Thursday, November 15, 2007

Forget "Issues" --Authenticity Is All That Matters

Jeff Feldman decries the rise of “authenticity.”

Americans, he says, should reject the very notion of authenticity in favor of that old traditional value, pragmatism. In fact, he has a highly pragmatic proposal for our leading Democratic Presidential contenders: they should call for “NATIONAL CONVENTION TO SOLVE AMERICA'S HEALTH CRISIS.” (Evidently, putting it in all-caps and in bold makes it more, um, pragmatic, I guess. Maybe it’s more “frame-shoppy.” I don’t really have a clue.)

Intending only to help a worthy cause, Jeff has managed to embody almost single-handedly why Democrats are so singularly unsuccessful – and unsuccessful they are, in light of the huge majorities of Americans who agree with what they say they want to do. Too bad because Jeff's a fighter on the side of the angels.

It’s often said that we Dems are left-brainers – verbal, analytical, plodding, meeting-holders. And on the whole I agree. The Right wants leaders, the Left wants a meeting.

Oh sure, it’s a grand and glorious tradition – and of course the reason why Democrats are so much better at “governing.” But it ain’t gonna get us the political movement we need. We don't lack for good ideas, or snappy labels (OK, maybe we do, but it's not what's killing us). And we surely don't lack for meetings, workshops, or national conventions.

FDR (and this next sentence always begins with FDR, doesn’t it?) was our last great leader. Of course, under 8+ years of his leadership, the nation remained more or less stuck in an economic depression. But what he offered the nation wasn’t successful government programs. He offered hope. He offered a sunny, upbeat personality that somehow let every American believe that we’d get through the crisis.

People who work on Madison Ave (as I sort-of do) know that commercials for Campbell’s Soup are not about soup. It doesn’t matter if it’s tomato-i-er, or higher in protein or lower in msg or sodium. What matters is that your mother loves you, and that you love your kids. “Lower Sodium” as a claim isn’t about sodium; it’s about showing how much you care.

Hillary Clinton is yet another in a long-line of deeply dislikable Democratic nominees. I believe she thinks the campaign is about health care, the war, improving education and the like. No matter how much she thinks that’s true, it isn’t. It just isn’t. The campaign is about which of these two candidates do we like better.

Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are by almost any reasonable measure not likely to be good for most Americans as President. But people will like whichever one prevails. They’ll seem jovial and confident. They’ll come across as reasonable people who want the right thing. They’ll have a very good chance of winning the election.

McGovern. Dukakis. Mondale. Kerry. Gore-2000. These people were deeply dislikable, and went down to defeat. Carter seemed likeable in76, but after 4 years of grappling with the issues of the day, seemed to lack confidence in himself. (As opposed to Reagan, a dreadful President revered to this day.) And consider what they did to Bill Clinton—a likeable sort. Their entire campaign was not to make us think his policies weren’t good, it was to make us hate him.

The Republicans know how to sell soup. If we don’t learn, we’ll just keep on making the best soup no one buys.

No comments: