can say of the speech is that Mitt Romney would look great on the face of a dime.

6 And Chris Christie?—The building-sized New Jersey governor had the most encompassing, emblematic line of the convention. “Democrats believe in teachers’ unions. We believe in teachers.”

With that line, Christie summed up the convention’s intended brand differentiation: Democrats are a party of interest groups calculatingly defending their turf by any means. Republicans are a party of quirky individuals, united by faith in work and achievement, and forever guided by the icons of American culture—from the struggling immigrant to Clint Eastwood’s gunslinger, from the god-fearing Christian to the duty-bound soldier, from the small business owner, grousing about taxes and red tape to (and this is new, Democrats take note) the single mother in a gritty neighborhood who demands for her children freedom from the tyranny of the local teachers’ union.



Anonymous said...

Your alternative version of Mitt Romney's first few lines might have saved the day. People are most attentive in those first few seconds. They are wondering if maybe, just once, they'll get something other than a canned political product. I'm not sure that Clint was so great, but his opening points about Hollywood were great: they reshaped the audience's perception of reality. Too bad Mitt couldn't do the same.

brandsinger said...

Well, yes, Clint was a disaster...but somehow a refreshing one. Going on national television with an empty chair and no script is just loony... and thus, endearing.


Shelby Brea said...

Claude, your opening for Romney would have been fantastic, a proof point for the authenticity he flat out lacks. It was hard not to giggle when speaker after speaker called him authentic. Sigh.

Now, we just need to amp up his closing. Making fun of Obama for being concerned about climate change was good, but can we take it further? Silly president also kept our economy from falling off a cliff, deftly supported the Arab spring and killed Bin Laden. Oh, there's so much we can laugh about.

brandsinger said...

Ha ha - thanks, Shelby. Your faith in Obama, Santa Claus and Big Foot is touching.

As for Romney, whew, what a stiff on stage. But his supporting cast of passionate conservatives is impressive, you must admit. Just wait until the Democrats trot out Harry Reid and Joe Biden -- you'll beg for more time with Rubio and Nikki Haley.

Let's have lunch! -brandsinger

Anonymous said...

Teachers' unions are people, my friend.

brandsinger said...

Thanks for the comment, amigo. I think teachers can be great, and many are dedicated professionals. But their unions have stood in the way of needed educational reform. As an interest group, unions fight for tenure, seniority, limitations on school choice, and other advantages for their members -- and understandably so. But these contract features act as brakes on society's flexibility to hire talented teachers and fire incompetent ones.

Historically, unions have played a vital role in humanizing work rules and supporting working people. Today, the priorities of teachers' unions and children's needs are not well aligned.

That's just my humble POV.