Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Power of the Conservative Brand, or A Glass Half Empty

It's the day before the election, Obama is still up in the polls,  and he even made a Halloween visit to my hometown (Highland) in the really-red Rust Belt state of Indiana.  (This was big news--the last president or presidential candidate to come to Highland was Calvin Coolidge.)  But it is not difficult to see the glass as half empty.  No matter what happens tomorrow, I can't help but think, the Democrats have already lost. 

How can one be so glum in this time of potentially historic victory?  Because the Left still seems to be losing the branding battle.  What is astonishing about this election and these past few years is that "conservative" is still a label of pride in mainstream American politics--and "liberal" remains a pejorative.  That this is so remains a testament to the power of Republican marketing and branding.  

Consider this:  it is certainly not difficult to make the case that a (neo)conservative ideology led to a war in Iraq that was (by the standards of the war's early advocates) a colossal failure and managed to destroy America's standing in the world.  This debacle could have banished conservatism to the sidelines of American politics for a generation.  But it hasn't. 

Consider also that it is not difficult to make the case that conservative principles have not only wrecked the nation's foreign policy, but have also brought the nation's economy to its knees.  A de-regulated market preceded a credit crisis and conditions that many are comparing to the Great Depression.  

And yet conservatism remains, for the most part, untainted.  

Don't believe me?  Look at the presidential debate transcripts.  Yes, it is true that McCain has run from the Republican party, and has emphasized his past bipartisanship.  The "Republican" brand has suffered greatly from the damage to the foreign policy and especially the economy.  

But in the debate, McCain could still believe he was scoring political points by calling Obama a "liberal."  And Obama defended himself by saying--proudly--that he has worked with Tom Coburn, who Obama bragged was "one of the most conservative Republicans."    

In other words, the economy is in ruin and we are bogged down in an endless war (or at least an apparently endless nation-building project), but Obama is up only 7 points--and the "conservative" brand remains popular and amazingly blemish-free.  

If Obama wins on Tuesday, I will certainly celebrate.  But I'll also be thinking about the remaining battle:  a re-branding effort for liberalism so that a destroyed economy and/or a disastrous war are no longer necessary for a Democratic victory in a presidential campaign.  


hysperia said...

Bravo. I'm glad to know you'll be keeping your eyes on him!


Congratulations on gettin' ridda da Bush.

I've followed this electon more closely than any election since Nixon won the first time and I must say, I hope America can do something about the length of the election cycle. I'm tired of it, sick of it, and done like dinner and I'm a political junkied. Surely it's difficult to change the world when you spend so much time selecting a leader.

hysperia said...

That was meant to be political "junkie" but "junkied" is good too.

John Skrentny said...

well, i certainly hope you'll help! for an excellent argument that the political election cycle is too long, see thomas e. patterson, _out of order_, which makes the argument (among others) that because the election cycle is so long, the media exhaust their supply of substantive, policy-oriented stories early on. they can't keep repeating themselves. they are then reduced to horse race stories, or stories on charges/counter-charges, as well as pseudo-scandals, instead. this kind of coverage in turn brings out the worst in the campaigns and ultimately turns off voters and leads to cynicism. but if anything, the election cycles are getting longer.

likwidshoe said...

There was a "de-regulated market"?!


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