An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands

Hello Stewards,

You may not realize it yet, but you need help.

I’ve been told by many in politics that there are no well-known (or even proven-effective) brand strategists focused on helping Progressive causes. (There are an astounding number of political strategists but that’s a different animal.) This may be due to the common belief that Democrats won’t pay for core brands to be developed. Dems spend a fortune on polling, message crafting, and message testing, but when it comes time to actually develop the unchanging core of progressivism or the Democratic party there’s no one willing to buy more than a quick logo invariably containing some combination of red, white and blue. And perhaps this would be fine if this were universally true across the political spectrum…

But it isn’t. Conservative leadership has long understood that without a deep and powerful identity they’re lost. The world’s greatest branding minds are regularly paid immense sums to work for Conservative initiatives. These strategists have worked hard to develop, execute and maintain a consistent Conservative brand that appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans from every economic class.

Think it’s a coincidence that every conservative issue comes down to just two things? Every thing is about either Liberty (or it’s cousin “freedom”) or faith (in our founding fathers, our business leaders, our capitalism, or our God). I have yet to find a conservative cause that couldn’t be summed up by some combination of the two ideas. And they’re a brilliant combination. The freedom and liberty to do whatever is in your best interests, backed by faith in whatever it is that you believe? That means that so long as you maintain belief in whatever floats your boat the details on any particular issue are irrelevant. It’s true because of our belief system, not because of the intricate details of an issue.

It’s one of the most impressive feats of branding I’ve ever seen.

But it’s beatable. Just not by progressives as they’re branding themselves now. Progressives (and their current host, the Democrats) we put all their eggs in the fairness basket. This is fine when our country is stable and the masses believe we are well served, but when the system is rigged to consistently sacrifice the ability of one group of our citizens to survive in order to benefit another it seems to me that “fairness” is a bad fit.

Think about the rulings and legislation passed recently. Conservatives have successfully argued that corporations are people. Money is speech. Unlimited anonymous donations can be made from individuals and organizations to any candidate through Super PACs, arguably protecting and legalizing the buying of favorable treatment from our government.

The only reason Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has not “perished from this earth” is that corporations are now people. Astonishingly powerful people.

This isn’t an issue of fairness anymore in much the same way that it wasn’t about fairness when we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, or allowed workers to protect themselves from doing crazy things like, say, becoming an ingredient in the sausage they made.

I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance countless times in my life and I’m pretty sure that there’s no mention of fairness there. It’s not in the Constitution either. Nor the Bill of Rights. We have no right to fairness other than perhaps the right to attempt to achieve it in our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of fairness seems better suited to squabbles involving siblings and nannies in modern vernacular.

So what might be a better fit? When we look at the pledge most of us recited daily as school children there’s a phrase that may be key. The Progressive Promise of “Fairness for All” isn’t there, but “and justice for all” is. Justice is a focal point of the first sentence of our Constitution, and makes a repeat appearance in Article 4 section 2, ensuring that not only will there be justice, but that within the borders of our nation one cannot escape it.

The recent Occupy movement isn’t just demanding fairness. They’re demanding justice. And it’s when that level of emotion and passion is stirred that progressives become effective agents of change. It’s a shift from “we need to adjust things” to “this is criminally unjust” that seems to help America make progressive leaps forward.

Progressivism’s biggest weakness is that it must necessarily ebb and flow as the perception of our government’s ability or willingness to provide equal justice under the law shifts. When the government leans toward treating everyone equally progressivism has trouble gaining a foothold. When it is perceived as oppressive to the common man progressivism inexorably rises up to rebalance or rebuild the system. Once fixed the progressive movement fades until the oppression becomes visible again. If the oppression isn’t fixed it gradually becomes the accepted way of life and we move on.

What does this mean? Well, it means that progressives have a very limited window of time in which to rebalance the system now that oppression is perceived. If progressives can’t unite their distinct voices into a single call for change that is connected to the core of their cause they will fail to have an impact in our era. And it’ll be because they couldn’t simply and powerfully define themselves.

As for who the progressives area at their core? I’m pretty sure they’ve never been able to powerfully describe it. The progressive promise shouldn’t be “Fairness for All” or even “Justice for All”. It’s should be about the willingness and responsibility to defend the rights of every American, not just the ones with money or power.

I’ll take a shot at defining the progressive core. How about:

No American Stands Alone.

I’m pretty damn sure that this is the sentiment behind every great step forward that America has taken since the time of Lincoln. It all fits. And it seems to align with almost everything that progressives are aiming to achieve today.

But time is short, the election is coming, and the Democratic brand and message is a horribly confused mess.

It’s fixable. And the election is winnable. And change can happen in this era. If only progressives would invest and believe in who they are instead solely on what they say.

If you’re not one of the stewards of the Democratic brand and think there’s merit in this idea then perhaps you can forward this letter or link to someone who is. Your Democratic Congressman, someone in the DCCC, or the White House would be a good start.

If you are one of the stewards? Don’t be shy. Comment, call, or write.  Mostly because I haven’t a clue who you are. Unless you’re President Obama, of course. (And if that’s you, Mr. President, please do reach out because as I understand it you’re not yet taking my calls.)

And in the unlikely case that there isn’t a steward for the brand, I humbly throw my hat into the ring. Or I would if someone could tell me where the ring is.


Tate Linden
(A proven brand strategist.)


6 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands”

  1. Timothy Post says:

    Core Values for USA Progressives:

    1. Equal Opportunity:

    a. Talk about open markets, not free markets (open is a less emotional yet synonymous with the adjective “fair.”)

    b. Emphasize that equal opportunity is the best way to ensure “power/strength” for America. Diversity of skills/talents are wasted if 25% of the population is undereducated and thus, economically irrelevant.

    c. Historically relevant. “America = land of opportunity”

    d. Issues of “justice” are implicitly addressed when one asks if any particular situation meets our standards of equal opportunity/access.

    e. An effective way to argue against the off-shoring of jobs. Every American should have an opportunity to work. If our economy does not provide people the opportunity to work… then it might just need to be structurally rethought.

    2. Community Pride (i.e. patriotism)

    a. Who says conservatives have a monopoly on “patriotism?” Patriotism is instinctually a bit unattractive to educated urban progressives but they need to reexamine their biases. Patriotism is the “secret sauce” for conservatives. There’s different reasons and methods to both feel pride in one’s country and to then publicly share that pride. Remember back to the collective pride (i.e. American patriotism) we all felt the day Obama was elected. That feeling is patriotism and it’s VERY powerful. Embrace it.

    b. Progressives need to understand that Ayn Rand and her virulent strain of libertarianism is a double-edged sword. If one wants to use to justify socially liberal “choice” then s/he must be ready for that same logic (read: tautology) to be used against them to also justify “economic Darwinism.”

    c. No man is an island… and Progressive need to abandon the idea that the individual can be understood without taking into account the society in which s/he lives.

    *** Equal Opportunity is the means to an end that is a better American. One that we can all be proud of. In other words…. Patriotic Progressives.

    I would rename/rebrand this new progressive movement as the “Optimist Party.” Are you an Optimist? Yes, I’m an American Optimist.

  2. Nick says:

    Kind of a dumb move to alienate half your audience, right? Why would you do this to your business? Liberals already have a brand.

  3. AJ Perisho says:

    Very well written!

    I have a message that needs a brand steward, “Fix the System.”
    It’s not a party problem, it’s a political problem.
    Both parties have one real goal, stay in power.

    Why is it that 76% of Americans are in favor of term limits, and yet the politicians always vote it down?
    Because it would take away their power.

    You and I both want equal opportunity, to be judged on our abilities and skills.

    I believe the American people can get behind the idea of term limits, the polls have proven it.

    We need a brand focused on this one idea, “Term Limits.”

    It does not matter which party you represent, we the people want politicians who will pass the vote on term limits.

    The people have the power, but have fallen victim to laziness. Laziness in thinking, doing, and acting.

    It’s very easy to get people upset at someone making lot’s of money. The occupy movement had no goal, no purpose, and no focus, other than were mad.

    I get that they’re mad, but at what?

    Fairness is when the playing field is equal for all.

    As long as any group can donate money to get their way, and favor with politicians, it will always be corrupt. This goes for both parties.

    Term limits is the first step to eliminate the good ole boys club.
    Start getting rid of these insane benefits politicians receive, I mean they’re public servants, why do they get to live like kings.
    401k is good enough for us, but they lifetime pensions after 1 term, WTF?
    Get rid of lobbyists, just another way to get your way by spending a lot money.
    The list goes on, and on of the benefits of term limits.

    This is the brand the American people want to build, and now more than ever, need to build.

    Just one man’s thoughts.

    Thanks for sharing your insight 🙂

  4. M Sarkar says:

    Been a while since Jan 2012. Has the post elicited any response from any (political) quarter?

    • Tate says:

      Certainly nothing public. I had a few back-channel “atta-boy”s thrown my way, but very little in terms of public acknowledgement of the positioning. That said, the Dems seemed to have listened to the speech I gave ’em earlier this year and stepped away from the sort of optimistic overgeneralization that the Republicans were nailing them on for the last four years. It’s almost like the parties flip-flopped. This year the Dems had the facts and the history and the Republicans were bringing undefined hope and change to the table.

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