Republicans are the New Coke of politics

Yesterday, the Republican National Committee released its Growth & Opportunity Report, a compendium of all of the lessons the party learned from the 2012 elections, and what the Washington Post calls an “autopsy” of what went wrong.

If you break it down, the report focuses most on demographics and branding. The RNC rightly recognizes how associated the GOP has become with rich, white men – and draws the conclusion that the party must attract more minorities, more young people, and more women to the party, and take a different approach to marketing the party in pop culture. The report says this:

“On messaging, we must change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters.”

Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress already did a great job of analyzing the pop culture goals of the GOP, and I agree with her: most of the celebrities associated with the GOP are either crazy (Ted Nugent), racist (Hank Williams Jr.), creepy (Jon Voight), or Chuck Norris. I wanted to focus more on the report’s suggestions, and the new branding of the GOP.

The report makes great points – it says the Republican Party must appeal to people outside the Republican Party, which can’t even agree with itself right now (I’ll get to that). It advises the party to adopt a better regional primary system so that fringe candidates like Christine O’Donnell don’t beat established moderates like Mike Castle. It suggests that the Republican Party starts an opposition research and tracking operation, in the same vein as left-leaning powerhouse (and my former employer) American Bridge.

But the suggestions of the report are purely surface suggestions – they’re about messaging, not about policy. House Republican leadership and CPAC participants don’t seem ready to follow that report. These two groups within the GOP are proof the Party can’t get their ducks in a row, and shows how far the once fiscally responsible and socially conservative party has skewed to the Right.

With regards to messaging, there have been some great examples of moderate Republicans supporting social issues like LGBT marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, but they’re progressive exceptions to a stagnant Republican rule. The same week that Senator Rob Portman endorsed LGBT marriage rights, tanning enthusiast and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he would continue to oppose LGBT marriage even if his child were LGBT. And if you read further into the report, it says that the party should continue to stick to its outdated and discriminatory principles – they just should do so more quietly.

“For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.”

(I’m not even discussing the War on Women. Deny it all they want, the GOP has rolled back reproductive rights and blocked equal pay for women across the country for no reason. The party has serious work to do if they want to cozy up to the lady voters, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than messaging to do it)

So the report is saying that the GOP can stay as conservative as they want, they just have to sound less awful.  The baffling part is, the party can’t even agree on this plan – right now, the split is between more open-minded moderates who want to appeal to a wider base, and more conservative Tea Partiers who believe that lambasting their moderate colleagues and going after the “Guns and God” vote will endear them to everyone.

The RNC was trying to tell its party members how they need to rebrand themselves as more diverse and open minded, and willing to compromise with outsiders. But you would never be able to tell by watching the CPAC conference – a conference that left supposedly moderate Republicans like Chris Christie off the roster in favor of reality TV has-been Sarah Palin, pretend businessman Donald Trump, and McCarthy-lite Senator Ted Cruz.

The party got too caught up trying out a shiny new rebranding strategy without trying to modernize their tired, anti-minority, anti-women and anti-poor product to match. Instead of evolving, they point fingers at each other – they blame someone else for their troubles rather than turning inward and realizing that their branding isn’t the problem, as Meghan McCain’s “I Hate Karl Rove” rant shows.

The GOP lost the last few elections because they had awful ideas behind their ad campaigns. They are the New Coke of party politics – and like the soda, they’re not selling. Not because of the ad campaign, but because they’re gross.

The RNC’s report has great intentions, trying to liven up the party a bit and make them look more like the cool, progressive rainbow coalition that voted for Obama and less like the corporation-backed, wealthy old white men that everyone (accurately) perceives them to be. The problem is, the party leadership doesn’t want to change its outdated ways and attitudes towards minorities, LGBT people and women, or try to appeal to working class Americans. They just want to look good while they continue to discriminate, and to keep public embarrassments like Rape Gate and “I’m Not A Witch” from reaching the masses.

They want to win again. But until they stop arguing with each other and stop legislating like they have, it’s not going to happen that easily.

Nuclear weapons: when our national security makes us insecure

“Nuclear war must be the most carefully avoided topic of general significance in the contemporary world. People are not curious about the details. . . . almost everyone seems to feel adequately informed by reading one book about nuclear war.”
— Paul Brians

THE DEPROLIFERATOR — Fear of nuclear war isn’t the only reason that we avoid the subject. Since the end of the Cold War, most of us think the threat has all but evaporated. If tensions between the United States and Russia came to a head again, we always have deterrence. Of course, concern about nuclear terrorism is on the rise, but it’s left in the dust by the economy. Continue reading

Two very different climate disruption messages

Most people view climate disruption as a horror that we and the generations before us are about to visit upon our children and grandchildren. And there’s a great deal of truth to this view. The “civilization will end if we don’t stop global warming” approach is ultimately based on negativity, specifically on fear. But as bad as the future could be, fear isn’t the only way to approach talking about climate disruption. There are positive images and positive messages that can be pulled out of climate disruption as well. It is possible to make addressing climate disruption seem fun, even sexy.

Here are two very different, but simultaneously very effective, examples of climate messaging. First, the negative. Continue reading

Republicans are "rebranding": round up the usual suspects

You have to love the headline: GOP set to launch rebranding effort

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Coming soon to a battleground state near you: a new effort to revive the image of the Republican Party and to counter President Obama’s characterization of Republicans as “the party of ‘no.'”

CNN has learned that the new initiative, called the National Council for a New America, will be announced Thursday.

It will involve an outreach by an interesting mix of GOP officials, ranging from 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and the younger brother of the man many Republicans blame for the party’s battered brand: former President George W. Bush. Continue reading

Covering political rallies: Who decides what TV cameras show?

For months we in the US of A have been watching candidates for our presidency speak at rallies and the apparently endless debates hosted by, it seems, everybody but fast-food chains.

We know that candidates dicker with presidential debate sponsors on everything: sitting or standing, size of lectern if standing, boosters for the short of stature, position on the podium with respect to other candidates, favorable lighting, what television cameras may or may not shoot, and so on. Candidates negotiate for every possible advantage. They demand control. We expect this at debates.

But what about those loud, noisy, seemingly chaotic political rallies? Candidates stroll onto stage surrounded by cheering supporters (handpicked, I bet), American flags waving and red, white and blue confetti swirling in the air. We see these scenes repeatedly on CNN or Fox or MSNBC or the broadcast networks, especially during CNN’s “Ballot Bowl” —which offers “unfiltered views of the candidates.” (Ballot Bowl is usually bereft of reporting that challenges candidates’ messaging, which I detest.)

Regarding these campaign rallies: Who decides what the TV cameras show?
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Ignore politicians who don’t play nice with the other children

First, MoveOn.org, a liberal political action group, uses a full-page New York Times ad to attack the character of an American commander, calling him “Gen. Betray Us” and accusing him of “cooking the books for the White House” on the war in Iraq.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton assails the general’s report to Congress, saying it requires “a willing suspension of disbelief,” essentially calling him a liar. Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani runs a full-page ad in The Times highlighting candidate Clinton’s quote and reproducing the MoveOn.org ad. Candidate Giuliani’s ad claims Democrats orchestrated the attack on Gen. David Petraeus. His ad closes this way:

These times call for statesmanship, not politicians spewing political venom.

All of which makes me wonder: Did the current crop of presidential candidates — and modern politicians in general — fail kindergarten?
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Hate the press? You’re probably a Republican Fox News viewer

The headline in Editor & Publisher screams in tabloid style: “Poll: U.S. Public Sees Media as Biased, Inaccurate and Uncaring.” But that’s not the real news to be found in the latest Pew Research Center report on the public’s views of the press.

The report says much about how the public views the press, but it says far more about the public itself and how it has become polarized in those views. Instead of assessing the Pew report for perceptions of press failures, study it to see who is critical of what and how their ideologies color their views of the press.
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Reframing the Republican lie about wealth in America

In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?

In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. Continue reading