Drew Westen, author of “The Political Brain”, writes in HuffPost:”President Obama’s APPROVAL ratings have continued to break records, and with good reason. In less than 3 months, he has already proven himself remarkably CAPABLE as a leader, in getting a STIMULUS package passed (while learning some hard lessons about splitting the difference in policy with the people who created the mess); steadfastly REFUSING TO JETTISON health care, energy, and education reform from his budget in tough economic times; beginning to HEAL the deep wounds left by his predecessor in the U.S.’s relationship with the rest of the world through both his mastery of foreign affairs and his emotional intelligence as diplomat-in-chief; and even signaling his intention to take on comprehensive IMMIGRATION REFORM. All of this has happened as Republicans have seemed increasingly impotent, ideologically inflexible, and oppositional, NONE of which endears them to anyone but the 30% who still THINK Bush was a great president (and apparently remain off their medication).Yet at the same time, something else is happening under the radar: the fortunes of Democrats more generally are starting to wane…how could it be that President Obama’s standing in the polls is holding steady or improving while Democrats’ standing in the polls is FALLING? And does it matter, so long as he is able to get his agenda passed through a heavily Democratic House and Senate?…Let’s start with the second question first. It does matter. The President’s ability to stay on the path he has charted REQUIRES not only Democrats holding or increasing their majorities in 2010 but on their holding onto public SUPPORT for sweeping change. It also requires moderate Democrats and those from conservative states and districts to feel comfortable voting for new spending, and likely a second stimulus package, knowing that they will be ATTACKED in the next election with the familiar refrains of big-government tax-and-spend liberals (if not socialists).
And as for the first question, the paradoxical popularity of the new President while the fortunes of his party are waning, not only makes sense but is predictable from an understanding of the psychology of public opinion and “branding.” Any marketing executive will tell you that a good product is certainly a big help for sales, … the situation we have now in American politics, where the Democrats are PRODUCING solutions where Republicans MANUFACTURED problems, and where the Republicans are now trying to re-sell “pre-owned” ideological vehicles that have a bad habit of running into ditches.In politics, you DON’T WIN on ideas ALONE. Comprehensive energy reform was a no-brainer after OPEC began embargoing oil 35 years ago, but the percent of our energy we are importing from overseas has only SKYROCKED since then, and Americans were buying Hummers until gas hit $4.00 a gallon. Health care REFORM made good sense in 1993, but last I looked, it hasn’t happened. Successful branding requires TWO things: CREATING positive associations to your own brand, and DIFFERENTIATING it from competing brands. In POLITICS, that means offering voters a clear, memorable, emotionally compelling narrative about your party’s core principles, while presenting them with an equally clear, memorable, and evocative story about the other party that would not make anyone want to be associated with it. If there were ever a time Democrats could offer both stories, this is it.
But the FAILURE of Democrats to brand themselves has been a perennial problem since the breakdown of the New Deal coalition in the 1970s, and it remains a major problem today,leaving Republicans the OPPORTUNITY, once they get their ideological chops back, to start branding both parties again, as they have for the better part of thirty years. Democrats stand for spending our way out of a looming Depression–a sound policy when no one else has the money or chutzpa to spend or invest–but how does that differ from the fiscal irresponsibility with which Ronald Reagan branded the party of “tax and spend” 30 years ago? Democrats stand for shifting to clean, safe 21st century sources of energy rather than relying on the fossil fuels of the last two centuries, but then why is the Secretary of the Interior waxing poetic about expanded offshore drilling?
It’s hard for people to hear your message when you aren’t speaking…PERHAPS President Obama will succeed where Adams and Jefferson could not, and America WILL BECOMEnot only a post-racial society but a post-partisan one. But if he does not succeed in turning a broken economy around substantially by the summer of 2010 and REMINDING the American people on a regular basis (REPETITION is essential psychologically, neurologically, and empirically to branding) that he and his fellow Democrats are trying to PULL the nation OUT of the ditch the Republicans left us in by the side of the road, his administration will gradually become associated in voters’ minds with the economic crisis he inherited, and he will find himself working with a Congress far LESS friendly to progressive reforms in two years.
Under similar circumstances, FDR trumpeted the failures of the Republican leadership and ideology that created the Great Depression while still managing to unite a terrified nation around not only his own charismatic presence but around New Deal reforms–reforms he could never have enacted if he had not contrasted the failed ideology that had led the nation over the economic cliff with the radically different solutions he and his party were offering. Roosevelt’s consistent branding of the Republicans as inflexible ideologues at the same time as he showed what progressive, pragmatic action and Democratic leadership could offer led to a political realignment that lasted 40 years.
That is not President Obama’s style. … the REALITY is that millions of Americans are out of work, and most hard working Americans have LOST nearly half of their wealth, and many their HOMES, because of the way George W. Bush and the radical Republican ideologues who enabled him ran the government–and ran it into the ground. The reality is that we had a SURPLUS when Bill Clinton left office, and the only reason President Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion deficit that now constrains him is that George W. Bush and the radical Republicans believed in handing out suitcases full of cash to their wealthy friends with no strings attached and no transparency… I think it particularly BEARS SAYING every time those same Republicans preach fiscal discipline, heap scorn on government “bailouts” they BOTH necessitated and engineered, or offer their quasi-religious answer of “the free market” to every problem the market has created or failed to solve, from the crisis in the housing industry and the lack of regulations on Wall Street that took down our economy (and the world economy along with it) to the fact that most working Americans are now afraid of changing jobs for fear of losing their health insurance. Republican politicians would certainly be a LITTLE LESS QUICK to step up to the microphone if they knew that EVERY time they talked about fiscal discipline, a Democrat would be there to remind them that they were the ones who went on a 6-year spending spree with our children’s money and then handed the better part of a trillion dollars out to Wall Street bankers and speculators, SACRIFICING the American taxpayer at the altar of their free-market extremism. ..That’s a lesson we should have learned a long time ago.
In politics, there is nothing so deadly as silence. ” (EMPHASIS MINE)