There’a a parable you sometimes hear in marketing and public relations classes that goes something like this: A dog food company just released a new premium product line, complete with an advertising blitz to introduce the public to the new brand of kibble. Veterinarians worked for years perfecting the recipe, which is a perfect combination of vitamins, minerals and proteins to ensure a healthy and happy pet. Graphic designers created beautiful packaging, and the mascot–a talking dog with a sassy streak–is the cutest darn thing that you’ve ever seen.
There’s just one problem. Sales are dismal. Even after sinking millions into the launch and with brand awareness at an unprecedented high, stores can’t move the product to save their lives. The whole thing looks to be headed for a massive write-down. But why?
An emergency meeting of the marketing team is called. There, the company CEO demands answers. Everyone agrees that the campaign was brilliant, hit all the right marks, couldn’t miss. Even after an hour of debate, they’re completely stumped. That’s when a lowly intern quietly raises her hand, and asks to speak.
“What is it?” The CEO snaps.
“Well,” the intern replies, “I took one of the free samples home and gave some to my chihuahuas.”
“They didn’t like it.”
Sinking slowly into his big conference room chair, the CEO nods his head slowly, as the horrible realization sinks in.
The dogs don’t like it.
I’ve often thought of the story while contemplating why the Democrat Party has been having so much trouble with voters lately. Even though the GOP hasn’t exactly been a model of competence, they’ve somehow managed to do to the Dems what Clubber Lang did to Apollo Creed in Rocky III, leaving them electorally bereft and with nothing to do but find creative uses for the f-bomb at union rallies. That’s because most analysis of Democrat woes tends to focus on the messaging: If only we said this or said that, people would see that we’re really the better choice and come running back to us. But I always thought the problem had more to do with what the party was selling–specifically, bloated government programs that exacerbate the problems they’re supposed to solve, and upending all the societal norms that make America, well, America.
In other words, it’s not the packaging. It’s the product.
And the voters don’t like it.
Then again, I’m just an internet blogger, so what do I know? The experts–guys like Josh Barro–seem to think it’s not as bad as all that for the Dems, and that with a little tweaking they can regain some of their mojo. In his latest Business Insider column, he says that it’s all just a matter of being less judgy:
As I see it, Democrats’ problem isn’t that they’re on the wrong side of policy issues. It’s that they’re too ready to bother too many ordinary people about too many of their personal choices.
The nice thing. . .is that Democrats can fix it without moving substantially on policy. They just have to become less annoying.
Examples? Barro cites a’plenty:
Liberals want you to know that you should eat less meat so as to contribute less to global warming. They’re concerned that your diet is too high in sodium and saturated fat. They’re upset that the beef in your hamburger was factory-farmed.
They think the name of your favorite football team is racist. Or even if you hate the Washington Redskins, they have a long list of other reasons that football is problematic.
The SUV you bought because it was easier to install car seats in doesn’t get good enough gas mileage. Why don’t you have an electric car?
The gender-reveal party you held for your most recent child inaccurately conflated gender with biological sex. (“Cutting into a pink or blue cake seems innocent enough — but honestly, it’s not,” Marie Claire warned earlier this month.)
You don’t ride the subway because you have that gas-guzzling car, but if you did, the way you would sit on it would be sexist.
No item in your life is too big or too small for this variety of liberal busybodying. On the one hand, the viral video you found amusing was actually a manifestation of the patriarchy. On the other hand, you actually have an irresponsibly large number of carbon-emitting children.
All this scolding — this messaging that you should feel guilty about aspects of your life that you didn’t think were anyone else’s business — leads to a weird outcome when you go to vote in November.
Who can argue with that? Basically, Barro is saying that the modern incarnation of the Democrat Party is a lot less like the peace-love-dope hippies from the 60s and more like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady from Saturday Night Live. You can almost hear them muttering, after every sin against their pieties, “Isn’t that special?”
Where Barro goes wrong, however, is his assumption that the Democrats could become winners again if they just gave up on being so prissy about this stuff. First of all, I don’t believe that the American public is as hunky-dory with progressive policy as Barro thinks (see the dog food example above). Secondly, he doesn’t seem to realize that all the progressive overreach that he bemoans isn’t a bug of the progressive mindset, it’s a feature–and a rather fundamental one at that.
That’s because progressivism, by its very nature, has no limiting principle. Progress can only be measured by moving forward–so if the movement stops moving, it dies. That’s why you have so much nitpicking over small ball non-issues like the names of football teams, or not having pink and blue cakes at baby showers: So much of the big-ticket civil rights battle has already been won, the progs have to latch on to some other crusade–even if it’s patently ridiculous–in order to feel relevant. And once those battles are won, they’ll have to move on to another. Like a great white shark that suffocates if it stops swimming, the progressive movement will always be searching for the next opportunity to scold society for whatever -ism needs to be vanquished next.
Good luck with getting them to stop that.