Democrats, Obama Failed by Abandoning Core Consumers

Weak Marketing Effort Beside the Point After President Ignored Passionate, Engaged Coalition

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Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
This has been a handy couple of weeks to be in the world of marketing, because you understand implicitly what the whole world of politics is still marveling at incredulously: how two years after a historic victory the Democrats were routed so piteously.

You're advantaged and probably astonished, too -- not to mention horrified -- no matter what your politics. Even if you don't think Glenn Beck is a crackpot, Michele Bachmann a McCarthyite and Sarah Palin an unreconstructed moron, even if you think Nancy Pelosi is an overreaching grimalkin and Barack Obama an out-of-touch elitist huffing his own fumes, you had to be frustrated by the Democrats' utter failure to market themselves, not just this fall but from the Obama inauguration on.

If you make a living rallying individuals -- either via traditional advertising or the Listenomics principles Obama employed to get elected -- the past two years have been like witnessing a drowning.

While a variety of demagogues and dimwits were squealing on cable about "tyranny" and "socialism," the Dems should have reminded the electorate every single day that they guaranteed health care to millions and saved the world from Dustbowl economic catastrophe.

Can't prove a negative? So what? You can't disprove one, either, and economic consensus was on their side. Anyway, since when do politicians soft-pedal claims? God knows the Republicans were blaming every opponent for killing jobs in their respective states. Every single day.

People didn't like rescuing the auto companies? There should have been a billboard in Times Square keeping track of "manufacturing jobs saved." Anger about the banks? How about pictures from the Great Depression, reminding the public what happens to everybody -- especially business -- when the banks fail? Here's what: nuclear winter. I promise you, "skyrocketing debt" doesn't sound quite so alarming when juxtaposed with apocalypse.

And while Obama was trying to look presidential by not blaming the previous administration for running up the debt financing a ruinous war and for letting banks run hog wild, the Republicans managed to tar him both for bailing out and regulating Wall Street. Neat trick.

Shame on them? Maybe, but that's like faulting a shark for eating. Blame the Democratic National Committee for getting bitch-slapped day after day and responding with strongly worded press releases. Blame the president for risking his party -- and his re-election and his vision -- for the sake of comity he is destined never to see. Instead, he used the bully pulpit to sound concerned.

"Now I know that folks are hurting..."

No shit, Dick Tracy.

Does he not understand how patronizing such pabulum sounds to the unemployed? Good grief. Nobody wants his understanding; they want jobs. And if they can't have them, they must feel that they are making a temporary sacrifice to rebuild the economy and the society to achieve America's greatest aspirations.

That concept shouldn't be too foreign to Obama. It's the one he ran on. What in the world happened to "Yes we can?" For that matter, what happened to "we?"

The moment he got into the White House and began to govern, Obama seemed to forget the movement that swept him into office. Unfathomably, he shared neither the accomplishments nor the challenges with the vast, energetic, engaged, passionate coalition that took such pride, and invested so much hope, in shared values. This neglect squandered a priceless resource.

Listenomics dictates that constituencies are not aggregated because you've sweet-talked them into the fold. They are there because they care. They feel a proprietary stake in what they've signed up for. You ignore them at your peril, not only because they're a resource, but because they are rendered useless or worse once they feel betrayed -- which, very quickly in the Obama administration, they did.

When the health-care bill was facing a GOP stonewall, before logrolling for swing votes with reluctant Senate Democrats, the president should have gone to his peeps explaining his options and asking for guidance. For starters, they would have put political heat on the bill's opponents. For another, they would not have felt blindsided by his ultimate compromises. Instead, he disappointed a broad swath of his base who wondered if the vision they'd been baited with was switched for standard-issue political expediency.

And so he was on the defensive from the outside and from within from the get go. And so Fox News Channel, Palin and the lunatic fringe they cultivated were able to set the terms of the debate.

Extraordinary. Some tyrant. Yes we can? No he di'n't.

Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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