Now that the tea party yahoos have had their fun, dressing up in Colonial kitsch while pop-topping six packs of Arizona Southern Style Sweet Tea and pouring it into Lake Erie, poisoning the trout and giving the ducks diabetes, we can all smile and forget about them.
But not before giving them a hearty round of applause. Thank you, you crazy kids, we needed a laugh. Get on home now, Sean Hannity is going to give Grover Norquist a hickey on the tuchus tonight, and you don’t want to miss it!
See what I did there? It’s called rebranding. I took a mass political protest and made it seem ridiculous. I know, that wasn’t too difficult, it was ridiculous, but the lesson still holds: Branding is perception and perception is reality. The big story yesterday wasn’t the tax revolt, it was a mass outbreak of silly, that’s what will be remembered when this one-week populist wonder becomes just another tired Republican talking point.
This protest failed because it was poorly branded. Even if the underlying point had some virtue, the message was lost in the tedium of the medium. It looked stupid.
Looking stupid has become the franchise of contemporary conservatism. I’m not sure when it happened, but club-footed political stupidity is their trademark now, as much as the wasp-waisted bottle is Coke’s. It’s a shame, really. There is much to admire in conservative thought—but the brand is in tatters.
None of this would matter much—outside the internet, where such allegations are fighting words and an invitation to participate in the intramural blood sport we call blogging—except that for the past eight years the conservative brand was America’s brand, it was our brand, yours and mine.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like the way our product was being sold around the world. I didn’t like having our global image rank halfway between crystal meth and lawn darts. Reality was tough enough.
Republicans now whine that Obama is copying George Bush’s policies and getting away with it because he uses different names for them. The Wall Street Journal complained in a lead editorial that Obama’s eschewing of the term “enemy combatant” for the Guantanamo inmates is a smoke screen, meant to disguise the fact that he has adopted many of George Bush’s positions in the war on terror. His purpose is purely and cynically political, he implicitly endorses Bush’s policies while explicitly rejecting them. He has no other motive for changing the words and no possible good can come of it.
Except branding, you fools. Yours was destroyed. That meant America’s was destroyed. President Obama’s first and hardest job was repairing that damage.
He’s off to a surprisingly good start. America knows it and the world knows it; that’s why his approval ratings are so high here and abroad.
But taking his personal popularity, that attractive brand, and transferring the luster to our government at home and our presence in the world won’t happen in a day, or a hundred days, and it won’t happen automatically.
Nor will explaining how he’s trying to do it. I’ll pick up that thorn next week.