You gotta show us you feel our pain

A New York Times story today, about whether the Brexit uprising against the establishment will echo in the U.S. campaign and surprise and hurt Clinton, says, with thundering understatement, “The American electorate has tilted this year toward presidential candidates who make them feel as much as think…”

Precisely why so many of us are fearful that Hillary Clinton could lose what should be a landslide for a compelling Democratic candidate. Clinton conveys all the emotion and warmth of an ATM.

I think her message needs to focus on what the Republicans have been doing that’s harmful and what she and the Democrats have been doing and will do that will help the average American in scary times.

“They’re stealing your money and your future; we’ll help you prosper in a changing, frightening world.”

It takes very little to back up the first assertion — the enormous redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich since Reagan; and the Republicans, owned by fossil fuel moguls, willfully ignoring the global warming that will screw everyone’s children and their children’s children.

Clinton will need to highlight a few specific things she’ll do, and that the Obama administration has done, to back up the second assertion that we’ll help you stay above water as the world changes.

Democrats have to recognize the fear that’s driving people to Bernie and tRump and Brexit. Much of that fear comes from the darkest narrowest places in people — fear of people who don’t look or sound like them. Democrats can’t just dismiss those fears as racist and xenophobic. Those fears are natural, but that doesn’t mean they help the person deal with the world as it is. Clinton has to let people know she knows it’s all scary, but there are ways not just to deal with all that change but to do well amid the change. I don’t know what the policies should be — job retraining, student loans with no interest, federal investment in job-rich industries like solar and wind and rail transportation — Clinton’s the policy wonk, she can come up with a few marquee things that we can all do to ride on the wave of change.

Beyond policy she’s gotta make us feel that she gets why people are scared and that she can lead us through the change to a world where we have work and meaning and safety amid the lively diverse madding crowd.

Frank Luntz, an odious Republican salesman but a smart observer of simple, clear messaging, said Clinton’s “Stronger Together” theme feels bloodless and overly intellectual compared to Brexit’s “Leave” message and tRump’s “Make America Great Again.”

My suggested message is just a first draft — “They’re stealing your money and your future, while we’ll help you prosper in a changing, frightening world.” Smart people, like the readers of this blog, can improve on that. But let’s point out quickly what those other guys are doing to us all and move on to how we’ll help us all keep on truckin’ in heavy traffic.

–Bruce Benidt

 

 

A Rose by Any Other Name…

I’m going to start a collection of Donald Trump descriptions and invite you to play along at home. I’ll update this post whenever I stumble across a new one.

The rules are simple: Any description is eligible as long as you can cite a link to an article or video somewhere on the web. Descriptions can be positive or negative, as short as a single word or up to a sentence in length.

At the end of the election, we’ll hold a vote to pick our favorites.

Here’s a couple to get us started:

Positive

“The best sex I ever had.” Marla Maples, Access Hollywood (h/t to Ellen Mrja)

Negative

“…dangerous buffoon…” Frances Wilkinson, Bloomberg View

“…a small, insecure money-grubber…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“…a thin-skinned, racist, sexist bully…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“He is a man-baby.” John Stewart, CNN (h/t to Mike Keliher and Jeremy Powers)

“…a megalomaniac…” Trump: What’s the Deal (h/t to Gary Gilson)

“…a pathological liar…” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a strong man who doesn’t believe in democratic institutions.” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a grifter always dancing one step ahead of bankruptcy court and concocting one failed scheme after another to separate people from their money.” Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“…a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist.” Jon Austin, The Same Rowdy Crowd

I look forward to your entries.

– Austin

 

 

Hope and Branding

NEW SLAUGHTERBefore getting to the important stuff, as a member of “the single-payer left”, but also someone sees Obamacare as a substantial step forward, can I just say that I’m delighted to see a resurgence of skepticism among the “lamestream” press over the hysterical claims coming from Obamacare’s entrenched opponents?

First there was Eric Stern’s instant classic, “Inside the FoxNews Lie Machine”, where Stern fact-checked three sets of guests in a Sean Hannity interview. Then a couple of days ago Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post reported a story out of Rome, Georgia on a guy convinced his small business failing was entirely Obama’s fault.  (By all means read through the comments section on that one.) Then yesterday we had Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times doing the same thing as Mr. Stern in a piece titled, “Another Obamacare horror story debunked”.

Continue reading “Hope and Branding”

Bangladesh to Pope and All of Us: We Are You

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

We are responsible for the deaths of garment workers in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Just as we are responsible for the deaths of garment jobs in the United States. Our never-slaked appetite for more and cheaper consumer goods hurts the livelihoods and lives of millions of other people.sweatshops-240x265

I always sound so preachy when I write something like this. I buy stuff I don’t need too — so I’m talking to myownself here, as well. I am a child (old man) of the Sixties and global ecological consciousness just won’t leave me.

What if we had fewer clothes, and better clothes? Made of good material by skilled workers who are treated and paid well, whether in the US or Bangladesh. What if companies made less profit? Top executives made fewer millions? Investors looked at human, not just financial, return? Business journalism measured and covered more than just financial factors? I know, I know, this is all so “Imagine,” so John Lennon.

Continue reading “Bangladesh to Pope and All of Us: We Are You”

Ship-for-Brains Kmart

For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness.  For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor.  Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up!  But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.

Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb.   (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.)  This is the assignment Draftfcb was given:  Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.

But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment:   Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image.  Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.

So, Draftfcb created, and Kmart approved, this gut-buster:

Continue reading “Ship-for-Brains Kmart”

Off-Target Again…This Time To the Left

Minnesota–based Target Corporation is outraging the conservative Family Research Council and American Family Association  by giving consumers the option of expressing “love,” “pride” and “harmony” on their clothing.    Thems fightin’ words for social conservatives, at least if the love, pride or harmony has to do with gay people.

In association with National Pride Month, t-shirts carrying those messages are now being offered by Target.  In addition, up to $120,000 from sales of t-shirts apparently will go to the Family Equality Council, which supports same-sex families in a variety of ways, including in the political arena.  The Family Equality Council website says “Because of us…the law more often recognizes all the moms and dads who have made the commitment to be parents.”

Context:  In 2008, Target Corporation CEO Gregg Steinhafel stepped in prodigious political poo when he gave $150,000 in corporate money to support Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who is anti-gay rights.  For several months, protests, boycotts, stockholder questioning, flash dances, Lady Gaga scoldings, and lame corporate apologies tarnished Target’s valuable brand.  It wasn’t pretty.

I support gay marriage, and criticized Target for using corporate money to support Emmer.  I even engaged in a quixotic little boycott myself.  So you might think I am pleased with Target.

And I am.  Target is finally on the morally defensible side of the issue.

But from a strict brand management standpoint, I don’t understand why Target is a) selling merchandise related to any politically contested issue and b) tying sales proceeds to any group engaged in political advocacy.   I don’t care what the issue is, or whether the issue position is pleasing or displeasing to me.  It’s just plain dumb idea for Target brand managers to put their enormously valuable brand in the middle of damaging political crossfire.

The lesson Target took away from 2008 seems to be “we need to show that Target is a gay-friendly brand.”  Wrong lesson.  The lesson they should have taken away from the 2008 debacle is “we need to keep our valuable brand out of all divisive political issues.”

– Loveland

Brainstorm or Braindrain?

All wet?
Those of you in the PR, advertising and marketing business are probably very familiar with the brainstorm model of idea generation, but I know it is also used in many other industries.

For those of you who have been left out of the brain rain, here is a crash course: During brainstorms, a group of colleagues closes themselves into a room and spontaneously blurts out ideas on the given topic. The ideas are excitedly written on giant Post-it notes adhered to the walls by a perky brain storm facilitator.

“There is no such thing as a bad idea,” the facilitator, pacing around the room frenetically, continually reminds us, usually after someone offers a particularly bad idea. “The wilder the idea, the better!”

The group is urged to generate a large quantity of ideas, and rapidly build off ideas with supplements or variations. Toys and treats are often offered, to foster creativity. A few people usually sit quietly looking at their watches, and looking idealess, while a relative few dominate the airwaves. The session ends with the chirpy facilitator congratulating the participants, pointing to all of the giant Post-it Notes on the walls as evidence of the world changing ideas that the brainstorm precipitated.

Brainstorming, which was particularly promoted by legendary BBDO ad man Alex Osborn, is the operational and cultural building block of many creatively oriented businesses. The brainstorm session is to PR and agencies as the assembly line is to a manufacturer. It’s the place where the company’s talent synergistically comes together to create MAGIC.

Or does it?

In the book “Quiet: The Power of Intoverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain examines the heavy workplace emphasis on consensus and teamwork generally, and the brainstorming work model specifically. Cain cites research done by University of Minnesota psychology professor Marvin Dunnette in 1963. Dunnette asked ad executives and 3M executives to do a set of tasks. Some worked alone, and some in groups. Cain writes:

The results were unambiguous. The men in 23 of the 24 groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists.

Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusions. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases…

‘The “evidence from science suggests that businesspeople must be insane to use brainstorming groups,’ writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. ‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’

…Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming. The first is social loafing: in a group some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. The second is production blocking: only person can talk or produce an idea at once while the other group members are forced to sit passively. And the third is evaluation apprehehsion: meaning the fear of looking studid in front of one’s peers.”

So, why is brainstorming still such a big part of business operations?

Because we’re all afraid to protest, for fear we will look like killjoys who can’t appreciate all the giddy merriment and free Snickers bars?

Because all of those Post-it notes on the wall feel more like tangible evidence of productivity than the evidence offered by peer reviewed scientific research?

Because the extraverted leaders that tend to lead organizations personally are attracted to the energy such sessions gives them?

Quick, someone get some giant Post-it Notes, colored markers, beanbag chairs and Cheetos. We’ll get to the bottom of this in no time!

– Loveland

Supergridlock Amendment: Silent But Deadly

If you like gridlock, you'll love the Supergridlock Amendment.
Compared to the GOP-backed Marriage Ban Amendment, Voter Red Tape Amendment and Right-to-Leech Amendment, you hear much less in the news about the proposed the state constitutional amendment to restrict legislators’ future budget choices. This amendment would require a 60% legislative “super majority” approval for tax increases, limit general fund spending to 98% of forecasted income, and ban the use of budget surpluses for “non-emergency” purposes.

Compared to the Vikings stadium and the other hot button amendments, this issue is relatively wonky and boring. It doesn’t rally interest groups the way the other amendments do.

But it’s very impactful, so it deserves more news attention and scrutiny than it is getting. The problem with this issue flying below-the-radar is that it can sound reasonable at first blush, until you understand the intent and implications of the change. Minnesota needs to make this major decision with its eyes wide open.

For over 150 years, Minnesota’s representative democracy has constructed a very successful society using majority rule to govern fiscal policy. With majority rule, we built a prosperous economy, a great public school system, a solid infrastructure and a society that regularly places at or near the top of state quality-of-life rankings.

In other words, majority rule has ruled well.

But under the latest in a long series of conservative constitutional concoctions, we would scrap the historically successful majority rule approach, and make it much more difficult for future Minnesota Legislatures to reach fiscal compromises. The Supegridlock Amendment would make it “super” likely that future fiscal crises are addressed with a “cuts only” approach, since cuts only need the support of 50% of the Legislature, while tax increases would need a “super majority” of 60% of the Legislature. As we all know, it’s nearly impossible to get 60% of the Legislature to agree on something as non-controversial as designating a State Insect, much less a tax reform package.

Would you like your gridlock supersized?
This makes no sense. Dumping constitutional gravel into the already rusted and crumbling gears of Minnesota’s legislative machinery will make future gridlock and government shutdowns much more likely.

“Cuts only” and “shutdowns” are not unintended consequences of this approach. They are precisely what Republicans are hoping to achieve. The aim of the amendment is to create gridlock on all things related to taxation, and consequently force even deeper cuts hurting seniors, kids, veterans, commuters, sick people, crime victims, poor people, tne environment, small businesses, students, and middle class families.

Every legislative body has to do a taxation v. spending balancing act, and Republicans are attempting to put an iron thumb on the “cuts only” side of the scale, to make balance almost impossible.

And remember, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans don’t want the “cuts only” approach Republicans keep trying to force feed them. By almost a 3-to-1 margin, a July 2011 MinnPost poll found that Minnesotans preferred a balanced approach to budgeting. That poll found that 66% prefer the balanced approach with tax increases in the mix, while only 23% prefer a cuts only approach.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could seriously believe that the remedy for our hopelessly dysfunctional 2011-12 Minnesota Legislature is even an more gridlock-inducing set of rules. But that is precisely what the authors of this amendment are pushing. Legislative reporters understand this better than just about anyone. They cover the process every day, and they just lived through Minnesota’s state government shutdown.

So why the relative silence?

– Loveland

Note: Gear art by McMullin Creative.

With Independent Voters, Crategate Bites

What do independent voters make of the odd story of Governor Mitt Romney scaring the crap out of his dog by strapping him in a crate to the top of his car at highway speeds? Clark Griswold benign? Cruel and unusual?

According to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted last week:

• By more than a 5-to-1 margin, independent/other voters thought Romney’s treatment of the family dog was “inhumane” (66% said “inhumane”, 12% said it was “humane”).

• By a 12-to-1 margin, independent/other voters said the incident makes them less likely to choose Romney (36% said “less likely”, 3% said “more likely”).

• 55% of independent/other voters had no opinion of Romney on the subject of dog treatment, indicating the story is familiar to about half of Americans at this stage of the campaign.

This issue is not as prominent as “Obamneycare” style flip-floppery. But with the swing voters who will decide the election, Crategate elicits more bite than lick.

– Loveland

The (Propaganda) Road We’ve Traveled

Unlike a lot of liberals, I don’t just tolerate President Obama. I don’t just like him better than the dismal alternatives. I admire him more than any other President in my lifetime. Not because he is black, a Democrat and articulate, as I my conservative friends charge. I admire him because he had a breathtakingly difficult economic, political and foreign policy assignment that he has done better than I imagined anyone could. Not perfectly by any stretch, but, given the difficulty of the tasks, very well.

So because of my man crush, I recognize I’m not an objective observer. But trying my best to judge it as a communications professional rather than an Obama admirer, I have to say the video the Obama campaign released yesterday tells the story of the Obama first term better than any communications tactic I’ve seen from Team Obama.

Love Obama or hate him, this is extremely good story telling, or propagandizing, depending on your point-of-view. It sets a context that makes an objective swing voter feel better about only having 8.5% unemployment and one sunsetting war.

Seeing this took me down another road I’ve traveled. I vividly remember despising every second of President Reagan’s masterful Morning in America ad, because it was so effective. Twenty-eight years later, I still hate watching the propaganda film that cemented President Reagan’s reelection, and his version of history.

President Obama’s film isn’t nearly as good as Reagan’s, mostly because it is 16-minutes longer, which severely limits the audience that will see it. But if I were a conservative, I would hate watching this film as much I hated watching “Morning in America” back in the day.

Maybe this isn’t saying much, but Obama’s film is the best political storytelling I’ve seen a Democrat do in a very long time. Base, if this won’t rally you, I don’t know what will.

– Loveland

Reframing Minnesota’s Moronic Ballot Questions

Reframing.
The good news is that the Minnesota Legislature pledges to adjourn earlier this year than they did last year. The bad news is that they are pushing their lawmaking responsibilities off to voters. Legislators are passing the buck on policy decisions about legislative rules, labor law, voting limitations, and marriage law.

And so now, we’re going to have a little taste of California coming our way. Not balmy weather and trend-setting, but endless ballot initiative campaigns.

Because Republicans are controlling the Minnesota Legislature, they get to write the bills that put these amendments on the ballot. As such, they get the first crack at framing the issue, and reporters largely mimick their framing (though the Star Tribune does now put quotation marks on the term “right-to-work”).

Then, the job of opponents will be to try to reframe the issue. Overwhelmed voters facing a lengthy ballot aren’t likely to dedicate a lot of frontal lobe bandwidth to these decisions, so the battle will be over what soundbite voters are hearing in their heads as they read the amendments on Election Day.

One bloggers’ lightly informed thoughts about reframing:

Supermajority Amendment” should be reframed as “Supergridlock Amendment.” Tagline: “If you like gridlock, you’ll love the Supergridlock Amendment.”

Strategy: Tap into the powerful post-government shutdown sentiment that is driving the 72% disapproval rating for the Minnesota Legislature among Independent voters.

Right-to-Work Amendment” should be reframed as “Right-to-Leech Amendment.” Tagline: “Because we all love That Guy who drinks the beer, but is nowhere to be found when the bill arrives.”

Strategy: Make the argument personal instead of about abstract notions of “pro- or anti-union.” That is, make it about the fundamental unfairness of some benefiting, but expecting others to pay for their benefits.

Photo ID Amendment” should be reframed as “Voter Red Tape Amendment.” Tagline: “A bureaucratic solution in search of a problem.”

Strategy: Frame this as something independent voters are very wary of – more unnecessary bureaucratic red tape making life more complex. About half (47%) of independent voters say regulation usually does more harm than good.

Same Sex Marriage Amendment” should be reframed as “Marriage Ban Amendment.” Tagline: “Who is government to say who someone can and can’t love?

Strategy: Frame it as the government overreaching by appointing itself The Love Police.

As is my custom, I’m operating 100% fact free here. I haven’t seen any of the relevant voter research, or findings from other states. But right now, all of these amendments look like they could pass, so even ignorant brainstorming from the peanut gallery probably can’t hurt.

– Loveland

Ron Paul: The Black Eyed Pea of Politics

Where's the love y'all?
Yesterday GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul drew 1,800 mall walkers to his Mall of America (MOA) speech.  It’s tempting to characterize this public outpouring as a sign of political viability.  But drawing 1,800 drive-by gawkers at MOA is not especially difficult, as the agent of many a fading boy band star could tell you.  Moreover, Paul’s winless performance in the first several GOP contests would have driven any reality-based candidates from the race by now. 

But still, it’s kind of amazing that the libertarian leprechaun is still drawing anybody, much less twenty-something hipsters.  But he is.

Robert California, James Spader’s character on the NBC TV comedy The Office, said this about another celebrity popular with Generation Whatever We’re Calling This One:

I’m so tired of the Black Eyed Peas.  It’s rock and roll for people who don’t like rock and roll.  It’s rap for people who don’t like rap.  It’s pop for people who don’t like pop.

That, my friends, is Ronald Ernest Paul. 

To the Black Eyed Peas (BEP) generation, Ron Paul is a conservative for people who don’t like conservatives.  Like a good conservative, he promises to strip your obligation to help pay for Grandma’s meds. BUT he doesn’t want to criminalize sex and drugs, as other conservatives do. 

And he’s a liberal for people who don’t like liberals.  Like a good liberal, Ron Paul promises to end America’s costly wars on drugs and phantom WMD. BUT he doesn’t want spend the savings on rebuilding our infrastructure, as other liberals do.

The Paul platform leaves less in taxes for us to pay, and consequently more money in our pockets to spend on newly legalized sex and drugs. Nice.

In this manner, Ron Paul wins the support of Snoop Dogg.  And Barry Goldwater, Jr.  Can the fergalicious lead singer of BEP be far behind?

– Loveland

Minnesotans Shouldering Hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax

This week the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) announced that its member hospitals paid $226 million in “charity care” last year. The MHA is referring to instances when uninsured and underinsured patients are unable to pay their hospital bills, and the hospitals get stuck with the expenses.

While the term “charity care” is used by hospitals, hospitals don’t end up bearing the whole burden. They make up for the bills substantially by charging more to their insured patients, and insurance companies subsequently shift these higher costs to insurance premium payers.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either the hospitals or the insurers. They would go out of business if they couldn’t shift costs.

Supporters of preserving the Anti-Obamacare Tax.
But it is meant to be a criticism of Obamacare obstructionists. The MHA numbers are a reminder that those who have been aggressively blocking efforts to reduce the number of uninsured and underinsured through Obamacare are responsible for maintaining what is akin to an enormous annual tax on premium payers. An Anti-Obamacare Tax.

Given that a fully implemented Obamacare is predicted to reduce the uninsured rate from today’s 50.7 million people to about 18.7 million, and the number of underinsured people by about 70%, leaders opposing Obamacare in Congress, state legislatures and federal courts are effectively blocking the elimination of a huge annual burden on American households. If the anti-Obamacare obstructionists win, we all keep paying this Anti-Obamacare Tax.

And it’s not a small tax. In Ramsey County, taxpayers are up in arms over a proposed $10 million per year tax for the Vikings stadium. This hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax is much more painful. The Center for American Progress finds “on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to cover the uninsured.”

– Loveland

Ask Newt If Ads Matter

In age of 24/7 cable news coverage and social media, in an age when the public is sick to death of political advertising, in an age of nifty ad-dodging tools like Hulu, YouTube and TiVO, political ads are now increasingly irrelevant. An anachronism.

Right? We’ve been hearing that for years now. For instance, a 2008 column in the Star Tribune by John Rash carried the provocative headline, “Ads’ influence falls away in a ‘message election,’” and carried a number of quotes from influential local and national experts supporting the headline’s assertion.

It’s not the first time you’ve heard the claim, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear it. But reports of the demise of the political ad have been greatly exaggerated.

Consider, for instance, Newt Gingrich’s freefall in Iowa.

Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been watching the same presidential debate coverage of Newt. Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been watching the same national news coverage of Newt. Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been listening to Limbaugh, Hannity and other nationally syndicated talk radio hosts opining about Newt and his rivals.

But a huge difference for Newt in Iowa versus the rest of the country is the anti-Newt advertising pouring into Iowa. Newt reportedly is getting hammered by negative direct mail ads, radio ads, TV ads, outdoor ads, and online ads. Iowans are seeing the ads repeatedly, but Americans as a whole are not.

It therefore is probably not a coincidence that Newt is polling at about 27.4% nationally, but half that (13.7%) in Iowa. Nationally, he is still in first place, but in Iowa he has fallen to fourth place. His trend line isn’t great in either Iowa or the nation as a whole, but in Iowa Gingrich has fallen faster and further.
Continue reading “Ask Newt If Ads Matter”

Something About Mitt

One of the limitations of polling is that respondents sometimes give answers they think will please the interviewer, rather than answers that reflect their true feelings. They do this because they believe their true feelings may be at odds with societal norms. In the public opinion research world, this is referred to as “social desirability bias.”

For instance, a survey respondent who senses that religious tolerance is a dominant norm in society is less likely to want to admit to a stranger conducting a survey interview that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism makes the voter less likely to vote for Romney.

But an interesting thing happens when pollsters approach the issue from a slightly different angle. When Pew Research asked respondents to provide one word that comes to mind when they hear a candidate’s name, we get a glimpse of what is top-of-mind with voters.

Top-of-mind.
You might expect that terms dominant in Romney-related media coverage or ads might rise to top-of-mind status with voters, terms like “Romneycare,” “job creator,” “flip-flopper,” “front-runner,” “slick,” and “businessman.” After all, those topics and descriptors are dominant Romney-related topics in the campaign.

But they aren’t what sticks the most for the most for voters. The number one word that popped into voters’ minds, among both the general public and Republicans, is…

“Mormon.”

Keep in mind, I can’t recall a single ad airing about Romney’s religion. The subject has come up only fleetingly in debates, with Romney’s opponents largely shrugging off the issue. Yet “Mormon,” above all else, is what sticks in voters’ minds, while “Catholic” is not even on the public’s radar when it comes to Newt Gingrich.

This doesn’t tell us that the Mormonism is viewed as a negative by all or even most voters. But the fact that a) “Mormon” is voters’ dominant summation of Romney and b) Romney can’t seem to get get any traction with GOP primary and caucus voters leads me to believe that Mormonism is a bigger factor in this race than many want to admit.

– Loveland

The Creator and Me

Frank Luntz: Privilege Creator.
GOP pollster Frank Luntz is the genius who helped shift Republicanspeak from “inheritance taxes” to “death taxes,” and dramatically change public support as a result. You see, “inheritance” sounds unearned and aristocratic to the masses, while taxing death sounds outrageously insensitive and unfair. Score!

Similarly, at the behest of his wealthy clients Luntz changed Republicanspeak from “oil drilling” to “energy exploration,” “global warming” to “climate change,” and “health care reform” to “government takeover of health care.”

Is Luntzian linguistics Orwellian? In a 2007 interview with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross, Luntz embraces his inner Big Brother:

“To be ‘Orwellian’ is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening… and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever.”

Now Luntz is urging his Republican clients to repeatedly use the term “Job Creators” whenever referring to the wealthiest Americans. Mr. Luntz seeks to focus Americans’ attention on the 1%’s trickledownedness, rather than it’s gawdy and growing wealth.

Brilliant! After all, in the midst of a sluggish recovery no one wants to stand in the way of “job creation,” so this turn of phrase is getting Luntz’s wealthy clients exempted from debt reduction sacrifice. (“Sacrifice,” incidentally, is a bad bad word Luntz is urging Republicans to ban. If only Churchill and FDR had been so clever.)

This whole business got me to thinking, “if I could afford to hire old Frank Luntz, what could the wunderkind wordsmith do to get ME exempted from sacrifice?
Continue reading “The Creator and Me”

The Bully Pulpit, Republican Style

A majority of Americans support:

* Stem cell research (77% support);
* Gay marriage (51% support); and
* Keeping abortion legal in some form (77% support).

So why are Republicans falling all over themselves to severely limit or ban stem cell research, gay marriage and abortion? Here’s why:

The best thing that could happen to the Republican Party would be for their nomination/tent revival process to end as soon as possible. Because the longer the Republicans evangelical arms race drags out and escalates, the more the eventual nominee will look like a preacher instead of a President. That sells in Republican primaries, but not with moderate swing voters in the General Election.

– Loveland

Jon Huntsman and the Evolution of the “Moderate” Label

GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has signed several bills restricting abortion, and he supports a right to life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He supports building a fence on the Mexican border. He supports the death penalty. He governed Utah when it was named the most favorable state for business. He not only supports school vouchers, he actually signed a school voucher bill into law. He opposes an assault weapon ban. He wants to slash the authority of the EPA and NLRB. He opposes the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate. He wants to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit to dramatically increase taxes on the poor. At the same time, he proposes drastically cutting tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

Moderate?
If you polled Americans and asked them how they would describe the political philosophy of a candidate holding those positions, they surely would say that candidate is very conservative. After all, Huntsman’s positions are at least as conservative as McCain, Bush 2, Dole, Bush 1, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, and Goldwater.

But despite Governor Huntsman’s strongly conservative record, the rigorous 90-second Google analysis I conducted today reveals that Huntsman is more likely to be described on the Internet and in the news as “moderate Jon Huntsman” than “conservative Jon Huntsman,” by an overwhelming 8-to-1 margin.

I understand that Huntsman is usually labeled a moderate because he is the most moderate person in the 2012 GOP presidential field, a radically conservative line-up. But still, it’s remarkable to see how far news reporters, bloggers and the general public have shifted their definition of “moderate” to the right as the Republicans Party has moved rapidly to the far right.

– Loveland

9-9-9: Simply Trickle Down

Simplicity is the foundation of many a great sales pitch: “$5 foot longs.” “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” “99 cents tacos on Taco Tuesday.” “Buck beer night.” Pitches that state their value proposition concisely, specifically, and memorably are powerful in both the retail and political marketplace. And at first blush, Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, looks to have himself an awesome presidential pitch strategy in “9-9-9.”

Under Cain’s “9-9-9” proposal, a big chunk of the federal tax code would be replaced with a flat 9% federal income tax, a new 9% federal sales tax and a 9% federal corporate tax. Like many great sales pitches, Herman’s husksterism is elegantly simple, digestible, understandable, symetrical and memorable. Moreover, “9-9-9” has the all the appeal of an IED planted alongside the IRS headquarters, a popular proposition among just about all taxpayers, particularly GOP activists.

Politically speaking, “9-9-9” just flat out sells. Almost overnight, it has made Cain — who also has swell ideas about electrocuting Mexicans and banning government service based on religious affiliation — a GOP presidential front-runner.

But at some point, even wildly popular political pitches get dissected by journalists and opponents. When that happens, I’m not convinced that the Niner Designer will survive the economic vivisection.

Tax experts such as a former chief-of-staff of the non-partisan congressional Joint Tax Committee, are now finding that “9-9-9” represents a tax increase for every household earning under $120,000/year. A family of four earning about $90,000/year would pay about $5,000 more annually. (In Cain currency, that’s roughly 417 one-topping medium-sized pizzas per year.) At the same time, under “9-9-9,” billiaonaire Warren Buffet last year would have paid no income tax.

In fact, a President Cain with a “9-9-9” in place would probably redistribute more of old Joe the Plumber’s wealth than any President in American history. The trickle down economics imbedded in Cain’s “9-9-9” might make even old Arthur Laffer blush.

So sure, simple sells, and right now simplicity is raising Cain. But will it sell long enough to make Citizen Cain our next President? Nein, nein, nein.

– Loveland

Dayton’s “Dog Doe”

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” That quote, falsely attributed to Harry Truman, may be on Governor Mark Dayton’s mind as the bachelor prepares to adopt his THIRD black German Shepherd.

Dayton is in the news today inviting Minnesotans to help name his adorable new pup. To give you a sense of the Governor’s naming tastes, the first two were named Mingo and Mesabi, and Dakota recently passed away.

Some of the early nominations for Dog Doe’s new name:

• From Republican Senate Majority Amy Koch: “Marx.”
• From DFL Chair Ken Martin: “Taxable.”
• From Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken: “Smalley.”
• From accuracy challenged U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann: “Cat.”
• From Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog: “Dog of Satan.”
• From Former Governor Tim Pawlenty: “President Pawlenty.”
• From MN Independence Party Chairman Mark Jenkins: “None of the Above.”
• From GOP Chair Tony Sutton: “Target Practice.”
• From South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard: “Overtaxed.”
• From Governor’s Mansion neighbor: “ANOTHER?!”

Okay, surely you can do better. Nominations are open.

– Loveland

“Neutrality” Declaration Off Target

Yesterday at Target’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel was peppered with questions about the divisive gay marriage measure that Target-funded legislators put on the 2012 Minnesota ballot.

Mr. Steinhafel couldn’t move the conversation back to corporate business, because the questions about Target’s politics kept coming and coming. This was frustrating for Steinhafel, because he was armed with a well-rehearsed talking point:

“We’re neutral.” It seems Target fancies itself as a veritable Switzerland. Steinhafel repeatedly declared that Target’s position on the gay marriage issue is neutral, neutral, neutral.

But here’s why that message isn’t working. When Switzerland is neutral in a war, they don’t fund either side. But Target is funding a group of candidates obsessed with banning gay marriage. The citizens/customers caught in the crossfire of the Target-financed culture war do not view Target’s funding decisions as an act of neutrality.

From a brand stewardship standpoint, corporations should keep their multi-billion brands out of the destructive crossfire of the most divisive issues of our times. As long as they continue to fund political combatants, repeating the word “neutral” is not going to stop them from suffering the collateral damage inherent in any war.

– Loveland

Target’s Lady Gaga Problem

Live by the Gaga, die by the Gaga.

The Target boycott situation has gotten fascinating this week. Pop diva Lady Gaga is now being widely credited for pressuring Target to back off of its policy of using its customers’ dollars to play politics. From numerous LGBT publications to the The Motley Foolto a Los Angeles Times editorial, the conventional wisdom has become this: Target has sworn off politics, and Gaga forced them to do it.

But when I look closely at what Target Executives are saying, that interpretation seems to be inaccurate, or at least premature. As near as I can tell, Target has not announced a change of policy, only a change in process (i.e. the formation of a committee that will decide down the line). If Target has actually “adopted new guidelines for donations to trade associations that prohibit the use of the company’s contributions in political campaigns,” as a Los Angeles Times editorial said, I sure haven’t heard it from Target yet.

For instance, here is what Target VP of Communications Dustee Jenkins told Billboard:

Continue reading “Target’s Lady Gaga Problem”