Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Messaging Matters

If you saw an email from Bill Gates where he explained that he preferred using Macs because they were safer, easier to use, and much cooler than PC's; do you think that might piss-off Microsoft's sales guys? What about if a video clip was released showing all the top execs at GM laughing about how they all drive foreign cars because they're better made, safer, and more fun to drive? Or if Ronald McDonald was seen eating at Burger King while complaining that Big Macs tasted like horse meat? Is there any doubt that the GM execs would find themselves in the same unemployment line as Ronald?

Naturally, all this would hurt sales. Not that we expect McDonald's execs to eat at McDonald's every day, but when an important person in a company undermines their sales pitch, it's not good for the company. Not that this changes the product at all, but it damages the messaging. And unfortunately, the message is usually more important than the product.

I've been wanting to write about this for awhile, but Atrios had a good post on this regarding Bush's embrace of Big Daddy Government. And sure, in the short term, this really helped them grab power after 9/11. But it undermined a core message that conservatives have been pushing for decades. Their pitch was always that you should solve your own problems, and not rely on the government to solve your problems; particularly because they can never do anything right and will just waste your money.

But thanks to Bush and Cheney, all that's gone. Now the question is no longer Big Government v. Small Government; but Good Government v. Bad Government. Once you admit that the government can solve your problems, it's just a matter of determining which problems should be solved. And while the Republican attacks on "Cradle to Grave" government were fairly effective, few people actually prefer the Republican idea of Big Government; particularly once it's discovered that, while the terrorist threat was grossly overstated, they can't actually protect you from real threats.

Craig v. Vitter

And that's why Larry Craig mattered more than David Vitter; and why they're not at all embarrassed by Limbaugh or Coulter. Because Republicans don't run on policies and platform. They run on character. The sales pitch is that you can trust them to do the right thing because they're good people. They have "Family Values", and that trumps anything they might do that screws over families. And it doesn't matter which Republican you vote for, because you know they're good people. They're just like you...assuming you were a millionaire.

But even bigger than the sales pitch of who they are; it's about who they're not and who they'll protect you from. They're not San Francisco Liberals. They're not hedonists or Muslims or Mexicans. And for god's sake, they're not gay. They're godly folks who obey God's Will, and so you can trust them, no matter what they actually do. And if they say their opponent's claims are baseless smears, you can trust them. Even their political votes are often more about sending messages about their character, than on what they're actually planning to do. They'll take a thousand votes reinstating the word "God" into the Pledge before they'll do anything to fix real problems.

And that's why Craig matters. Vitter was bad because he committed immoral acts. But Craig was worse, because he committed immoral acts and got caught wanting gay sex. And that's two things. More importantly, how can they raise funds and votes based upon their ability to protect you from the Gay Menace, if they can't even keep the gays out of their coalition? And it raises the obvious question: If some Republicans are secretly having gay sex, which ones can you trust? Allowing him to stay totally screws up their whole sales pitch.

I'm sure the Republican leadership wouldn't give a damn if Craig was a hamster-molesting cannibal with a fetish for sticking crosses up his rear, just as long as nobody found out about it. But the Republican base are authoritarians who strongly believe in Guilt by Association. And with Republicans, you're not voting for the man, you're voting for the party. And why not? They're authoritarians who take orders from above. They're just expected to say what they're told to say and vote how they're told to vote, and they like it that way. They don't care about what these guys think; they just want a warm body who can say "Yea" or "Nay" on cue; and I'm sure they're actively looking into getting rid of the warm body requirement.

Hypocrisy doesn't bother these people in the least, and the Republican base is quite good at ignoring anything they need to ignore. But anything that gets in the way of the sales pitch must be eliminated. That's also why they freaked so hard in attacking the Frost family. The Republicans are the party of family values, while Democrats are the party of freaks, hippies, and perverts. So to have a family help promote the Democrats? That had to be stopped.

Big Daddy Government

This is the same reason why they shouldn't allow Giuliani to win the nomination. Sure, he satisfies their authoritarian requirements, but he cedes the rest of their sales pitch. It's like the CEO of GM admitting that his cars suck, but that at least you're buying American. Sure, that's a big part of their sales pitch, but you still don't want to lose the other arguments.

Just like Bush gave away the Small Government message, which they're unlikely to get back any time soon; Giuliani will give away all the rest of them. All they'll be left with is "Vote Republican because we kick ass" which is a message that more and more people are running away from. It took decades for them to build their carefully balanced "Small Government Which Intrudes in Your Daily Life" identity, and guys like Craig and Giuliani tossed that away overnight. Particularly Giuliani, who tells people he'll protect them from space invaders and that everyone should butt-out of his personal life. Sorry, but that's exactly the opposite of the conservative sales pitch.

That's the weird thing about the left-wing support for Ron Paul. I remember him from back in the 90's, when I disliked him because he sounded exactly like all the other conservative jerks. It was only after Cheney got in office that Republicans started heavily pimping the Big Daddy Government message that makes Paul sound like a maverick. And now that decision is hurting the GOP more every day.

Again, it's kind of hard to attack "Cradle to Grave" policies when your leading presidential candidate is telling people that the government can protect you from a space invasion. Sure, they never really believed in small government or high morals; just as GM isn't really committed to quality or the environment. They just aren't supposed to tell anyone that.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Not to get all French in my comment, but the book Propaganda by Jacques Ellul makes an effective case that attitude or perhaps sub-thought is far more important to the propagandist than ideology or logic. I also remember a JFK quote (though I'm not a big fan of the guy, to be honest) about how myths are so much more difficult to refute than lies.

Well, as much as the Rethugs are evil shits, they seem to grasp these points rather well and run with them...ok, actually they grasp these points and pay the hired help to run with them.