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Blog item: Is Being a Statesman Compatible with Political 'Brands'?

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4 comments, last: Jun-29-2009   Add a comment   Author:  PT (Jun-26-2009)    Play a Video
Category: Philosophical & Quality of Life

Did President Lincoln worry about his party's "brand"?I heard it again on the radio, from a political professional.  Such folks are often called talking heads, policy wonks, and other names that may not always be polite enough to repeat here.  And yet, they continue to get air time and print space.  I am sure those folks feel they are doing necessary work for the country, yet they have lost themselves in an elaborate popularity contest.

What I heard is a consultant stating that the Republican "brand" is still strong when it comes to the reputation for controlling spending.  Before I or anyone else puts on feelings of superiority as a result of that superficial view of what society needs and wants, I know that other consultants (or the same ones) also speak of a Democratic "brand".  As a quick check I Googled both "Republican brand" and "Democratic brand" (make sure to use quotes so the entire phrase is searched for), and there were over 53,900 references to "Republican brand", with only 9,750 references to "Democratic brand".  So both parties talk about their brand – but I am not surprised that the Republicans "lead" by a significant margin in that area.

Although I strongly value the Democratic platform of support for the working middle class and for the working poor, for a pro-choice position, for government-supported stem cell research, and for other progressive causes, I fear that sometimes both sets of leaders lose their ways in thinking of brand, or at least their advisers do and the leaders end up listening to those advisers.  And don't misunderstand – I am in favor of candidates being articulate and having a clear message.  But when I hear the talking heads speak of branding the candidate, having a "selling" point, the "tip of the spear", and "elections are won on sound bites", it is getting too calculated to be healthy.

Here in New York State both parties have been bickering for so many years that they have diluted their ability to govern, with the situation climaxing recently in defections and counter-defections, and law suits about who is the majority and who has rightful leadership of the state Senate.  Both sides jockey, understandably, for public support in their internal strife.  But we see little effort to compromise and to do the necessary work of New York State.

Governing and leading have nothing to do with having a brand, and nothing to do with positioning for power!  Leaders need not consider brand and power.  Leaders are moved by considered and righteous action, by efforts toward consensus across all aisles, by transparency to the public in all settled matters, and by values that are human values , values that do not depend on touting the depth and sincerity of one's relationship to a Deity.  Leaders of that kind move and motivate their followers in growing numbers, and gather support as they go.  That is how real power is derived.

I ask: Can we have more leaders and fewer jargon-obsessed advisers?  More leaders along with more inspired followers and future leaders, to help them get the job done?  Can we have leaders who think, rightfully, that Campbell's, Ford, IBM, and General Foods are brands, while the concept of "branding" should not get within a country mile of what it takes to lead a home, a community, a city, a state, or a nation?  These questions are not intended just for the United States, nor for our current times, but world-wide, and for all times.

When our leaders act with educated responsibility, and with care and inspiration, our society will improve, as night follows day.

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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jun-29-2009)   Web site
Hello, again, William. I am of the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" persuasion; put it all on the line. Politics and political maneuvering is corrupt, but the political system does not need to be, if the people in it have integrity and passion.
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Jun-28-2009)   Web site

Unfortunately, brand counts for a lot. At a guess, perhaps 20% of Americans are interested in politics - interested enough, for example, to notice that Congress passed a flawed climate change bill on the same day as Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died and Shaq signed for the Cavs. However, 50% vote in general elections. The 30% difference is made up of people who have a good feeling for the politician or party they vote for: just as some people prefer Coke to Pepsi or McDonalds to Burger King. Their votes count for more, in total, than those who read the NY Times opinion pages every day.

On leadership and servitude, in true democracies politicians should be free to take risks knowing that if they mess up they will be kicked out of office. In semi-democracies, where the people cannot remove politicians unless found guilty of a crime, politicians should follow their mandates (their campaign promises) or the public will, as expressed through opinion polls, focus groups or a council of representatives (parliament, congress, etc). If they do not, there is little to distinguish a statesman from a dictator.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jun-28-2009)   Web site

The expression is even applied to people -- Obama's brand, for example. So, is everything marketing? It takes the integrity out of governing, and makes it all about competing sales pitches.

As for whether political figures can or should be "leaders" or "servants" of the public -- I would say that is an old debate. They are elected to serve the public, and should keep informed about what the public wants, but elected officials may serve best by using their informed judgment and leadership. Would you agree with that?
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Jun-26-2009)   Web site

I agree with all you say but, unfortunately, politics is all about brands. 'Party identification' is a phenomenon that varies in strength from time to time and country to country. It manifests in people saying 'I am a Democrat' rather than simply 'I support the Democrats'. It's what all parties want and they strive to get it through branding.

Studies have shown that those who identify with a party seldom see that party's faults. In tests, people are shown an anonymous statement and asked to react - the reaction is often neutral. Others are shown the same statements but attributed to one party or another, and the reactions become more positive or negative, more polarised. It's unfortunate, but it's the way things are. We can only hope to change it, slowly, through open, non-partisan discussion and more time and space for reflection.

Something to throw into the mix: yes, leaders should lead; but in a democracy, why do we call politicians 'leaders'? Are they not our representatives, representing our views, desires and interests? Are they not public servants, indeed? Can a servant be a leader?

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About author/contributor Member: PT (David Alexander) PT (David Alexander)
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Member: PT (David Alexander) My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.

Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.

I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.

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