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Perception

Digby had a post yesterday that hits an issue I've been talking about lately with Mr. ReddHedd.  More on that in a bit, but first, here's Digby:

…Democratic values been nearly shut out of the dialog for more than six years (longer actually) and we are dealing with a media that is so entranced by entertainment values that they are virtually useless for conveying any real information. Politicians and their surrogates must use every opportunity to direct the conversation now to what Democrats stand for and what they want to do.

The Republicans understood one thing very well (even as they used that knowledge to degrade the congress) and that was that the optics of legislation are important. In our current environment, it's terribly important that even if the Dems don't fully implement the "majority of the majority" tactic, they keep a very close eye on how all their legislation plays out in a macro sense with the media and the public. Normally, I would assume that this needn't be openly said, it's so obvious. But their spin was so bad after the Iraq vote that it's clear it needs to be. You can't spin compost into cotton candy and they need to recognize that if they are going to "compromise" with the administration in this polarized environment they are going to have to do a better job of explaining themselves. (And they simply must learn to discipline their rhetoric — this use of GOP talking points is the single most self- destructive thing they do. I do not understand why they can't break themselves of that habit.)

This reminded me of a fantastic series that Jane did a while ago, back when we were still on blogspot, that needs revival for discussion. In On Image, Jane said the following:

When Hollywood (or anybody else) develops a movie no matter how complex they know at heart they are always playing with powerful emotional archetypes and familiar, basic narratives to tug at people's heart strings and engage them in a particular drama. It is not happenstance that it is his wife Bruce Willis is trying to rescue from the exploding skyscraper and not his accountant.

Too true, and Jane went futher in On Image, Part II, to say this:

Every time someone on the right opens their mouth they do nothing but bash and besmirch the Democrats in a wholly successful effort to define their public image that always goes unanswered.

Do the Democrats not realize that their brand is under attack?

Scratch that. The Democrats have no brand. What's their slogan? Together we can do better? Who ran that fucking focus group, Ed Gillespie?

Merck doesn't wait for a bunch of people to drop dead from taking Vioxx before they start defining their brand. They spend billions shaping the public image of both the company and their products and when something bad happens the CEO doesn't just sit back and wait for things to blow over. No effort is spared to get there message out there that everything is fine, they are still to be trusted and look at all the arthritic little old ladies they have helped. Damage control is full-frontal and relentless.

We can have the best policy ideas the world has ever seen, and incredibly practical and logical means of implementing them for the greater good of all mankind. But if the Democratic leadership doesn't stop selling them like a crappy Head-On knock-off commercial with bad production values and crap scripting and the world's most untrained actors? Then we'll continue to get screwed.

Mr. ReddHedd and I were talking about this yesterday afternoon. His theory, and I think he is right on this, is based on a variation of Wizard's First Rule: most people are stupid. They aren't going to do the work to really understand things as they are, only as they are sold to them.  The Democratic leadership is spending its time and political capital trying to sell complex cerebral calculations, nuanced, and full of provisos and quid pro quos.  I read up on what they are doing every damn day of my life, and I do not think they have a clue what direction they are going toward half the time the days — it's like watching my cat chase her tail around in a circle until she falls over and looks dazed by the sofa.  How in the hell are non-news junkie average folks in America who only half-listen to the news while they are driving to work or putting dinner on the table supposed to pick up the non-direction in which we are going?

There ought to be substance to what is being done.  But to sell the substance, Jane is absolutely correct:  they need to start tapping into the core.   But to do that, they have to decide where the core is and, frankly, I'm not certain we have even begun to scratch the surface.  The current political mess in which this nation finds itself requires real, stand-up leadership. 

Look, Peggy Noonan and the other GOP-brand spin-wordsmiths, including Newt Gingrich this morning on Fox News Sunday, have spent the last few weeks trying the following:  distance the GOP from the Bush brand, fob off all responsibility for failure onto the Bush crew, and try and walk unscathed through the stench of failure to the other side and somehow manage to paint themselves and the Republican party as smelling like a sadly duped yet earnestly trying to make things right for America rose.  As though the GOP hasn't been one big, freaking rubber stamp parliamentary yes man for the Bush Administration from the getgo.  You and I both know that is bullshit — but the average person out there in America is going to buy it hook, line, and stinker without some pushback.  Why?  Becuse most people are stupid — and they love redemption stories.

The fact that it is a sham designed to only enhance their brand image, with no real benefit for anyone other than themselves?  No one is going to care if they never get beyond the new, improved shiny package design.  ("With new bold action!")

Think about it for a minute, honestly.  Really think about it:  what is the Democratic brand?  *tap* *tap* *tap*  And the first person who says "Together We Can Do Better" is going to get it, I'm telling you that right now — that reeks.  They might as well have said the slogan was "kumbaya" and rolled over for a belly scratch, for hell's sakes. 

We have real common sense ideas that could help people in their everyday lives: there are policy initiatives that need more support and passage — desperately needed ones from improvements to head start and early childhood intervention services to corruption reforms to fixing the mess that is American foreign policy, and everything in between.  But to sell all of this to the public — which we need to do in order to get a majority of folks solidly and loudly behind the efforts — we need an overarching theme, one that hits you in the gut as much as it intrigues your mind.

And at the moment, we don't have one.  So I thought we could spend a little time brainstorming on that today — and if we come up with some good ones, I'll pass them along to folks who can put them to use. 

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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