“Arianna,” he said with the enchanting optimism of a Greek-American boy, “I’m going to convince you that you should support Bush in November. Here are two questions you have to answer. The first question is: Are you for more or less taxes? The second question is: Do you want to fight the war on terrorism?”
Absolutely brilliant. George Bush and the conservatives have made their frame so widespread and so simple that an 11-year-old boy can articulate it clearly. If the Democrats had anything like that level of media savvy and attention to marketing, it wouldn’t even be a close contest this fall. Arianna actually makes a good stab at starting to set appropriate liberal frames in the column, but they’re too complex still. I’m thinking about buying her book though, to see what other thoughts she might have. She and Lakoff at least recognize the problem; it’s going to take years for the cognitive machinery to be put in place to combat the conservative think-tank movement that Lakoff describes.
Another Alternet post does a great job of describing how the Democrats are being “Betamaxed”, in the sense of having a superior product being destroyed by poor marketing. She cites poll numbers showing that when people are asked in isolation, they tend to support liberal positions like the environment, universal health care and gun control. But when they get to the booths, they vote Rebublican. She describes the brilliant branding the Republicans have done, such that they’re still the party of smaller government and fiscal conservatives when it’s been more than 30 years since a Republican president has passed a balanced budget or reduced government spending. Read the article. Good stuff. Falls in line with Lakoff’s stuff beautifully.
Which brings me to my last topic, one that I’ve been meaning to write about for a few weeks now. A key influence in the upcoming election may be one that absolutely nobody would have predicted. And I’m talking about Howard Stern. Yes, the radio shock jock. For those of you who haven’t been following the story, Howard Stern decided earlier this year that Bush was an idiot and that he was going to vote for Kerry. Two days later, his show got pulled off of Clear Channel, the radio station conglomerate, whose owners are huge Bush supporters. The show allegedly got pulled in response to the FCC cracking down in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident, but Stern hadn’t changed his show in years. The only thing that changed was that he started bad-mouthing Bush on the air.
Clear Channel pulling his show off of their stations sent Stern ballistic. And he’s dedicated what little time he has left on the air (there’s allegedly a bill in Congress which would make radio personalities personally responsible for the six figure fines the FCC has started handing out for indecency) to railing about Bush. And while I may dislike Stern’s preferred lowbrow humor, I do respect his media savvy. A lot. The man has built an empire of radio, film and books selling himself as the product. He knows how to get people talking about the things that he wants to talk about. And now he’s talking about Bush being a liar, about Bush’s destruction of the environment, about Bush being in bed with corporate lobbyists like Clear Channel. And he’s a smart guy. He has regularly been taking calls from listeners who are Bush supporters and destroying their arguments on the air. He invited a conservative pundit and Al Franken to debate on his show, and he and Al ganged up on the conservative and made him look like a fool.
And this could be incredibly significant. Like it or not, Stern has a huge following nationwide. And it’s a predominantly white straight male demographic that is anything but solidly Democratic. If he convinces his listeners to vote against Bush, that’s a significant swing right there. But he’s gone further than that. He’s taking Bush’s arguments and rebutting them on air. His listeners can now take those rebuttals and repeat them whenever somebody confronts them with a conservative argument. It’s kind of weird, but Stern could be influencing the political discourse of this country at a grass roots level in a way that hasn’t been seen outside of the conservative movement (Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage perform that function nicely over there). And don’t bet against Stern. He’s got more media savvy than the entire Democratic party put together. And he’s a compelling speaker – I’ve started tuning into his show occasionally in the morning to listen to his anti-Bush rants.
It’s a fascinating story to me. It’s the power of the media. It’s controlling the framing of issues. It’s understanding the importance of marketing a position. All issues of interest to me, all rolled into one story. I’m rooting for Howard Stern. And that’s something I’m not sure I ever thought I’d say…