Anyone who spends any time at all paying attention to Liberal politics knows who Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers are. We all pretty much are familiar with the unconscionable Supreme Court Citizens United decision that allows unlimited funds to be used for political campaigns of every sort. And most of us have made the association between Karl Rove and American Crossroads, and the Koch Brothers with Americans for Prosperity. Guess who does NOT know this? The average voter. This is where we are presented with an opportunity to influence how people perceive the advertisement they see, hear and get in their mailboxes.
Branding a product or an idea is a powerful tool that can attach a specific set of desired responses to a product. In politics, that desired response is emotional in context. For decades the Republican Party has been branding itself as ‘Strong on Defense’, ‘Fiscally Responsible’ and ‘Pro Limited Government’. Then they proceeded to abuse the military to the point of breaking it, ruin the economy and grow government by leaps and bounds. Once their brand was tarnished by the out-going President Bush, they created a new brand: The Tea Party. Before that brand lost its luster, they succeeded in getting their Party back into position to extend their reach for the next decade with redistricting to protect those gains.
Our President understands the power of branding. Take his logo for instance and how effectively it has been forever associated with him. That didn’t happen by accident.
The complex set of meanings that logo bears for us is a testament to the ability of a brand to make statements over a broad demographic.
I believe President Obama’s keen understanding of how people form their perceptions about a candidate and a Party is why he has zeroed in on dismantling the Republican Brand. The ‘Grand Bargain’ that was declined by the Republicans during the debt ceiling debate went a long way toward extending the belief voters harbor that the problems with our economy, debt and deficit are still largely owned by the Republicans. His unique foreign policy and deadly effective use of our Armed Forces in a newly restrained fashion, relying more heavily on diplomacy than aggression have greatly diminished the Republican’s claim to the ‘Strong on Defense’ label. Slowly but surely, he is counter-branding the Republicans as weak on defense and fiscally irresponsible. This is no mean feat.
But then there sits those two Super PACs poised to undo all his hard work with their smear campaigns. This is our opportunity to sabotage their efforts. We can begin now by branding these behemoths with the two dirtiest terms in the American zeitgeist right now: Big Banks and Big Oil.
Why don’t we just say Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers? Because these names: Karl Rove, David Koch and Charles Koch won’t appear on any ballots anywhere in this land, that’s why. President Obama isn’t going to be running against Rove or the Kochs, he’s going to be running against the Republican nominee. The average voter has no idea who these people are and we don’t have a way to educate them during the brief three months they will be paying attention before the General Election of 2012. We don’t have to if we start now by helping our friends, family, co-workers and general acquaintances learn this:
is a Front Group for the
Americans for Prosperity is a Front Group for Big Oil.
The goal here is to help people make sense of the barrage of advertising that will be inflicted upon them for the next year. We don’t have to explain the tactics of the wording, or the dark images and spooky voices in the advertisements. All we need to do is show them where to look to see who paid for the advertisement. It won’t be hard to do since the bulk of the ads out there will be from these two Political Action Committees. If we continue to highlight the idea of paying closer attention to who is paying for the ad than the ad itself, that’s even better. An added bonus might be that people begin to feel more empowered when they can filter these ads by dismissing out of hand all the ones that come from scary dark places. Even if we ourselves get the two mixed up, it doesn’t matter. They both represent the Oil and Bank Barons who have been robbing us blind. That’s something most voters can relate to with ease. And it is something they can relate to voting against. No name on the ballot, but definitely the people responsible for our economic woes.
We do have the power and the ability to brand these SuperPACs like cattle among our real world contacts. It can even be done generically. Any PAC that is delivering a message we don’t like, label it to your friends or family: Front Group For: fill in the blank with whatever hated Corporate Entity is at the top of their s**t list. From Big Pharma to Insurance Giants, there’s always somebody to tag with the negative ad. This plays into the human willingness to believe conspiracy theories. If they think they’ve got some dirt on a hated or distrusted entity, they are more than willing to spread it to their social circles. If the information is delivered to them in the context of a whisper campaign it’s even more effective. Rather than pronounce from on high that you have this knowledge that they don’t possess, whisper it. For example: “I’ve seen these ads before from this group, but then I was shocked when someone told me that American Crossroads is a Front Group For Big Banks.” This way no proof is required, nor do we have to spend any time trying to convince the listener. Either they believe it or they don’t, but it’s most likely they will believe it.
Avoid straying into the territory of labeling a negative ad as a Republican trick or tactic. When fighting for the hearts and minds of Independent voters, we must always keep forefront in our minds the very nature of what being an Independent means: They do sometimes vote for Republicans and Democrats and don’t hold either Party with particular contempt. For this reason attributing negative advertisements solely to the Republicans might backfire.
It comes down to this: We are not helpless to these SuperPacs or all the Corporate Dollars funding Republican campaigns and initiatives. There has been more than enough evidence in the past 18 months to prove to us that knocking on doors and making phone calls and dealing directly with voters face-to-face is much more powerful than well-funded campaigns. Ask the people of California about their Governor’s race in 2010, or the people of Ohio who just succeeded in repealing SB5. And if we really want to look for and find the silver lining in all this, look at the opportunities given to us by these voter ID laws. We will have to work our tails off to counter these attempts to make voting more difficult, but in so doing, we will be having hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of personal contacts with real voters just to get them registered and able to vote. I think the people who spend time registering voters and educating them about the laws and restrictions and barriers to voting are going to be the ones who have the greatest influence over who these voters cast their ballots for on Election Day than the people who are bombarding them with negative advertising. That’s something the Republicans can’t duplicate with scary mailers and TV/Radio ads. Person-to-person trumps media every time.