Sunday, September 27, 2015

Republicans: The Mad Men Effect

Before Chris Rock takes his lines national, he tries them out on local audiences in New York to see what works and what doesn't.  New Hampshire serves the same purpose for candidates for national office. They come to small towns like Hampton and give their stump speeches to audiences of a few score of citizens and see what lines elicit a response and what kind of response. And they get questions from the audience, often questions they did not expect, like the one Donald Trump got in Rochester from the guy who knew President Obama is a Muslim and not born in the United States. 

So it was yesterday, listening to Lincoln Chafee and Lawrence Lessig. There were surrogates for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, who already have their stump speeches.  

As I listened to each I kept thinking of how these would play during a debate on national TV and how they would play with various audiences. Bernie Sanders has several hurdles to leap:  1. He is too old  2. He is detached from reality--how could he possibly pay for free college for everyone?  3. He would be as alien as Obama in red and even purple states.  His surrogate clearly recognized all this and answered each.  Tax Wall Street and the money is there for free college. And so on. 

 Hillary has been accused of being too cold so her surrogate, the estimatable Congresswoman from New Haven Connecticut, Rosa DeLauro,  told warm and fuzzy stories about Hillary, how she could have gone straight for the big money out of Yale Law School but instead went to work for an advocacy group for women's health.  Rep. DeLauro is a very impressive speaker, but what was most impressive is she drove the four hours up and the four hours back on a gorgeous Saturday, when she could have been enjoying the Connecticut shore, just to speak to fifty people at a Hampton, NH picnic. 

Lawrence Lessig spoke the essential truth: Money and its pursuit has so corrupted our political life it has undermined and poisoned democracy to the point the citizenry has lost faith in government. His problem is that very few people think there is anything which can be done about that. He is seen as Don Quixote tilting windmills. Delusional, lovable but not a threat to the status quo.

The problem each of these essentially decent candidates has is not with the strength of their ideas but with the perception about what these ideas mean, with the marketing.

And that is exactly the problem the Republican candidates do not have. They have great marketing for really dreadful ideas.  They can sell you just about anything with the right slogans and ad campaigns--they are the Mad Men of our political system.

Here's the Republican product: Government is bad. We do not need it. Well, we don't need it except to build armaments in various congressional districts, to maintain the armed forces and to keep women from having abortions or most forms of contraception and to "protect our borders" and keep out those venal immigrants who want to rape and pillage and give birth to their children here so they can forever suck at the teat of our social welfare state.  And, oh yes, Obamacare has been a "disaster" and the only thing our economy needs is to get the government regulators off the back of entrepreneurs and big business and unleash the horses of private enterprise--like those guys who build diesel Volkswagons or who send peanut butter jars filled with Salmonella downstream or who run coal mills or drill for oil in the Alaskan wilderness or offshore. 

Here's one example from my own experience here in New Hampshire. In the Live Free or Die state there is a movement to make the state a "Right to Work" state. Now who could be against the right to work?  But what Republicans mean by this is no worker who works in a unionized plant where the union has negotiated a benefit package for all workers has to pay union dues. Of course, if you don't have to support the union but you benefit from its labors in your behalf anyway, why would you pay for it? It makes unions sort of like public radio--you can listen to it whether or not you send in your check. 

The Democrats have never come up with a response to this slogan. They've tried, "Oh,it's the right to starve" or "Right to get screwed" but nothing has matched the original phrase. Republicans really are good at this game.  As Don Draper once observed: "Everyone thinks it's easy. They all think they can do it. But they can't."

Oddly, the same Republicans who want to free workers from the onerous obligation to pay the people who fought for them, they are all for New Hampshire companies which force new employees to sign "non compete" contracts, which stipulate that if you quit the company, you cannot work within 25 miles of any work site owned by the company.  So, the company, in a sense, owns you just as surely as the union might be said to own you.  Want to leave your job at the clinic?  Fine, just sell your home and move your kids out of their schools or resign yourself to the exile of a long commute to your next job. In the case of doctors, the contracts often spell out the concept that the company "owns" the patients in the doctor's practice.  He cannot solicit them or even tell them where he is headed because the patients "belong" to the company.  Republicans are not, in fact, for unleashing the free market system; they are in favor of big business controlling the destinies of the company and the workers and that often means thwarting free competition, which really is the wild and wooly marketplace in action. 

You would think all these details would be a problem for Republicans, who are supposed to be all for unleashing the stallions of the economy, but it does not because they have, brilliantly, dreamed up a great phrase we can all latch on to: Right to Work.

And so the "Estate Tax" on the rich becomes the "Death Tax."  The "Affordable Care Act" becomes "Obamacare" and you know where that man comes from...Mars most likely, or worse yet, Kenya.

If they say it often enough, "Obamacare has been an unmitigated disaster" then all the statistics which show it has insured more people than anyone anticipated, that it has brought down costs rather than, as anticipated, raising them, that it has been hugely successful are for naught.  The classic example of marketing over reality is Kentucky where the state Obamacare program, Kynect, has been hugely popular but polls reveal the good citizens of Kentucky believe Obamacare has been a disaster.  It's the old "Keep your friggin government hands off my Medicare."

Makes you wonder what the Democrats have to do to win the hearts and minds. Where is the Don Draper for the Democratic campaign?

Give him this: He can sell 

Looking better all the time

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