In his recently published column, “Better progressive strategy,” David Overton compares the marketing of the liberal/progressive (modern Democrats) “products” vs. the conservative (modern Republicans) “products..” If one peels the onion back, however, it’s fairly obvious Democrats have the better “product” for ordinary people and Republicans have the better “product” for business owners and the wealthy.
In the early years of the 20th century, thanks principally to Teddy Roosevelt, Republicans were the progressives and Democrats, which owned the south politically, were state’s rights conservatives. LBJ’s aggressive sponsorship of the 1965 Civil Rights Act instantaneously flipped this 180 degrees.
Over the past century, every consequential piece of social legislation impacting the working class and poor was proposed by progressives and opposed by conservatives, including a woman’s right to vote nearly 100 years ago, Social Security, child labor laws, 40 hour work week, right to unionize, workplace safety, Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights, voting rights, environmental protection, unemployment insurance, food stamps and the disabilities. The list goes on.
The earliest in the last century was a women’s right to vote. It was promoted by progressives from both parties, and opposed, principally by conservative Democrats in the south. Both parties claim credit for women’s suffrage, but it was less a single party accomplishment than a progressive one.
Nearly 20 percent of all American’s receive social security benefits.
Thirty years later when LBJ proposed Medicare legislation, this is how Ronald Reagan, characterized it: “If Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining,” Reagan said. If opponents failed to scuttle it, he warned, “One of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Sound familiar?
Forty-five years later, when President Obama proposed the Affordable Care Act, Republican 2008 V.P. candidate Sarah Palin said: “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of [President Barack] Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” Uh, huh.
Republicans sell simple talking points — lower taxes, small government, family values, strong military — while their behavior often belies them. Democrats have no such equivalent simplistic talking points. They just assiduously propose life-enhancing social legislation.
Faced with governing, Trump now will surely retain the essence of Obamacare but will call it Trumpcare. Democrats mis-marketed Obamacare by focusing on its features, not it’s benefits. Marketing 101 teaches that features do not sell, only benefits sell. Benefits such as 20 million previously uninsured citizens and their families will now enjoy an improved quality of life and peace of mind; benefits like banning rejections based on pre-existing medical conditions; benefits like carrying children under their parent’s insurance til age 26. Republicans will market the benefits with memorable talking points.
Yes, modern Democrats fail at both marketing and winning, while modern Republicans are quite competent at messaging thanks to cynical word-massagers like Frank Lunz and winning. Democrats market to voter’s heads while Republicans market to voter’s gut. And the biggest driver of the “gut” is fear and Republicans use it brilliantly.
If Democrats haven’t figured out how to market itself yet, its doubtful they can. It may be congenital. Consequently, I can only hope Republicans try to dismantle (they will call in “privatize”) Democratic programs like Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare. They will reap their just rewards in 2018 and 2020.
Rygler is an Austin resident.