"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Democrats: A Mess Without a Message

Democrats,

I know you know you really screwed up on the recent Iraq funding bill. And I know you think it's not entirely fair that you are being excoriated -- after all, it's only funding the war until September. By providing temporary funding, you're buying yourselves the time and political climate you think you need to line up a veto-proof majority against the Bush administration.

I get it. In fact, most of us who follow political discourse get it. But a critical aspect of your job is to ensure that all Americans get what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.

Unfortunately, you utterly failed at managing the media message (and that's putting it lightly). "Democrats backed down" is the prevailing meme. Nice job -- you just took a huge chunk out of the Democratic brand.

No matter what the legislative realities, it didn't have to be this way. It would not have taken too much time or investment to ensure that the right message was shuttled through the media meme machine -- yet this clearly did not happen.

In case it's not clear to you just yet, Americans need to believe that Democrats can stand up for America in the face of external threats. However, you just gave Americans a taste for what happens to Democrats when they are rejected twice by a powerful force -- they give in. Great message. That's really going to convince the Security Moms and NASCAR Dads that Democrats are tough enough to fight whatever foreign enemy it is that we seem to think we're fighting.

Unfortunately, it's really too late to provide any messaging advice at this point in time. But, just to make a point, here's a taste of what a good communications/messaging plan would have consisted of:

  1. Seed the blogosphere with advanced notice of a planned short-term capitulation. Hone this message to explain that this is not about backing down in the face of the Bush administration -- it is buying three months' time to rally support across the nation for the ultimate veto-proof majority. Explain that, after the historic 2006 election (taking this opportunity to thank the o-so-powerful blogosphere again for their help), the Democratic party is now a big tent party that has purple, blue, and violet members that need to be satisfied. Creating this grand coalition is critical, and will be lined up in September when it's show time.
  2. Seed the mainstream media with advanced leakage of planned short-term funding to ensure that the troops have enough money to fight throughout the summer. Democrats will cautiously support the Generals' requests to assess effectiveness of the so-called Surge Strategy.
  3. Get a firebrand Dem (i.e., Murtha) to book himself on Meet the Press the Sunday prior to the bill passing, allowing him to get all huffy about how detached from reality the President is, and how he's essentially jeopardizing our troops' well-being by playing politics and political theater. He can end with something quote-worthy like "The President relishes his own power more than the safety of our troops, or the safety of America."
  4. On Monday morning news programs, enlist a staid Democratic leader to comment on Murtha's statements, stating that he understands Murtha's frustrations, and that Murtha represents many people in the country. Yet calm heads must prevail to ensure our troops that are already deployed are as safe and equipped as possible until we're ready to move out -- which is obviously going to be sooner rather than later.
  5. Upon bill passing, Democratic leaders make the point that, based on the unreasonable position of the Bush administration, people of conscience simply cannot put the troops in the middle of a political showdown like the President is trying to do. Democrats in Congress will simply not use the troops as a political tool, and will meet the President half-way by only funding the war until September. Come September, the President will have to show us either undeniably clear progress in Iraq or face the fact that he has to end his deeply flawed war in Iraq.
Can you see how executing on this strategy might have not only altered how the press summed up the situation, but also served to limit the revolts you're currently seeing in the liberal blogosphere? Do you see how subtly assigning (admittedly unlikely) success in Iraq to all Americans, and failure in Iraq to Bush specifically is a strategic messaging strategy?

Democrats (especially congressional Dems), if you are not going to rely on messaging strategists (like OKR, who you can contact at will) as an integral part of your political strategies, then you risk continually being defined by your adversaries, and ultimately weaken your chances of leading this country when it is gripped in fear and uncertainty.

12 comments:

Jon said...

Editor's note: Thanks to William Coomber for pointing out a typo and a stylistic concern with this post (both have been addressed). His post was deleted, but credit and thanks remain.

Gerry Hubbard said...

Hi: Just ran across you blog and think it is an excellent perspective on wwkd. What do you think the reason is that the dems and liberals are not performing this type of brand managment? Thanks Gerry.hubbard@gmail.com

The Religious Left said...

because they're progressives and by their very nature, god love 'em, they can't agree of jack sh**

what's that saying?

"the Right wants to win and the Left wants to be right"

Jon said...

Gerry,

Great question. My operating theory is that Democrats are not from the executive class of American society. As a result, the culture is not informed by the advances and learnings in corporate America -- such as branding, marketing communications, sales, and the value and power of leadership.

Republicans, on the other hand, have rapidly transcribed the best practices in corporate life into the political sphere. As a result, they've turned politics into an industry just like any other. There's competition for product, and you need to strategically align your resources, deploy best practices, develop a strong brand, and market it effectively to stay in business.

How is B2C different from P2C?

I would assert that there are precious little differences in terms of the approach an organization takes to be successful.

Democrats are still in the pre-MBA world of "politics is different -- it's special, and it should not be brought down by capitalistic strategies and approaches."

Conceptually, I agree with Democrats. But elections aren't conceptual. In all reality, business strategies evolve at a faster rate than most other strategies because they are doing the most innovation in the least amount of time. Thousands of companies, every day, are trying out new ways to ensure that their product is valuable, relevant, and profitable.

This rapid innovation helps ensure that the most effective means and strategies catch on and are spread around until commoditized, when the next round of innovation needs to break through once again to create new competitive advantages.

The good news is that the Republicans are still stuck in the '80s business innovation arc: Target mailing, talk radio, and town hall meetings. These are great, but business strategies have already evolved beyond these tactics. However, if your only competition is the "Ma Bell" of Politics -- Democrats -- then they are actually good enough.

The challenge for Democrats is two-fold:

1. Infuse the progressive/liberal culture with the idea that this is the business of politics, and that getting elected requires a different set of skills than what you do after being elected. Most modern Democrats are really better once their elected, and most modern Republicans are really better at getting elected. Democrats need to get better at getting elected by focusing on personas, their party and personal brand, and the user-experience.

2. Develop an overarching philosophy that informs every policy in the platform. No more "liberal cafeteria menu of policies specifically divvied up to ensure votes in X, Y, and Z sectors." For instance, if Democrats are for globalization and believe in capitalism, then they cannot be for unions as they exist today. Democrats should then stand up for union reform to fit within their vision of modern globalization/capitalism. If Democrats are *not* for globalization/capitalism, then they need to develop a real alternative that voters think would be a brilliant alternative.

This is just one example of what developing a philosophical framework first, and then developing policies that snap-into the framework can do to a party and a party's brand.

The Republican have actually done this to a point, but it does fall apart if you look under the covers. The trouble is, nobody is looking under the covers because, quite frankly, they don't want to see that the only party with a philosophy is wearing no clothes.

The Religious Left said...

That is very vauable insight, although I think a larger difference b/w the two parties is something almost intangible; Al Franken put his finger on it somewhere along the lines of "Republicans see the US as Daddy and Mommy and Daddy and Mommy can't do wrong." The Democrats (esp. lefty progressives), for all their inability to totally embrace the free-market-of-ideas approach to public policy (which might be a healthy thing) see the US as the Parent (or Child) who is capable of error and who needs to learn and grow; that it might need to listen to other people (nations) and be a responsible (global) citizen rather than one who sees the world as a neat-o world made of candy that we alone are the chosen ones who get to devour it all at our whim. This is the leftover cultural climate that was brought into being, mainly from the Reagan years. I call him "The Great Hypnotizer", the one who fooled middle-class working Americans into thinking the GOP had their interests at heart. So, quite naturally, people left-of-center are skeptical of the whole "branding" concept. The branding needs to be transformed so to not be just a mimic of GOP tactics. I agree that they need to do a better job of getting elected and start to see the bigger picture of power politics, yet many have a deep seated distrust with the whole politics-through-capitalism approach. Of course, anything that is at odds with the status quo of American politics is labeled as "socialist" or "extremist", which is equally disingenious, yet an effective tool of the Right and the complicit MSM. This is a complex problem, for sure. I'd like to think we are capable of spinning things on their heads, so to speak, yet I think it is important to not just replicate what the other side has done to their advantage for so long. One thig Dems and prgoressives do have on their side is the ability and even a requirement for airing diverse viewpoints.

Your point #2 is exactly right. The problem, as OurKarlRove is so apt at identifying, is that there comes a time to debate and a time to unify against the other "team". At the same time, I would posit that an effective approach might be to start talking across both aisles, to people genuinely disgusted with Bush and Co. People like or who would support Chuck Hagel and Ralph Nader are not so far apart. In fact, I would like to see a bipartisan ticket: Gore and Hagel. The message would be restoring credibility in government, fiscal and foreign policy responsibility, a backing away from divisive social issues, ending the needless Drug War, ending corporate welfare, cultivating a society that cares for its children (and parents!) and which honors that through budgetary and program effectiveness, which starts to realize that energy interdependece and global climate change issues are matters of the utmost national security, and some semblence of a health care policy that might allow us to call ourselves a civilized society.

The fact is, libertarians and liberals are not too far apart. One wants less government, the other wants effective government. The Democrats desperately need to begin articulating what they are for and what they intend to do to get us out of this morass, and I think those two L words are key to such a strategy. The Republicans have given us negligent, corrupt, destructive government. Example: Cheney has single handedly done a one-up on the Iran-Contra recipe; we could almost admire his genius in using the loophole of the Office of the Vice President to create almost everything that we see going on in Iraq, energy policy, FEMA management (Katrina), Afghanistan... It would be genius were it of any use to society or if it followed any logic (incarcerating Bashir Noorzai? someone in Afhganistan wants to assist us and we reward him by sending him to prison?! FOOLS!). And, pardon my language, yet who the f*** is Karl Rove anyway, an unelected person setting public policy agendas? Serving "at the request of the president" is no excuse, because the President serves "at the request" of the People, and these advisors are making our Republic start to look like a monarchy.

Such a target rich environment, you'd think the Democrats could figure it out. Yet, alas, they are Democrats.

The Religious Left said...

One more thing:
Union reform? Reform what unions?
Reagan effectively castrated them!

Unions are not necessarily anti-capitalist either, yet I do concede that one thing that ought to be done is to take an idea that true conservatives do embrace: ownership culture. That need not be anti-anything, and the fact of the matter is that a union ought to be something akin to "employee owed". This would avoid the age-old union/managment dichotomy, which is just about dead anyway, again from what Reagan began, and what offshore labor exporting is finishing up.

The Religious Left said...

sorry, I meant to write "employee owned" not owed, which is what the Right really likes. Freudian slip?

But, not bad from political insight, though, from a massage therapist/underground musician, eh?
Actually, my degree is in anthropology. Oops, I just played up my academic credentials which is a no-no!
We live in a sad age when academia is reviled for having the audacity to teach people to think and question authority!

The Religious Left said...

I apologize for my lack of spell checking. I'm usually pretty on top of that.

Hard to do with a kid to care for.

I wanted to point out this:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20070601/ts_csm/atoll

Strategy beginning to be questioned!

Jon said...

The Mommy/Daddy metaphor exists to a certain extent, but I do not think it collides with the other metaphors. I think they can all stand on their own and are mutually exclusive.

Your view of the Mommy and Daddy who can do no wrong vs. can learn and grow comes right out of the theories in George Lakoff's "Moral Politics."

I think there is a lot to his theories in this regard. And Democrats would benefit (as would many of us in our individual lives) if we learned better what people wanted and needed to hear instead of focusing so much on what we want and need to say.

Democrats are more like individuals; Republicans are more like a company. As a result, Democrats appear to the public as a series of individuals while the Republicans appear to the public as an organization.

When the American people are looking for a 'force' to be reckoned with, or want to feel like someone is going to kick ass and take names, Republicans appear more compelling. When Americans are looking for the best and brightest ideas and innovation, they do not look for the big organization (i.e., the GOP) -- rather, they look for the geniuses, the SMEs, the people who aren't being hobbled by a conservative corporate culture.

And, for what it's worth, I'm OK with all of this. I think we need both parties to be healthy. The reason I created this blog is because I don't think the Dems are competitive politically, which means that people won't really have a true choice in the matter.

The idea behind this blog is to try to get Democrats politically competitive so that at least the American people are voting on the issues at hand, not the agendas that have been more successfully sand savvily conveyed.

i.m. small said...

LIKE KERRY PORTRAYED AS A DODGER

Senator Wellstone died beneath
Mysterious circumstances--
If one would serve one chances death,
So the grim Reaper dances.

"Foul play" has been suspected while
Without investigation
Clearly directed--let us smile--
Truth has no penetration.

Still, popular opinion has
Installed such scalawags
In office, it must come to pass
As surely as the plagues.

Senator John McCain too was
Recipient of the slander,
Yet--as in lockstep so he goes--
Could conscience be much blander?

Kerry may very well be booby,
Yet he was treated like
Draft-dodging scum by men more grubby
As AWOL took a hike.

AWOL they serve which service is
More rather a misnomer:
To work these are impervious,
Each glib as a beachcomber--

Collecting fruits of office but
Providing service none--
Still, common man votes by his gut,
Not ever by what´s done.

Cooper said...

Wow? Did you pay to have this blog advertised in GMAIL? This is really not a good blog and it barely reaches coherence. Yes, It is poorly written and ill conceived and I hope you did pay for the AD in my gmail, because I'd hate to think Google "CHOSE" this to promote.

Jon said...

Cooper,

Thanks for stopping by. Care to share exactly what you find so "not good" about Our Karl Rove?