I think it's absolutely fascinating how successful James Dobson, founder and chief combatant for Focus on the Family, has been at recasting his radical war on America's Status Quo as "conservatism."
It helps that he has a Greek chorus of fellow insurgents (like Tom DeLay and the ever-omniscient Karl Rove) and eloquent talking heads (Laura Ingram, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, et al) who may well sincerely share his philosophy, but evidence a more immediate, and more mercenary, desire to perpetuate his brilliant sleight of terms.
In their twisted worldview, changing the Constitution is the same as protecting it. Denying marriage to some people is defending it for others. Our equality in the eyes of God renders moot the inequalities of circumstance or opportunity, obviating the need for government help. And the real economic, environmental, and geopolitical issues facing us -- on which principled people of diverging beliefs can and must compromise -- are far less real than imagined slights to family or church.
So conservative becomes radical, in everything but name.
It's a perspective that elevates the "sanctity of human life" as a campaign priority as long as it requires only protests at family health clinics, at most, and not at least a passing notice of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Africa.
It wants to turn an immigration population into a caste of "guest workers" in deference to a model that led to deadly riots in France, not to mention violating our American principles of equality and fairness. It's from such balkanized communities in places like the U.K. that homegrown terrorism has grown.
It seizes on the slightest contrarian tidbits to prove that theories of global warming are inconclusive, and thus paralyzes any action by politicizing the issue.
And it wants to take every opportunity to interject religion into our public life when we have evolved the most religiously involved, free, and strong citizens in the world in spite of the civil structures and routines they want to influence or change, and the only examples of religion so formalized in societies are the empty state religions of Europe, or the rabid insanity of people like Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr
It's a topsy-turvy litany that is laughably inconsistent, if not morally corrupt. But that's what also makes it such a powerful act of branding.
Its insanity insulates it from debate, and certainly from conclusion.
And that's the point.
The radicals don't want the war to end. Without war, there's no community to lead, flock to advise, or donations to be made for the cause. Without conflict, there would be no viewers interested in clucking along with the latest nonsense, like Fox's "War on Christmas" noise, which could then threaten to lower ad revenues and salaries for those very talented talking heads who make a living narrating the things which they helped create.
McCain has proven his willingness to compromise with others who have expectations that are as passionate as they are divergent to his. Conservatives and Liberals (or, more accurately, Progressives) can and should debate how to address the issues that face us all, just as they should be held accountable for taking action. Action requires compromise.
But, because McCain threatens to do just that, he must never be allowed to become President.
Welcome to the rebranding of conservatism as perennial war.
It is an unreal, virtual world (sans avatars), in which up is down, wrong is right, and right, if not absolutely, totally in keeping with some nonsense, pure, Platonic ideal of rightness, is wrong.
Followers are encouraged to suspend their disbelief, and to use even the slightest hint of factual inconsistency (if not outright mistake) as a challenge to reaffirm support for their cause. The paths down which they stroll are at once the same and yet utterly different than those upon which the rest of America walks.
Their war appears to them as a war upon them, and it insulates them from seeing, feeling, or hearing anything along those walkways that doesn't reinforce what they were told to expect.
Any corporate marketer would pay good money to bottle what our homegrown Mahdi Army has accomplished.
Think about it.
Branding purports to insulate customers from competitive challenges. Affirm their affection for what you sell to them. Keep them coming back for more. We want our consumers to embrace, say, our soda pop, or SUV, with the same blind passion as Dobson's followers embrace his war. Only maybe without so much anger.
So what could businesses learn from these radical warriors?
- "No" is far more motivational than "yes": I'm surprised we don’t see as much attack branding in commerce as we do in politics, but getting people to be against something is far more compelling than encouraging them to be for something else. Think about how much marketing money is spent trying to promote benefits, when maybe the pitch should be focused more on the costs of alternatives?
- Stop making sense: Speaking of thinking too much, how many businesses work overtime trying to weave cogent, thoughtful, linearly-meaningful arguments for consumers? Perhaps the approach should be to consciously make no sense, or at least twist your rationale so much so that no "normal" attack on it can find any resonance (you won't be held accountable for answers if you impede anyone from asking questions)
- It's all about black and white: There is no nuance involved when you are fighting against the minions of Satan, so why should we market product or service benefits that are "enhancements’" or simply different ways to provide value? Your brand is right, and the others are wrong. End of story.
- Your customers are perfect: Skip improvement, or self-reflection, let alone self-awareness. Your customers are brilliant, beautiful, and perfect, and have little time or interest in being reminded of their shortcomings (let alone their humanity). So if your product or service purports to "fix" anything, it certainly can't be because your targeted customer isn't entirely without blame for the problem. Blame her neighbor instead. Or your competitors.
- Actions speak louder than words: Buyers of political hate speech don't just buy into a worldview, but rather feel constantly motivated to act: vote, register, sign, argue, donate, whatever. They purchase stuff all the time, and their conversations aren't just foreplay or customer service-related...it's ongoing, real-time
- Don't wait for your customers to start the conversation: The best defense is an offense, both literal and figurative. Not only are conversations purpose or behavior-related, but perhaps it makes sense to create an ongoing state of agitation or exclusivity...buy our products because somebody or something else tells you that you shouldn't, or can't
- Wage endless war: You can't stop. There are no such things as "loyal consumers" or "established customers." Your brand is only as good as the numbers of the faithful who signed up for the last battle or skirmish. If there hasn't been a reason to recruit them for a fight recently, invent one.
There's a lot to learn here. I don't claim to fully understand just how the ideas of political conservatism have been so changed over the past decade or so. And if the eponymous Liberals had been anywhere near as successful in recasting themselves, I'd happily offer them up for similar analysis.
A branding miracle is a branding miracle.