Thursday, January 27, 2005

New Coke.

JKD offers a great commentary on a terrible article.

As he notes, the key passage from Paul Starr is:
"...liberal Democrats ought to ask themselves a big question: are they better off as the dominant force in an ideologically pure minority party, or as one of several influences in an ideologically varied party that can win at the polls? The latter, it seems clear, is the better choice."

You know when I was younger I used to assume that people rose to positions of influence and prominence because of ability. I used to think, "hey that guy gets paid to think about politics and tell me about it, there's a good chance he knows what he's talking about." Years later, turns out.... not so much. The idea that the failure of the Democratic Party is traceable to intransigence from ideologically pure liberals is horseshit. Or rather it's whatever item horseshit finds as objectionable as we find horsehit. Now, I don't propose we nominate Dennis Kucinich. But accomodationist efforts have simply neutered the message. The image that springs to mind is of a raft...when floating in shark infested waters, offering the sharks your remaining food in order to satiate them isn't wise. But then apparently wisdom doesn't get you anything these days.

I've come to believe more and more in the philosophy of strong and wrong vs. weak and right. And frankly I think it's a false choice, because being strong is right, and being weak is both wrong in strategic and policy terms. Parties, as I understand them, exist to create order and structure out of a chaotic political process. They are brands or intellectual shortcuts for voters. When confronted with myriad choices from President down to coroner.* People just want to know that the D and the R mean something. If a brand such as Coke where to come out with a commercial saying: "Pepsi, it's alright, and in fact we've decided to share bottles, from now on buy Coke's newest product: Coksi" they get hammered in the market. Just to offer some historical perspective, remember New Coke. New Coke started out as an attempt by Coke to counter a perceived move in consumer preference towards a sweeter soda. Pepsi did these silly taste tests and sure enough it beat Coke in the Pepsi conducted test. (Side note, turns out Pepsi still wins in a single sip taste test, but people buy 2liters or cans, and after a full can or 2liter people now, as always prefer Coke--because it's stronger and less syrupy). Coke flipped out, and decided that despite being the choice of millions of people for 75 years, it needed to be more like Pepsi. Sound familiar. Democrats do some focus grouping, find people like killing Iraqis, and boom...we jettison more than a century of Democratic ideals for New Democrat.

Instead, one option is to believe that we offer something that the American people like, and that if we continued to offer Classic Coke/Democrat or some pretty close facsimile that we might win. The metaphor breaks down a bit here, because I'm not suggesting we run Great Society II or New Deal: The Next Generation. But rather, that trying to copy, mimic and change our brand only muddies the water. The more we capitulate and the more we imitate the more we risk "New Coking" the Party even further.

*Coroner?! How the fuck am I qualified to judge who should be county coroner. I just picture an attack ad: Ominous voice over guy: "Bob Adams says you can trust him to be the Larimer County coroner, but on three ocassions he's been found slow dancing with dead bodies. (image shows Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane" video)

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