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The New Deal: Implications for 2016, part 2

March 16, 2015

Previously, I wrote about why I believe there was such widespread acceptance of the New Deal during the Great Depression. It was accepted because there may be things in this life worse than watching your family starve to death because of a decision you made, but I’m hard pressed to list very many. Now, let’s talk about marketing.

Marketing, as it applies to this series of blog posts, deals with just a few things:

  • Finding the pain
  • Providing an answer to the pain
  • Demographics vs ideology
  • Remembering your real job

I’m a small business owner. Marketing, successful marketing, is essential to my business if I hope for my business to be successful. Marketing, real marketing, consists of (at least) identifying the needs and wants of those with whom you hope to do business (for our purposes, I’m going to refer to both needs and wants as simply “needs”). It’s easy to get confused as to exactly what a person’s needs really are. A classic example is borne out by this question: “What is the need of the person to whom you want to market a 1/4 inch drill bit?” The answer is not that the person needs a 1/4 inch drill bit, though that may seem to be the obvious answer. The answer, when we think about it just a little, is that the person needs a 1/4 inch hole. When it comes to the 2016 (and subsequent) election, the ability to identify the needs of the electorate (and any targeted sub-group) is essential to success. If you want people to vote for you, your candidate or your party, you must identify their needs. Assuming you know what those needs are is a recipe for disaster. You have to actually investigate and dig. Asking people is always a good idea…

So, if you identify the needs of the electorate, you come to the next question. How do you meet that need? In the case of the need for a 1/4 inch hole, the need is met with a 1/4 inch drill bit. During the Great Depression, the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter were met by the New Deal (how well they were met and whether there was another better or more viable option are different questions that are outside the scope of this series). For those of us of the conservative or libertarian perspective, this can be a problem. We tend to focus on long term solutions and we are prone to pointing out, truthfully, that there are no absolute solutions, only trade-offs. As a result, the answers we provide often offer little hope in the short-term and even the long-term benefit is known to have a cost elsewhere. This is made more difficult by a society that has come to expect solutions to social ills to be as quick, effortless and painless as ordering fast food at a drive through. Complaining that the “left” has taught people this kind of quick fix is possible is not an answer. Dealing with this is going to require us to be more aware of the power of narrative and take charge of it without abandoning our principles of truth, honesty and transparency. Being the same as those on the left, but with slightly different programs and buzzwords, is not an answer.

We must come to accept the realities of political life. Regardless of the truth of the principles we espouse, demographics are a factor in elections. William F. Buckley, Jr is quoted as saying something to the effect that the Republican he wanted to run for President was the most conservative one who could get elected. This illustrates a vital point that has implications far beyond the GOP. If you want to win elections, you have to field candidates who appeal to more than your party’s core. For instance, does anyone seriously believe a party or candidate for president can win without appealing to a significant number of Hispanic voters? If you do, I submit you’re engaging in some creative self-deception. So, my libertarian/Republican/conservative/Tea Party friend, what is your party doing to appeal to large numbers of Hispanics? People of color in general? Women? You know, those people who are essential for you to have any hope of winning. If your answer is some version of “we tell people how dedicated we are to the principles enshrined in the Constitution” you need to plan your 2016 “we got our butts kicked but we stuck to our principles” party now. Please note, I’m not saying abandon your principles. I am saying recognize there’s a reason politics has been called the art of compromise. An absolute unwillingness to compromise, appealing though it is to a party’s core, is an invitation to disaster…unless it can be tied to widespread appeal among many different groups.

I know business owners who are very concerned with marketing their businesses, yet who still manage to approach it incorrectly. They view themselves as business owners for whom marketing is a necessity. It makes sense. It’s also not true. It’s not a mechanic who needs to market his business. He is a marketer who happens to provide auto repair services. It’s not a life coach who must market to survive. She is a marketer who supplies life coaching services. The difference is simple, profound and has implications for politics. The leadership of any political party that wants to win must understand this essential truth: It is effective marketing, not your ideological purity, that brings success. This, of course, brings us back to where we started. To have any hope of winning elections, we must know what matters to people. We must identify the “pain” of significant numbers of people of different demographics and be able to articulate how our plan/platform/policies/candidates will make things better. Unless we learn to do such a thing consistently, we should get used to losing.

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