(An editorial by Felix Unger; originally published in the Denver Egotist)
I rarely venture into politics in my column, for a few reasons. First, it’s usually something that gives me an enormous headache. Second, it bores most people to tears. And finally, most of the time, we can’t do a thing about it.
When Obama won the election, he did it on the back of a very well crafted campaign that inspired everyone from Shepherd Fairey to the Hollywood elite to make a creative contribution. The HOPE message, and those iconic posters, were all part of the ethos. The nation, indeed, the whole world, was caught up in it. It was a well-executed and well-supported ad campaign. It had headlines. It had viral videos. It had guerrilla marketing. It should have won a One Show award, to be honest.
And now, a few years later, with the Obama posters fading almost as quickly as his battered public image, we are presented with a new ad campaign. This time, it’s for the Tea Party. And make no mistake, this is just as much of an ad campaign as the one Obama used. Only this time, the message is quite different. Now, it’s FEAR that is the root of all of this.
Glenn Beck is, in my humble opinion, a smart guy. And dangerous. I have watched and listened carefully to his rhetoric over the last few years and saw exactly what he was doing. Every tear, every outburst, every outraged scream, it was all carefully planned.
It’s easy to write him off as an idiot, but that would imply that he doesn’t know what he’s doing or thinking. He does. The fact that I’m even writing his name here is playing into his strategy. He wants to be hated. He wants people to despise him. His crocodile tears work on millions of people, too. Because when you polarize people in that way, you create powerful supporters. The Tea Party movement being one such offshoot of his rants and raves.
Then there’s Sarah Palin. She entered the scene during the election and refused to go away. The fact that she backed down as governor proved to me that she also knew exactly what she was doing, and what she wanted. It was all about money and power. And being governor of Alaska brings neither – not when you look at where the real money and power actually is. Her speaking engagements, books, Fox News appearances and work with the Tea Party is netting her millions of dollars and putting her right back in the spotlight. Some people think she should be president!
So, how do you turn someone as innocuous and pointless as Sarah Palin into a potential presidential candidate? How do you elevate a loud-mouthed talk show host to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic speech? How do you motivate millions of people to wave signs of protest? How do you make people believe that the beliefs of the Tea Party are completely different to the old GOP beliefs, when they are in fact identical? And how do you convince people that an organization is grass roots when it’s funded by big corporate interests and backed by even bigger media outlets?
It’s all down to advertising. Clever, strategic, creative advertising. Adolf Hitler once said, “All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.” He also said, “if you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” And the HBO show The Wire commented, “Americans are stupid people by and large. We pretty much believe whatever we are told.”
Look at the O’Reilly Factor, for instance. Bill calls his show “the no spin zone.” That’s like calling KFC "health food" (which they tried to do, and failed, with Kitchen Fresh Chicken). Now I don’t like O’Reilly for many reasons, not just political, but I don’t give a crap about his content. It’s an opinion show, like Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and all the other pundits out there. But watch a few episodes of “the no spin zone” and tell me it’s not bashing liberals and coming out favorably for the right. That is spin. Pure and simple.
Fox News itself says it is “fair and balanced” which is also bunk. And yet, people believe it. I think CNN is slanted too, but it’s the Fox News tagline that bugs me. Come on. Keep it real. Somehow though, if you say it, then it must be true.
So, keep it simple, and say what people want to hear. People are upset about the economy? Exploit it. People are paranoid about losing their homes or jobs? Jump on it. People hate paying taxes? Tell them they’ll pay more, regardless of the truth.
I’m not saying that the Tea Party movement is just a complete pack of lies. But I am saying that exaggeration, and misdirection, plays a key role in its rise. Just like we dramatize or exaggerate a benefit in an ad campaign, so the Tea Party exaggerates and dramatizes the main messages. Fear is the key. I would not be surprised if there was a creative brief for the Tea Party campaign that said something like “without the Tea Party, you have everything to fear and everything to lose.”
The Tea Party wants to take back the country and reduce the size of government. They want lower taxes and a reduction in wasteful spending. They want to reduce the national debt. These are all points that previous Republicans have preached, almost word for word, but the economic disaster that hit the country was under the watch of a Republican. The elephant has tainted the message.
This is where advertising comes in, again. It’s time to rebrand. It’s time to create something radically new and different, even though it’s essentially the exact same product. The Tea Party is the product of that thinking. It’s a repackaging. It’s “hey, high fructose corn syrup sucks. We know that. But have you tried new corn sugar? It’s great. It’s sugar. And you all want sugar now!”
This mentality makes it very easy for a movement like the Tea Party to gain traction. They are nothing more than a rebranding of the Republican party, with a few new bells and whistles and some catchy new taglines. It is advertising, at its best or worst, that has done this. It’s strategic, it’s planned, and it’s working. Hopefully, enough people sniff out the smoke and mirrors and avoid falling for the hype. But I doubt it.
Felix Unger is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He's been in the ad game a long time, but he's still young enough to know he doesn't know everything. He'll give his opinion, you can take it or leave it. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He has been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does. Email him at email@example.com.