Monday, October 23, 2006

Republicans Done In by Their Own Marketing

Here is the new White House line on Iraq, as iterated by Bush advisor Dan Bartlett:

"It's never been a stay-the-course strategy. Strategically, we think it's very important that we stay in Iraq and we win in Iraq. And if we were to cut and run and go and leave that country too early it would be a disaster for American policy."

The Bush administration is masterful at marketing. Where Clinton’s presidency was marked with a lawyerly ability to parse phrases and force wiggle room into any situation, Bush’s presidency has shown an MBA-style leniency with reality, preferring sharp marketing strategies to drawn-out logic.

When the marketing is backed by a good or at least desired product (think tax cuts and numerous national defense issues), Bush wins. But when the Bush administration neglects to tie a real deliverable to the marketing blitz (think Social Security privatization that was all hoopla and no solid plan), they lose. And that’s what has happened with “stay the course.”

“Stay the course” is reliant on the perception of progress in Iraq. If things were looking up, then “stay the course” would have been fine. But the intensification of violence makes the phrase sound like a hollow reassurance offered by a leadership beset by hubris and situational blindness.

Obviously the Bush administration has never meant “make no adjustments” when they’ve said “stay the course.” But when you live by marketing you die by marketing. To most ears, “stay the course” sounds as useless a strategy as “cut and run.” The result from a marketing perspective is that the Republican advantage is neutralized. Their positioning sounds as uninspiring as does the Democrats’ mealy mix of immediate withdrawal, quick withdrawal and timelines for withdrawal.

Continuing problems in Iraq have forced the administration to do the one thing it simply isn’t geared to do: convey nuance. In the sound-bite era, the media loathe nuance. If your ideas can’t fit into a catchy tagline, you’re in trouble because far too few in the media take the time to explain complicated ideas.

The Republican position on Iraq no longer fits into a tagline. Nor does the Democratic position. But, in this case, a neutral field is a Democratic advantage. One they look increasingly likely to ride to victory.


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