... And welcome back, my friends. Our Tools for Activism course, by the way, we're going to put on hold for a couple of weeks. We've got a lot of travel coming up and I just, I want to really polish this thing and, and fine tune it. We're going to roll it back out again a few weeks down the road. So that's on hold. ...
... Tools for Activism. Get back to this very quickly, here. We're going to do a somewhat truncated version today. This, Kandy Stroud just issued, this is the DNC, you know, the Democratic National Committee, they issued a press release. "This morning President George W. Bush signaled a significant shift in his argument for overhauling Social Security when he refused to use the word 'crisis' to characterize Social Security. Before today, 'crisis' had been the word of choice for the Bush administration, but as the most recent Gallup poll suggests, an overwhelming 82 percent of Americans disagreed with Bush's assessment that Social Security is in crisis, adding to their skepticism against his plan to privatize the system. Today's shift in semantics is not a first in the White House's on-going crusade to sway public opinion, as they recently discarded the term 'private accounts' for the less unfavorable 'personal accounts'."
This is just, this is the use of language. This, I mean it's, it's really the most simple, straightforward, clean, clear of the, of the techniques of Neurolinguistic Programming or of communication in general. But it goes a level deeper than that. It really goes a level deeper than that. Politics ultimately is all about branding and brands, as in, you know, this brand, that brand, and brands are not about issues or details, they're not even about what's in it for you or for me. Brands are about identity. About 'who am I?'.
When Progressives and Democrats think of how Bush voters, when we think of people who voted for Bush, when we think of how they understand the word Republican, we assume that they're thinking of things like pro-life, moral values (which narrowly means pro-life, anti-gay), privatization, deregulation, free trade, lower taxes, stripping power from what the Republicans call special interests (that being labor unions, groups advocating rights for women, gays, other minorities), that's what we, that's what most Progressives think that most Conservatives, most Bush voters are thinking when they're voting for Bush. But it's not the reality. The, it's not the picture that most Americans who are Bush voters have when they hear the word Republican or Conservative. It's not the feeling that they get. It's not the story they tell themselves.
Instead, like with any good brand, the words Republican and Conservative evoke feelings as much as pictures. And the feeling is one of identity: my tribe. The main picture is the brand's logo. The American flag. At a deeper level they carry pictures, stories and feelings, for example NASCAR, Budweiser, the American flag, standing tough, standing tall in the world, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Not only are Republican voters largely unaware of the details of the issues facing our nation, studies show that most of them are badly misinformed. In some part this is the fault of the media, but the larger reason is when a person has bonded to a brand, it becomes part of their identity. They then develop a psychologically sophisticated and largely unconscious internal system that filters out and rejects contradictory information. You try and talk to them about, you say, "Hey, what about this, look at the details here, look at, here's what the Social Security actuaries say." "I don't want to hear." They just filter it, or they listen politely and just file it away as gibberish. This happens on both sides, of course, by, or on all sides, right.
Progressives, Liberals and Democrats have failed to understand this simple reality and therefore have allowed Conservatives to define our brand for us. It's been a very sophisticated effort that was led largely by Newt Gingrich and Frank Lunz together collaborating. And then they brought in Limbaugh, and, and, and others, and Heritage Foundation, and they really understand the psychology of branding and they've used it to sell the Republican Party and the word Conservative to Americans with all the zeal and all the cash used by other famous brands like Coke, Wal-Mart and Levis. What's so amazing to me, this is not rocket science. And it's not a secret. I mean, there's an entire industry devoted to teaching these concepts. I have to admit, I worked in that industry for two decades, teaching some of the largest corporations in, in the world, and government agencies how to, how to, how to brand, how to, how to communicate effectively. There are hundreds of books on the topic. College classes devoted to it.
So how come Progressives and Democrats haven't figured this out? We're still letting the Conservatives define our brands for us and they're still doing it aggressively. This month, timed to coincide with the Academy Awards, there's going to be a big billboard, series of them actually, several of them in Hollywood, with a big friendly picture of George W. Bush and a headline that says, "George W. Bush, still president, thank you Hollywood." And then they've got pictures, rather unflattering pictures, of Michael Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Affleck, and other outspoken Liberals. There are no Democratic billboards showing the biggest supporters of the Republican party, fat cats like Ken Lay with private jets and limousines, living in baronial mansions. No, the Democrats aren't defining the Republican brand and they're not defining their own brand.
See here's, here's how, there's three levels to this that you have to understand. First of all, in classical advertising, there are two foundational concepts: features and benefits.
Features are the 'what's in it for me'. 'This widget has 32 digits. The old widgets only had 16 digits'. That's a feature. Or, 'here's the details of this issue'. Those are features. 'The cap will be at 90,000 dollars for Social Security, the first 6.2% will be paid by...' These are features, details.
The benefits are the second foundational concept of advertising and marketing. Benefits are 'what's in it for me?' 'You will have security when you get old'. That's a benefit.
And here's the axiom of advertising: features without benefits lack relevance. Right, if I now just say, 'Hey! 6.2% of your income paid by your employers go in to Social Security Tax.' And you go, 'So what? How does that affect me?' On the other hand, benefits without features lack credibility. You just come up to somebody and say, 'Hey! You're going to be taken care of in your old age.' 'Oh yeah, how? I don't believe that.' You've gotta have both. You have to combine both of them. Without both of them together, you don't have credibility and you don't have relevance.
So now, now you've established features and benefits you have both credibility and relevance, now you have to chunk it up to branding. Now you get stickiness or persistence. When you answer the question, not the question 'what is it?', and not the question 'what's in it for me?', but instead the question 'who am I when I use this product?'. This is the essential question of branding. And it's a question that Republicans have succeeded in answering and Democrats have not. And Progressives, and I would say the Greens to some extent actually have succeeded in answering this, but not, not in a coherent, consistent and planned way, say. Progressives and Democrats are still working on the features.
Most Progressives know all the features they are interested in: universal single health payer, single payer health care, a viable Social Safety net, prison and sentencing reform, livable wage, support for unions, repeal of Taft-Hartley, voting and voting machine reforms, revoking corporate personhood, getting corporate money out of politics, moral leadership in the world, working for a reduction of crime and poverty at home, working toward stable lasting world-wide peace, to name a few. Those are the features. And they, they understand that the benefit means a better quality of life for everybody in America.
But where's the 'who am I?' when this is done, when I do this? Who am I when I call myself a Democrat or a Progressive or a Liberal? Not only have we not defined the brand, we haven't defined the logo. What's our logo? Bill Moyers did a, on his show Bill Moyers, 'Now with Bill Moyers', he was wearing an American flag in his lapel, and he says, "We're gonna, I'm gonna try and make this my brand, my logo." But the Republicans have so aggressively taken that logo that it looks like you're trying to imitate them. But you're, what, what can you do? Take some other brand? You can't take... I mean, that, that's the brand for the nation! What is our identity? The Conservatives have succeeded in making much of America think that to be liberal is to be either a wealthy actor or a scruffy gadfly, right, Martin Sheen or Michael Moore. While many people wouldn't mind being either, few identify themselves in such terms.
The largest lights of the Democratic party, it's founder, Thomas Jefferson, and it's two most famous recent presidents, FDR and LBJ, knew their brand and their identity and they brought the majority of Americans along with them. The largest landslide Democratic election victories in the twentieth century were FDR's, after he introduced the New Deal, and LBJ's after he introduced the 'Great Society'. Their logo was the flag and their identity was average working people and those who aspire to become middle class. Jefferson not only defined the identity of the Democratic Party he founded, which is the longest-lasting political party in world history, he defined the identity of America as well. And he defined it in both positive terms - what we're for - in the Declaration of Independence, as well as in contrasting terms - what we're against. Jefferson, for example, in a letter to James Madison on February 8th 1876 said, "It should ever be held in mind that insult and war are the consequences of a lack of respectability in the national character." This is what we're against. We're against pre-emptive wars.
Later, Madison wrote, "No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare". FDR brought us back to Jefferson's ideals with his third inaugural address, sometimes called his "four freedoms" speech on January 6th 1941, when he said,
"The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are :
These", Roosevelt said, " are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations".
- Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
- Jobs for those who can work.
- Security for those who need it.
- The end of special privilege for the few.
- The preservation of civil liberties for all.
- The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
That is creating a brand. Twenty-three years later, in his first State of the Union speech after the death of JFK, LBJ said, Lyndon B. Johnson said, "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. ... It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return 40,000 dollars or more in his lifetime." LBJ went on to say, "Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, better health, better homes, better training, better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them. ... Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it."
And then he makes the larger point. He says, "These programs are obviously not for the poor or the underprivileged alone. Every American will benefit by the extension of social security to cover the hospital costs of their aged parents." This was, by the way, when he introduced Medicare. Medicare came out of the great, is a 'Great Society' program, LBJ's. "Every American community", LBJ said, "will benefit ... from the construction or modernization of schools, libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes, from the training of more nurses and from the improvement of urban renewal in public transit."
And now we have an administration that says, "Ah, forget all that stuff! We gotta send money to, to the military. We've got a war to fight." In declaring his 'Great Society' program and starting the Medicare program, LBJ cut poverty in America in half. And I have to say, I think that if he hadn't gotten caught up in Vietnam, he would now be remembered as one of our greatest presidents, because the impact of his social programs on America was tremendous. He ended apartheid in America. And like Jefferson, both FDR and LBJ were overwhelmingly re-elected by the American people after declaring sweeping social programs that benefited average working people and those who aspired to the middle class.
The brand, the identity of progressive ideals doesn't need to be re-invented. Everybody's running around going, "what shall it be, what shall I?" It doesn't have to be re-invented. It's been with us since the founding of this nation. It long predates Roosevelt, the Republican's Faustian deal with the robber barons and war profiteers, and when the Democratic party has been the strongest, has stood in opposition to the Republican's deal with the war, with the robber barons. In fact I'd say Woodrow Wilson's disastrous presidency is the exception that proves the rule. That's a whole 'nother discussion.
So, here's the bottom line. If the Democratic party's going to survive it's got to embrace the Progressive concepts that led to its founding in the seventeen hundreds. It must tell average Americans what it's, what's, what's in it for them (that's the benefit), what it, what the details are (the features) and give Americans a brand with which they can identify. They must stop playing defense, letting the Republicans define the agenda of public debate, and in stead, re-invigorate traditional, progressive language and legislation and identity. The Democrats must re-assert their brand and establish their identity. To do this, the party has to say,
And they have to back this up by working with the Greens and the Progressives for instant run-off voting. The end of Republican-affiliated corporations programming our voting machines and other nationally inclusive social, economic and environmental reforms. Only then, only if the Democratic party can pull this off, you know, and we will see, only then will the party of Jefferson, Roosevelt and LBJ again be able to advance social justice at home and peace around the world.
- "We're for the average working stiff in America.
- We'll prove it.
- We're going to bring back jobs from overseas by pulling out of WTO and NAFTA".
- We're going to support organized labor.
- We're going to strengthen the social safety net.
- We're going to keep government from being a honey pot for churches and corporations."
So, there you have it, our 'Tools for Activism' class for the day, or rant for the day. Thom Hartmann here with you exposing the con in Conservative. Five days a week, 52 weeks a year. ...
© 2005. Copyright Thom Hartmann.