Ben, I just want to say one word to you: Branding.
Writing in the New York Times, Jill Lepore can’t understand why much of the right no longer finds Woodrow Wilson to be the swell guy that college history books made him out to be. But get a load of her lede:
Conservatives wish to turn the word “progressive” into an insult, in much the same way that the word “liberal” became a smear during the 1988 presidential campaign. Liberals are bad at labeling things, not least themselves, their political opponents, and their policies; conservatives are good at it.
What sort of man reads the New York Times? Why, Joe Biden, of course:
Biden, in the interview, called Republican criticism “phony” and said the Labor Department report “shows how wrong they were” in limiting assistance for states. He said more jobs would have been created if Republicans had approved an additional $150 billion originally in the stimulus and the creation of an infrastructure bank.
Democrats aren’t running on the administration’s accomplishments like health-care and financial-regulatory overhaul and the stimulus because “it’s just too hard to explain,” Biden said. “It sort of a branding, I mean you know they kind of want the branding more at the front end.”
There is perhaps no surer signal that Democrats are about to suffer a terrific defeat than to see liberals begin discussing how to define, redefine, or otherwise burnish their “brand.” So far as I’m concerned, this falls firmly in the “doesn’t matter” category of American politics. In 2004, all liberals could talk about was the power of the conservative brand, and George Lakoff became an icon because of it. In 2006 and 2008, better branding didn’t save Republicans from being devastated in the polls, leading Democrats to the first 60-vote Senate majority since the 1970s. So much for brands.
The word “liberal” is not popular, it has never been popular, and I do not expect that it ever will be popular. But liberalism — and the politicians who support it — are doing just fine. Not in any given election, of course, but over time. It’s not obvious that a stronger brand has done much for the right, nor that it has seriously hampered the left. Branding might be important. But product matters more.
“Products” in this case being a euphemism in this case for “soul-crushing legislation.” And it helps to also have control over Hollywood, academia, the dinosaur media, numerous statehouses, and at least until January, all phases of the Federal government except the Supreme Court.
So given all that intellectual firepower, (whoops, perhaps not the best word to use around the left these days, with all of the Green Supremacists running amok), why is that, as James Lileks recently wrote at Ricochet, “Ad people can make you want to buy Corn-flavored Ice Cream if they try hard, but give them a Big Issue and they act like someone who couldn’t sell a pail of water to someone whose pants were on fire.”
Given that no matter how big the thumping is next month, the left isn’t going anywhere, or is going to change direction, where do their marketing, branding, spin, and advertising experts, their meme manufacturers, go next, as they keep flucking that century-old chicken?