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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Political Brands: John McCain


Although it doesn't really seem over, the media pundits have proclaimed that it's all over but the Monday morning quarterbacking.  They would have you believe that come November, 2008, the two finalists challengers for America's Presidential Idol contest are John McCain and Barack Obama.  I've written enough about Obama, except for two minor items that I feel are worth mentioning at this point:

1.  His wife is utterly obnoxious.
2.  His political agenda seems to be nothing more than the same old stuff we heard from middle of the road Democrats circa 1970.

The good news about this election is that it will energize an entire electorate, whereas previously  only half the electorate bothered to vote.  This is because unlike the last two elections, this time, the entire country will be casting their votes for "anyone but Bush."  Yes, Virginia, it's true that even most Republicans are disgusted and looking forward to the day that Bush, Cheney and their entourage have completed pillaging the country's moral and financial riches.

But that's another story.

What intrigues me at this point is the political branding of John McCain and the huge, spear-laden tiger trap he has set out for Senator Obama.  In case you hadn't noticed, McCain is keeping very quiet on his association with the previous administration.  It is only now, as the finalization of the Democratic nominee nears, that he is beginning to tip his hand in our direction.

And he's holding a bunch of, um, really good cards.  Here's the deal:

McCain is no dope, but the people analyzing him sure are.  They're so focused on what they think he's going to do that they're totally ignoring what options the man has before him.  Sure, his people will trot out the prisoner of war stuff.  They'll trumpet the patriotic montages.  And they'll tell the softer side, too, including the fact that McCain and his gazillionaire wife adopted an abandoned baby as their own.  That's pretty  good material.  The stuff of which public relations guys can only dream.

But it gets better.

The heat on Obama increases in direct proportion to his proximity to the nomination.  As he nears his coronation, he's increasing his direct attacks on McCain, nibbling at the bait  -- he knows his best shot is handcuffing McCain to eight years of the Bush administration.   He also knows the time is getting near when he's going to have to lay out his eventual agenda with specifics instead of slogans.  What Obama doesn't seem to realize is that he's feeding John McCain's agenda the political equivalent of human growth  hormones.

The clearer Obama's proposals become, the more they're going to appear to be the same old Democrat policies from the 1960's and 1970's.  And if you're reading this and thinking, "Oh, he means Obama is going to be perceived as a liberal", you're half right.  Because the real perception is on the other end of the stick:  With Obama being cast as a middle-to-left leaning liberal, McCain is now free from pursuing and pandering to the far Christian right.  I mean, where else is the conservative right wing going to go?  Libertarian?  I don't think so.  

So with the infamous Christian right wingers in the bag, all that's left for McCain to do is convince disenchanted Republicans and Reagan Democrats of his disassociation from the Bush administration.  And if you're a fan of facts over fiction, you'll find that's exactly how McCain's resumé reads.  In fact, anyone seriously examining McCain's record would likely surmise that if there ever were to be a "third term for Bush", McCain would probably be out in front with Joe Lieberman opposing it.

The media previously publicized the death of McCain's campaign once before.  No doubt, they'll do it again.  But like I said, you'd have to be a fan of fact over fiction to see this one play out.  That's fine.  There aren't many good movies out now anyway.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wrapping up Ted Kennedy

I'm not sure why it happens, but for some reason, the only news we
hear about the Kennedys is bad. You can read all the books you want;
every single tome is less a biography than a series of unfortunate
events, featuring plane crashes, premature deaths and social diseases
that stretch way back into the early twentieth century. Now we hear
the tragic news of Senator Ted Kennedy's inoperable brain cancer,
sending shivers down our spines and text messages through the gossip
mill.

It's a horrible fate to imagine. Even more horrible is the manner in
which the media and politicos are going to package it.

The first wave of messages will be hardly surprising, driven mainly
by morbid curiosity. What kind of tumor? Is it malignant? Followed
by the ever-present, "How long do you think he really has?"
We'll get the usual, "he's a fighter" and "if anyone can beat this,
Ted Kennedy can." We'll watch the interviews with his lifelong
friends. Given the media mentality of what now passes for American
politics, however, there's sure to be a second and third wave of
messaging that sinks way lower, deep beyond the previous limits of
bad taste.

This being an election year, I suspect that anyone with an agenda
will be soon be invoking the Kennedy name in discussions more often
than Jesus Christ in church. The Kennedy brand, at once as romantic
as it is tragic, will descend upon the Democrats at the convocation
of their national convention. In a twisted attempt to package this
year's nominee as the torch-bearer of the Kennedy legacy, Ted
Kennedy, viewed as "the last of the real Kennedys", will have his
final movie moment, waving to the crowd during a tearful, emotional
fifteen minute standing ovation after delivering his last keynote
address, nominating whichever Democrat that has managed to steal
enough votes.

Democratic strategists, like the infamous Howard Dean, will be
packaging Ted Kennedy as the New Age Gipper, with plenty of upshot
camera angles and slow-motion dolly moves that will be cut into the
eventual documentary film. It will be a glowing, Kennedy moment.

"Win this last one for me."

While the Kennedys have always enjoyed media popularity, reporters
are already writing Ted Kennedy's obituary. They're using words like
"patriarch" and "icon," which when you think about it, is true: Ted
Kennedy is an icon for a entire generation as the first public figure
to abdicate all responsibility for his personal behavior and without
any sort of public accountability. But that, as they say, is water
under the bridge.

As far as the Kennedys are concerned, their myths have always been
larger than life, and so in keeping with that tradition, I have
little doubt that party movers will manipulate Ted's final time with
masterful self-interest. I suspect that in the coming days, we'll
all hear and see the same talking heads bobbing and chattering and
speculating about "who dares to assume so great a mantle" as left by
Ted Kennedy, while anointing their candidate of choice in hopes of
spurring a generation of nostalgic baby boomers into the voting
booths.

It's a genuinely sad time for the Kennedy family. It's potentially
even sadder for America if the Democrats commercialize his ill
fortune for their own selfish gain.

H.L. Mencken said it best: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating
the taste of the American public." You just watch what happens with
the merchandising of Ted Kennedy.

And pray that I'm wrong.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Let's Play the Race Card

One of the most interesting aspects of branding is the manner in which most people approach it. Because they focus so much on what they like to sell, they tend to forget about the reasons their customers actually buy. I often point this out to clients with the example of selling Porsche automobiles. Ask Porsche why men buy their cars, and they'll tell you it's because those men appreciate a finer automotive machine. Ask those men, however, and you'll find the answer to be somewhat different:

They find that with a Porsche, they can get hotter chicks.

Nothing really new there, except for the realization that things don't always happen for the reasons we think they do. In fact, one of the most common misconceptions players face in the competitive arena is the assumption of a level playing field. Nowhere could this be truer than in the mega-hypocritical, politically correct stadium known as the American presidential election, where the Los Angeles Times recently reported on the battle between Democratic contenders Clinton and Obama.

In its article predicting the demise of Hillary Clinton, the Times reported the following:

Other Democratic officials said Wednesday that they feared the political damage to the party if Clinton were to succeed in using the party apparatus to take the nomination from Obama, who has energized black voters and many other Democrats.

Seems innocuous enough, eh? Really? Try reading the same lines with the details reversed and see if it plays the same way for you:

Other Democratic officials said Wednesday that they feared the political damage to the party if Obama were to succeed [against] using the party apparatus to take the nomination from Clinton, who has energized white voters and many other Democrats.

Same story, but written from the politically incorrect point of view. Just imagine if any candidate, Democrat or Republican, were to be lionized for their efforts in galvanizing the white vote in America. As we say in my own home, "Boy, would there be yelling."

Think I'm being too clinical here? Well, you may want to ask yourself why it's perfectly okay to bash the "Christian right", while everyone cries foul for referring to Obama by his full name -- Barak Hussein Obama. Nobody has a problem with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Or Richard Milhous Nixon. Or even Lee Harvey Oswald. Call the Senator from Illinois by his full name and the next thing you'll be calling is the riot police.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have any particular agenda here. I'm all for changing what America has become and I think that change could happen with just about any candidate. The only question would be what kind of change you'd be looking at, which is what free and fair elections are all about.

I'm currently writing this from the truly democratic country of Denmark, a country that prides itself on its ethics and freedoms, including the freedom to freely -- and fairly -- disagree. There's surprisingly little yelling here, although there's plenty of debate. There's no political correctness here because the Danes understand the value of truth.

Just like America used to.