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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Will Wisconsin Move from Magenta to Mauve (or even Eggplant)?

MADISON, WI — After a month of raucous protesters, relatively negative press, falling approval ratings, and state police manhunts, the rock-ribbed Republicans of Wisconsin finally outsmarted their arch-rivals, that merry band of AWOL Democrats, who holed up at cheap motels in Illinois rather than showing up to vote on the Governor Walker's dismemberment of The Badger State's public employee unions and their collective bargaining rights.

We're circumspect on this matter. In fact, the Tea Party Republicans might have bitten off one too many scones with this particular parliamentary maneuver. Yes, they've got the legislation they've been craving. But, in the process, Wisconsin's Republicans just might have created a real tempest in their tea pot. With teachers, students, firefighters, construction workers, and seemingly infinite multitudes of angry workers bonding together in protest with moderate-to-liberal sympathizers in and around the state's capitol, it looks like a counterrevolution might be building.

In our eyes, Wisconsin — which had been a magenta state in 2004, turned purple in 2006, midnight blue in 2008, and then, Reagan Red in 2010 — is now poised to change its hue to mauve (or maybe, even eggplant). As Gov. Walker continues to govern as if his mandate was to roll back the clock to 1876, unions, previously disinterested Democrats, and young voters, may well succeed in their recall initiatives, but they might also provide an industrial state's firewall against what had been looking like a tough reelection for President Obama.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The 'R2' Factor: The Right Might Pine for Sarah Palin, but She's Not Ronald Reagan


NEW YORK – Pinning GOP presidential hopes on Sarah Palin will be challenging, unless the GOP closely investigates her 'R2' Factor, an all-too-crucial ability to channel Ronald Reagan.

Although she is considered telegenic, charismatic , and passionate by many on the Right, and in the media, to those outside of her core group of supporters, Palin lacks three qualities voters will likely demand throughout the next 36 months: competency, calm, and the ability to build a strong national consensus across multiple social, political, and geographic interest groups.

While many conservatives argue that Palin possesses each of these qualities in spades, preaching only to the choir will not win a general election. Instead of serving, primarily, as a beacon of hope to certain sectors of the Right, Palin must successfully convince a very skeptical public that she is capable of guiding a nation, one which is far more diverse and challenging than her sparsely-populated, but energy-rich state of Alaska, whose economy is driven, almost entirely by the extraction of resources and not the production of knowledge, the manufacture of goods, or the provision of services. Governing Alaska during the energy boom of the first decade of the 21st century is not even remotely analogous to the demands confronting Ronald Reagan's California during one of the most tumultuous periods of the 20th century.

Even though Reagan's leadership was often controversial to his opponents, it was much more difficult to argue that he lacked the basic executive experience necessary to lead a nation in a time of true challenge. Here, one could argue that Reagan's sense of calm amidst the challenges of his day, were one of his deepest strengths. Even those who opposed him, rarely failed to praise his ability to communicate with calm, confidence and consistency. Palin may be confident, but she neither conveys a strong personal sense of calm, nor instills it in others.

Finally, presidents are, generally, only as effective as their ability to build consensus, strong national consensus. Although Reagan's second term was marked by a great degree of congressional gridlock, he was, nonetheless, able to build a relatively strong national consensus in several areas, including: the containment of threats to American interests posed by the Soviet Union; a toughening of attitudes on how to fight crime; greater secularization of "morality" and "values" in the public discourse; and to a large degree, a national, and relatively long-lasting movement, towards lower taxation and limited government social spending.

Even his opponents can agree, President Reagan and his team, changed the course of a nation by seeking consensus, across geographic, social, and very often, party lines, even as he remained a polarizing figure to a great many Americans. At the core, President Reagan's greatest talents lay in his ability to communicate calmly and to build consensus on numerous national issues.

Republicans need to carefully consider whether Governor Palin possesses, convincingly, each of these qualities, in great enough quantities to win over enough non-Republicans to claim a solid victory where it counts––in the electoral college of 2012.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Do they 'Heart' Huckabee – or Hate Hillary?

TALLAHASSEE – When the horse race is on, the conversation quickly moves beyond debates over the nuances of various political "brands" to the simple topic of "Who's winning the race?" But, Rasmussen Reports startling trend in their most recent national poll. Republican long-shot, Gov. Mike Huckabee, is locked in a statistical dead-heat with Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton leading 46-43.

While Rasmussen argues that Huckabee's star is on the rise, they also make the compelling claim that Sen. Clinton has become a "unifying force" in the Republican party, thereby elevating the numbers of anyone racing against her.

This finding augers well for the soft-spoken Huckabee, who has carefully cultivated his image as neighborly conservative, whose devoutly religious views are driven by a serene sense of personal sincerity, rather than shrill animosity towards those whose beliefs may run counter to his own. In a moment of tremendous economic and military uncertainty, Huckabee offers the quiet confidence of comfortable conservatism, rather than rhetorical red meat and fire-breathing fear mongering.

If other polls concur with Rasmussen, Huckabee may yet emerge as the kindler, gentler, authentically paleo-conservative alternative to Rudy Guiliani's scorched earth neo-conservatism – and a potential outlet for the Evangelicals of the Christian Right.

At the same time, we also have a nagging feeling that the current support for any Republican nominee against Sen. Clinton might force the Democrats to reconsider the effectiveness of Sen. Clinton's brand and start looking for alternatives that come closer to ensuring a Democratic trip to the winner's circle.
And, according to the new Marist poll, it looks like New Hampshire's Democrats are beginning to have some serious second thoughts, with her seemingly insurmountable 21-point lead slashed to 11. The pack is tightening as they approach the final turns, and Democrats might just be in for a photo finish.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bill Richardson's Job Interview: Hail Mary or Savvy Strategy?

NEW YORK – A disinterested interviewer. A stellar résumé. And the job seeker who is an odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for – VEEP. Has Gov. Bill Richardson gone crazy? Crazy like a fox. With a steady stream of cash, a slow increase in Iowa support, Gov. Richardson is hoping to that a strong finish will give him greater national attention and a shot at the first tier.

Clearly, with his current numbers at about 5 percent, this is obviously an attempt to hit a three-pointer from the opposite basket. But, according to the New York Times, his off-beat ad campaign might be the tipping point in a state over-saturated with pre-packaged politicos, and too few leaders with "real, on-the-job experience."

From our perspective, perched high above the bustle of Madison Avenue, Gov. Richardson's public "job interview" offers a brief slice of self-deprecating humanity amidst a seemingly endless sea of folksy crescendos and slow-motion swirls of smiling faces. The question is whether these interesting take-offs on "The Office," will play forty miles outside of Davenport? Our answer: why not?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Guiliani Quandary: Will Rudy Shatter the GOP or Ensure its Victory

NEW YORK – Left unsaid in the most wide open presidential campaign of the last half-century is the deeper battle raging beneath the horse race. For the Republicans, this is more than a race to retain the White House and prevent the Democrats from gaining filibuster-proof power in the Senate. 2008 is becoming a battle for the soul of the Grand Old Party, an internal battle that might become no less intense than 1860's Democratic presidential fight between Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas and Southern Democrat and incumbent Vice President John C. Breckenridge.

Is it possible that the Republicans of 2008 could implode over social and religious issues in the way the the Democrats shattered over the issue of slavery? Probably not. But, the historical parallels are certainly compelling. Could the possible success of Rudolph Guiliani's candidacy be the catalyst for a dramatic realignment of the Republican Party – away from the social/religious conservatism that successfully propelled it to presidential, congressional, and state/local-level victories for more than a quarter-century?

If Christian Conservatives are true to their words, we believe Guiliani may be more transformational to the GOP than Ronald Reagan.
His nomination might just crack it into pieces.

Or, impossibly, if he's able to strike the right deal with Focus on the Family's James Dobson and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to ensure the nomination of Christian Conservatives to the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court, and the vice presidency – to guarantee that they don't bolt from the GOP to form a third party – Guiliani might become president.

This is the quandary for the Republican Party: nominate Rudy and make Blue States like New York, California, and New Jersey real challenges for the Democrats, hold battlegrounds like Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida – or lose the White House. And, if you read the most recent state polls, Guiliani is the only Republican with a real shot in the general election. For Christian Conservatives, there's the rub: abandon decades of ideological fortitude and a winning GOTV strategy – or accept a "new world order" and nominate the man Hillary Clinton fears most, the man who would force Hillary – or any Democratic candidate spend real money to merely hold New York, California, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

The Christian Right's concerns are legitimate. And, their imprint on the 1988 primaries through the candidacy of Rev. Pat Robertson helped to frame George H.W. Bush's general election campaign – and to build a powerful Christian Conservative political infrastructure, virtually ensuring Republican ascendancy at the local, state, and national level for almost two decades.

Unfortunately, in wrapping the Republican brand with the cloth of Christian Conservatism, the GOP has ceded much of "Metro America" to the Democrats, preventing the party from building a stronger base fiscally-conservative/socially-moderate Blue State Republicans. To those voters, Guiliani might be the answer to their prayers. And that could be scary to the Christian Right. And if they bolt, well, all bets are off.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Goreacle: An October Surprise?

NEW YORK – For months, a wide swath of Washington insiders have claimed that the real number to watch in fall 2007 is not necessarily the Democratic polling figures for the New Hampshire, but the circumference of Al Gore's waist. Well, we don't have the digits, but if Vanity Fair's 9-page exposé on the media's "distorted" coverage of Gore's campaign 2000, his "Emmy Awards," and "Tonight Show" appearances are any indication, Gore might just be on a diet.

Of course, this is total conjecture, but with the GOP nomination into a real horse race and the some very split opinions on Sen. Hillary Clinton's Democratic lead, Gore might still be considering an "October Surprise."

"Poppycock," you might exclaim. But, last Sunday's "Full Ginsburg" aside, the press and many influential Democrats might be getting a late case of "Clinton Fatigue." The Los Angeles Times reports that high-ranking Democrats in Montana, Colorado, and Arizona are deeply concerned that the inroads they have made in the last two election cycles are seriously at risk with Clinton as a nominee. At the same time, left-leaning columnist Frank Rich spent much is his Sunday, October 1 New York Times "Week in Review" column pillorying Hillary on her Gore 2000-like evading and equivocating, while Maureen Dowd decries the "Tango of Nepotism" that a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton White House might represent. Even Gail Collins questions the ability of the woman whom Bill Clinton calls "the most gifted person of [his] generation" to provide straight answers to real questions. If this weren't enough, New York delves deeply into the overcautious nature of Sen. Clinton's campaign manager, while Ryan Lizza writes in The New Yorker of the tightrope act involving the promise of Bill Clinton's legacy and the sticky reality of issues like NAFTA. If this is the hometown press, you have to wonder how all of this will play in Ohio.

"This is all fine and dandy, but Sen. Clinton's leading in almost every possible poll, including Iowa. Bill's back in the nation's good graces, and she has the best team of political professionals on her side since, Ronald Reagan. Al Gore ain't gonna waste his sweet time tryin' to 'reinvent' the Democratic nomination," you might declare. And, you'd mostly be right. But, we at the Brandwagon are detecting a subtle shift in the Democratic political winds. It might not be a Category 5, but its definitely a tropical depression. If the water is warm enough, it might just develop into a real hurricane. The question is whether Al Gore wants to ride the waves – or just hunker down for the storm?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hillary Leads, But Will They Follow?

NEW YORK – It's been a tough week for Sen. Clinton. While Sen. John Edwards is attracting union endorsements like bears to honey, Sen. Obama is collecting the bright lights of Oprah, Broadway, and influential battleground politicos. Worse, both men are probably gloating over the news of her tainted campaign contributors. Now, after six weeks of "All Hillary, all-the-time" press coverage, Sen. Obama has surpassed her news hits, and Edwards has her locked in a virtual tie.

The challenge, however, for both Obama and Edwards is to keep differentiating their messages from each other and from Sen. Clinton, while simultaneously harmonizing on the very real issue of her likability ratings, particularly in the American Heartland. For Edwards this means pounding hard on trade, economic opportunity, and a willingness to fight the status quo on behalf of a truly threatened middle class.

For Obama, this means hammering Sen. Clinton on her record beyond that infamous vote for the war – and demonstrating the need for an outsider to clean up the Capitol.

Wait a minute. Sen. Clinton is the frontrunner. All of this is moot. Right? Not necessarily.
Sen. Clinton came into the race with several major structural advantages. As a sitting senator and the former First Lady, Sen. Clinton has a large corps of loyal supporters anxiously awaiting her turn in the Oval Office, an extraordinarily talented political organization, international name recognition, one of the most successful fundraising machines in U.S. political history, and of course – Bill.

To her campaign’s credit, Hillary for President is running on all twelve cylinders. Right? She’s topping every national and state primary poll. Heck, she’s leading all of the hypothetical head-to-head match-ups with every possible Republican nominee. Clearly, it’s Sen. Clinton’s turn and her campaign needs to start vetting the short lists for her cabinet and settling on a role for the First Gentleman. So what’s the problem?

We see five challenges ahead for Sen. Clinton:

  1. Electability. Many Democrats doubt her ability to win the general election. And, with Senators Obama and Edwards each polling significantly higher against the likely Republican nominees, their candidacies are garnering greater attention. Democrats are cognizant that the general election will not be fought on the coast, but in the Purple and Magenta battleground states of America's heartland. Can Hillary win Ohio? And, with so many senate seats in play, who will have longer coattails?
  2. Labor. In gradually moving her dialog away from the Democratic Leadership Council's traditional orthodoxy of support for relatively unfettered free trade, and criticizing some of Globalization's shortcomings, Sen. Clinton is simultaneously picking up both endorsements – and attracting greater scrutiny for her support of outsourcing. These questions, and rank and file support, have helped Sen. Edwards capture a much larger swath of union endorsements. For, Edwards this means a greater perception of electability, and the ground support needed to remain competitive in both the Democratic primaries and the general election.
  3. The Base. As Howard Dean knows, an energized base and celebrity endorsements are no guarantee of primary success. But, and this is a big one, in a crowded field, you need an energized base to win the general election. John Kerry may have won the Democratic primaries, but he failed to really energize the base in the general election. Unless something changes, and Hillary is the nominee, Democrats may support her, but she won't have the kind of active base that either Obama or Edwards are sure to attract. If she can't connect to the Base soon, it's going to be tough slogging next September.
  4. The Economy. With an economy starting to shed jobs, a housing market in free fall, tightening credit, and the possibility of recession, voters of all stripes will be looking for "change." As the most well-known candidate, in either party, Sen. Clinton represents a return to "The Clinton Era" – not "change." And, this is a critical point, The Clinton Era may have seemed "peaceful" from a national security perspective – and prosperous for residents of New Economy Blue States – for working class whites in many Red, Purple and Magenta States, median household income was flat or fell from 1998-2000. For those voters, The Clinton Era may not represent giddiness and good times. It represents outsourcing, Globalization, and plant closings.
  5. The Brand. Hillary's campaign trying to position her as a model of “Strength and Experience.” The problem with this positioning is that its neither credible, nor differentiating, nor compelling. On the Democratic side, Gov. Richardson, Senators Dodd, Biden, even Mike Gravel and Rep. Kucinich easily surpass Clinton's experience as elected officials. If "experience" was the driver in this election, at least two of them might be frontrunners. On the "strength" side, voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, is not necessarily a positive. No, to hawkish Americans, the leading Republicans represent “strength" and all of them surpass Clinton in terms of "experience." No. This is an election about "change." Edwards and Obama have branded themselves as change agents, differentiating on this riff only in terms of tenor and direction. While Cokie Roberts adroitly observes that Clinton, as a woman, represents tremendous "change," in and of itself, and that her campaign is trying to diffuse the enormity of this proposition by emphasizing her "strength," we feel that she has lost something in the process – a sense of who Hillary is as a person and a brand. Sen. Clinton's campaign is trying to please so many micro-targeted segments, they may have forgotten to build a compelling narrative about who she really is, how she will change America, and why that matters to the middle class voters in Ohio. Perhaps, they ought to go with her ultimate strength. She's the first woman who might be president – and maybe that is the change voters demand.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Thompson Plays Southern-Fried Reagan, But Was He Tall in The Saddle?

BURBANK – Sen. Fred Thompson's turn on the "The Tonight Show" was a fairly effective articulation of his emerging "Southern-Fried Reagan" positioning. Strong, plain-spoken, and clear, Thompson focused on restoring pride in America at home and abroad. Was it a "star turn"? Maybe not. But Thompson successfully conveyed a semi-folksy "aura of authenticity" that ought to resonate with the Republican primaries "values voters," while simultaneously priming the general public with what some might describe as the kind of paternal, comforting personality that often resonates with voters in uncertain times.

For skeptical readers – particularly Democrats – who are unimpressed by Sen. Thompson's qualifications, his age, and his experience, we have two simple words: Ronald Reagan. American Presidential campaigns might include clashes of big ideas -- but, in the end, elections weigh heavily on tests of likability and faith in a candidate to represent their supporters ideals. And, in the primaries, whether party faithful believe that their preferred candidate has the potential to motivate the base, and turn out more moderate and independent voters in the general election.

That said, Thompson's real contribution to the Republican primaries is a positioning that he is the "real conservative" who has fought for and will continue to fight for the traditional American values held dear by the conservative core of the Republican Party, who also has the name recognition to be electable. Romney, Guiliani, and McCain, each possess backgrounds that challenge their abilities to convey a clear enough "aura" to resonate with the GOP's values-oriented core. Thompson's background is somewhat more "authentic."

At the same time, there is a strong argument to be made, particularly by the Guiliani campaign, that "vales" are not, necessarily, the critical driver of this election, that "national security" is, and that only a more socially-moderate Republican candidate can win a general election. And, under this scenario, Guiliani is the only candidate that can put states such as New York, California, Florida, and New Jersey into play. Possible? Yes. Likely" No.

If Thompson can mobilize Republican "values voters" to win the GOP nomination, he has a very reasonable chance of convincing general election voters that he represents a "safe" and "comfortable" choice in very uncertain times. Americans like to talk about "change," but changes requires the acceptance of "risk."

However, if the regional economies in battleground states such as Ohio get bad enough, "change" won't be view as a risk; it will be viewed as a requirement for basic survival. Here, "values" will matter less than "ideas" and Thompson, or any Republican nominee, will have very tough sledding. In order to be effective in this political environment, Thompson's "Southern-Fried Reagan" will have to ride taller in the saddle – and begin to articulate a bold agenda for "Restoring America to greatness." This means a articulating a way to bring jobs to the Heartland – and improving the day-to-day lives of regular Americas. If Sen. Thompson wants to play Ben Cartwright, he'll need to captivate his audiences with substantial blueprint for success.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Crewcuts, Crosses, and Clinton? Hillary's Got Religion

VIRGINIA BEACH – For quite some time, a broad swath of Democratic strategists have been arguing that the Democratic Party and religious faith need not be mutually-exclusive – and that Dems of faith might actually have an advantage in rural and exurban America. Clearly, the Clinton campaign has been paying very close attention.

In what must be one of the more interesting media flourishes of this campaign, or any other, Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, cites with abandon Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet's September 1, 2007 Mother Jones article, which details Clinton's long-term involvement with an ultra-elite prayer group known as The Fellowship:

“Clinton's God talk is more complicated—and more deeply rooted—than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the GOP, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics. Over the past year, we've interviewed dozens of Clinton's friends, mentors, and pastors about her faith, her politics, and how each shapes the other. And while media reports tend to characterize Clinton's subtle recalibration of tone and style as part of the Democrats' broader move to recapture the terrain of "moral values," those who know her say there's far more to it than that.

CBN citing Mother Jones? Who would have thunk it. In fact, both pieces reflect exceptionally well on the senator. While the Mother Jones article maintains:

"...[T]he senator's project isn't the conversion of her adversaries; it's tempering their opposition so she can court a new generation of Clinton Republicans, values voters who have grown estranged from the Christian right..."
Brody goes one step further:

"Politically, Hillary Clinton's critics can paint her as a liberal. But there is a resume of material here that portrays her as more moderate than you might think. Sometimes Hillary's critics spend so much time trying to demonize her that the entire picture isn't properly represented."

More importantly, Joyce and Sharlet view Clinton's Fellowship participation as more transcendental than political, opining, "In her own way, she is a true believer."

Clearly, Clinton is already positioning herself for the general election. In the world of political brand-building, the Clinton campaign either hit the trifecta – with props from Mother Jones and CBN all in one day – or it is positioning Clinton for a soft launch as a "Democratic woman of faith." Both sources convey an aura of authenticity about Clinton's recently-discovered positioning. The question is whether Magenta State voters will be able to slice through two decades of the GOP counter-framing Clinton as a "Secular Humanist Ultra-liberal" and take her acts of faith – on faith. Or, more importantly, in the near-term, will liberals, labor, and the Netroots see Sen. Clinton's faith as the margin of victory in the general election of 2008, or validation of a their own fears that the real Hillary Clinton might still a bit too much of a Goldwater Girl to protect their social and economic interests.

The Union Label: Edwards Goes To Work

PITTSBURGH – For savvy Democratic politicians, Labor Day is more than a moment for symbolic expressions of solidarity, marching hand-in-hand with America's unionized workforce. For some, it marks a coronation. For John Edwards, Labor Day 2007 might well be remembered as the day he became a contender.

Armed with the critical Purple State endorsements of the United Steelworkers, the United Mineworkers, and the International Brotherhood of Carpenters Joiners, Sen. John Edwards is well-positioned to both solidify his lead in Iowa and to build his fundraising efforts with the backing of two very high profile union labels. Edwards is no longer just a telegenic one-term senator whose charismatic good-ole-boy grin and trial lawyer patois kept in the game, but forced him to bluff with every hand. Now, he's holding some powerful face cards – and he ain't waitin' for the river.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Comeback Kid? John Edwards Starts Singing a Populist Tune

NEW YORK – After spending much of the year losing the battle for press time – and poll position – to Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Senator John Edwards is finally starting shine. With Time's poll numbers showing an 8-point lead over Clinton, his campaign is hoping that decisive victory in Iowa will propel Edwards into the heat of the spotlight and an acceptance speech in Denver.

The key to Edwards' potentially successful re-brand? His War on Poverty Redux? The "People Versus the Powerful" rhetorical mantra? His terrific recasting of the Fair Trade trope as "Smart Trade"? All of the above? We think not. We think Edward's re-brand is far less about substance than it is about a well-articulated repositioning and the further development of a powerful, unrelenting political voice.

The gloves are off and Edward's appears to be taking a page out of the Bulworth pagebook – and finally "telling it like it is." Clearly, this is resonating with Iowa's Democratic voters, who are craving the fiery "throw the bums out" rhetoric that Edward's and his wife Elizabeth are no longer loathe to express. And, in finally letting go of the prepackaged "presidential" posturing and returning to the innate passion that characterizes a man – and a family – whose background, obstacles, tragedies, and personal triumphs draw true empathy from a Democratic electorate comprised of working people – not the New York/Washington/Hollywood élites who tend to dominate the national Democratic discourse.

Indeed, the Time poll reveals that Edwards leads Sen. Clinton in the "likability" category by a mere margin of 32 to 12 – and the "best understands the concerns of people like yourself" section 30-23. At the same time, Edwards, who always held strong margins of victory in hypothetical match-ups with Republicans, is starting to solidify those leads with Rasmussen showing Edwards beating Guiliani 49 to 41 and Romney 45 to 38, dominating Sen. Thompson 49 to 35, and crushing McCain 52 to 36.

While Sen. Obama maintains similar leads, Rasmussen shows Sen. Clinton losing to Guiliani 44 to 47, barely edging McCain 48 to 46 and Thompson 48 to 44. Sen. Clinton's only margin of victory, outside of the margin of error, is her commanding lead over Gov. Mitt Romney 51 to 40. When combined with Sen. Clinton's 49 percent "unfavorable" ratings might be wonder if Hillary is the best person to not only ensure Democratic occupation of White House, but also maintain or expand Democratic control of Congress. Could Edward's be this person? The jury is still out, but at least Edwards is finally beginning to capture the attention and imagination of Iowa's Democratic some four months before they caucus. And some positive attention from the national press in process.

As the Washington Post reports:

Edwards is casting himself as the candidate of rural voters, someone who understands the plight and values of family farmers (especially powerful in Iowa) and who could do in a general election what he argues Clinton and Obama could not: attract culturally conservative voters in states such as Virginia, voters who consider gun ownership an important right and aren't thrown by his drawl.

"I think this Southern Baptist has a better chance of being elected pope than Hillary Clinton does of being elected president in a general election," quipped David "Mudcat" Saunders, a Democratic strategist in Virginia who is advising Edwards and who helped get Mark R. Warner elected governor and James Webb elected to the Senate in the state.

"Rural America is pivotal. It's where the battleground is going to be, and rural America is saying, 'To hell with the Republicans,' " Saunders said. "But you've got to have the right candidate, one who can get through to the culture."
If Saunders is correct, Edwards might be the ideal Democratic opponent to Sen. Fred Thompson: a young, homespun, but wealthy relative outsider, battle tested in fight for the people against the powerful – and, ultimately, an "authentic" voice for the millions whose fortunes did not multiply in almost two decades of economic expansion. In increasingly tough times, populist appeal might be just that – appealing. And in the Purple States, times are truly tough. Here, Edwards might be one of the few candidates, in either party, capable of culling voters from the other side.

If Democrats are willing to look who can win – with coattails – Edwards might well be "The Comeback Kid" of 2008.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Game on! Sen. Thompson Finally Steps up to the Plate

NASHVILLE – For Democrats, Fred Thompson might just end up being be the man to beat. His "brand" is clear and uncomplicated. Whether you describe him as "Southern-Fried Reagan" or "Ben Cartwright," Sen. Thompson presents that patriarchal archetype that is foundational to American perceptions of the idyllic Republican candidate: conservative, plain-spoken, tough, and commanding. And a real contrast to the Democratic field.

While Guiliani and Romney compete with each other to wear the crown of "authentically conservative," Sen. Thompson simply strides to the podium and smiles. And it's a knowing smile, because Thompson understands that in the moral high ground of Republican Red America neither Guiliani nor Romney can match the "true authenticity" of his deep-timbered Southern drawl.

At the same time, Sen. Thompson's partisanship has, for decades, been tempered by a gentlemanly demeanor and a general willingness to "cross the aisle," when necessary. His is a career built on being "consumable" – firm, yet comforting. And "Southern-Fried Reagan" is the kind of comfort food that Red County America is craving in a time of tremendous social, economic, and moral insecurity.

Sen. Thompson's candidacy should make Democrats VERY concerned about who will best match the Republicans in both the presidential election – and in 2008's congressional races. Sen. Thompson could have VERY long coattails, particularly in places like Indiana, Ohio, Montana, and North Carolina, where Democratic success in 2006 came about, in part, by running candidates whose views, and "brands," ran far to the right of Blue State norms. For Democrats, Thompson's candidacy is a real wake-up call. He might not be the strongest Republican candidate in decades, but he's got a powerful persona, some serious height advantage, and the big dog swagger that consistently wins over the voters in Purple State America.

While it's true that Sen. Thompson has lost a little bit of ground since July, being late to the party didn't stop Reagan in 1980. That said, he's got to run hard – fast. Elections are won on the ground. If Sen. Thompson wants to win the presidency, he needs to win the Republican nomination and that means he'll need to a lot of dedicated supporters to pound the pavement from September 4 to February 5.

Game on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If Angels Were to Govern Men, There Would Be No Karl Rove

WASHINGTON – "Bush's Brain." "The Architect." "The Strategist." Karl Rove has accumulated quite a few nicknames in his four decades as a Republican political operative. Known as a dirty-trickster since his college days, Rove's take-no-prisoners campaign style became the tactical linchpin in the decade-long Republican realignment of Texas – and each of the last four national elections.

Of course, Rove didn't invent hardball politics. He simply pushed the envelope further than his Republican predecessors might have thought possible. And most importantly, Rove reveled in his association with what an earlier generation might have deemed beyond the pale.

Rove relished his role as a cherubic bad boy. With each of his successes, he grew giddier. Much like a ten-year-old frying ants with a magnifying glass, Rove seemed to delight in the gruesome nature of his opponents' particular destruction, without either the wit or contrition of the late, archetypal dirty-trickster, Lee Atwater.

To many, Rove was overrated.

To us, Rove was a foil. He was "bad cop" to George W. Bush's "good cop." By goading the press into positioning Rove as a smirking version of "The Dark Lord," Rove successfully deflected attribution of his tactics to his clients – who where, after all, the ultimate "deciders" in each of Rove's political campaigns. Rove, his minions, and his imitators may have run roughshod over our electoral system. Rove may have tainted his profession, that of the paid political consultant, for generations to come. But, it was those who paid for his services who ought to be held accountable. For it is they who have reaped this acrid crop.

In the end, history may reduce Mr. Rove's importance to an asterisk. He was not the architect of the Republicans' Southern Strategy that not only elected Richard Nixon, but forged a complete, and some may deem, permanent, political realignment of the South. Rove did not "strategerize" landslide victories for George W. Bush in either 2000 or 2004 as Ed Rollins did for Ronald Reagan in 1984 or as Bob Teeter and Lee Atwater did for George H.W. Bush in 1988 – under far harsher political climates. No, Rove's lasting mark will likely be the level of toxicity that currently corrodes the political profession – and American politics as a global brand. And, unlike the toxicity of his predecessors, we are deeply concerned that this Rovian toxicity is radioactive, with a half-life destined to last for countless generations.

Can our political culture "re-brand" itself? Yes. But, we must be vigilant in our expectations. We must demand true accountability from our leaders, while carefully filtering out the nonsensical jabs foisted upon us those who seek political advantage through the politics of personal destruction and not the critical engagement of political ideals. Is this overly altruistic? Absolutely. But, our nation was founded by pragmatic visionaries, not cynics. Our Founders understood history and human and political nature with tremendous depth – which is precisely the reason that our power is divided into three distinct branches and further subdivided by the people who hold office within those branches.

As James Madison writes in The Federalist, Number 51:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Perhaps, "If angels were to govern men," they might ensure that those who help to elect them rise to a similar standard of greatness. Honorable leadership is possible. But, first we must be willing to honor the process.

We can only pray that Mr. Rove, and his cynical, kindred spirits across the globe, will simply huff, take their marbles, and go home when they realize that the market for their brand of politics has shriveled in the face of true political debate.

At the very least, a little Lee Atwater-style repentance from Rove and his ilk might take us one step closer to a more idyllic political landscape. Just a hope.

(Editor's note: For Zoë. Happy Anniversary.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Triumph of Style Over Substance: Tommy Thompson Might Be Done Kissin' Babies

AMES, IA – On the eve of the Iowa Straw Poll, the Washington Post reports that Wisconsin's innovative former Governor, Tommy Thompson, may have had his fill of presidential politicking. Speaking to the Post, Gov. Thompson declares that the press – and, by default, the voters – "Don't look at the resume....They're not looking at who is the most qualified to be president. They look at who's got the best looks, the best smile, the most money and is doing well in the polls." True. Presidential elections have featured a triumph of style over substance repeatedly. And, unfortunately, this is the nature of the beast.

The Brandwagon admires Thompson's pluck, both in running for president in the first place – and in highlighting the ways in which the electronic media has reduced what should be truly substantive policy debates into tidy sound bites, flourishes of salacious rhetorical contortionism, and momentary flashes of belt buckles, boots, cloisonné American flags, and incandescent smiles.

However, and this is a big "however," Governor Thompson is about as far from being a political neophyte as Vice President Cheney is from being the world's penultimate open consensus builder. With four decades of public life, including almost 35 years as an elected official – and an unprecedented four consecutive terms as the Republican governor of an ostensibly Democratic state, one would think that Thompson would know just a little about whys and wherefores of American politics. To us, this is particularly frustrating. After seriously considering, what probably would have been very competitive presidential runs in 1996 and 2000, Thompson chose announce his candidacy for the least substantive, most expensive, most drawn-out, presidential campaign in U.S. history, on the April Fool's Day 2007 Edition of ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos. Huh? Did someone forget to say "April Fool's?" Come on.

To be clear, we are not in the business of beating a good man when he is down, but Gov. Thompson has, generally, been considered one of the most innovative Republican politicians in generations. Regardless of our own political predilections, most political professionals would have to agree that Thompson was a fairly committed reformer, a policy initiator, and not simply a pol. And this is where we believe Thompson's campaign was wasted. On almost every level, Thompson's campaign represented a "Failure to communicate." And, in American presidential politics, how one communicates is far more important than what one communicates. Gov. Thompson's defining fault was his inability to craft a powerful political brand grounded in his personal truth.

Perhaps the best example of this lives on his website. Here, Gov. Thompson is framed as a "Reliable Conservative," with "Common Sense Solutions" with the entirety of, what we would call, his "brand story" centered on a seemingly chronological series of past political accomplishments from a primarily pre-9/11 world. "INNOVATORS" do not live in the past. Innovators speak to the future. Gov. Thompson's website speaks the language of another candidate, living in another time, and an election whose sell-date has long since passed.

Perhaps, we might have critiqued Gov. Thompson's political brand a little sooner. Maybe his campaign would have noticed. And maybe, just maybe, Gov. Thompson would have come out swinging – and not scolding. Maybe, he would have tried a little more inspiration, and a lot less reflection. But, again, Gov. Thompson should have known better. After all, Gov. Thompson has won way more than a few elections. A little style almost always helps substance garner enough attention to attract more than a few extra votes.



Sunday, August 05, 2007

TV Dinner: Chris Matthews Casts Fred Thompson as the New Ben Cartwright


WASHINGTONIn branding Sen. Fred Thompson as the next Ben Cartwright, Chris Matthews raises an interesting question. Is an increasingly sullen Republican Party, and maybe America, in dire need of good, old-fashioned comfort food?

We suggest readers have a look at TVLand.com's description of Cartwright:

Righteous and strong, Ponderosa patriarch Ben Cartwright is a range-riding pillar of justice. Owning the largest ranch in Nevada makes Ben Cartwright a hugely wealthy man. Never forgetting his humble roots Ben Cartwright is often found offering a helping hand to neighbors as well as strangers in times of need.
Hmmmmmmm.

Looking at Thompson's surging poll numbers – particularly in South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada – we're thinking that Matthews' comparison hits the mark. As the only Reaganesque archetype considering the GOP nod, Sen. Thompson is nearly picture-perfect casting for Bonanza Redux. A top-ten show for 10 of its 14 seasons – and Number One during four of America's most tumultuous years, 1964-1967, Bonanza hearkened Americans back to "simpler times," while simultaneously touching a series of controversial issues ranging from racism to domestic violence. If Ben Cartwright's portrayer, Lorne Greene, had not been a Canadian, he might have well have been 1968's Fred Thompson – in either party.

At the same time, Sen. Thompson's campaign needs to carefully avoid this comparison. If his rivals portray him as a "TV Dinner," Thompson needs to reach beyond the Southern-Fried Reagan card, and emphasize his 14 years of public service – and devotion to replenishing American strength. All told, Sen. Thompson's brand of "Law and Order" might just become "Bonanza" to a Republican Party desperately in need of a fresh "patriarch."

For Democrats, a Republican Party united under Sen. Thompson will present a real challenge. America is a nation addicted to comfort food. If Thompson looks like the Republican nominee, Democrats might have to apply a new test to their candidates and ask which one won't make Middle America feel like they have a choice between a piping hot TV dinner or a dollop of cold, steamed spinach.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ouch! Bloomberg Brand Gets 'Bump'd'

NEW YORK – Mayor Michael Bloomberg might need a CAT scan after hitting one behemoth of a speed bump placed unceremoniously outside his 79th Street mansion for the past five weeks. With a team of reporters monitoring his every move – probably in anticipation of a potential run for president – Bloomberg unwittingly skewered both his chances of pushing through his much-beloved plan for instituting congestion pricing to curb Manhattan's gridlocked streets AND his 'Regular Rich Guy' brand.

In pulling the first big-time 'gotcha' of the 2008 campaign (aside from the Clinton/Edwards open mike moment), Michael M. Grynbaum's crisply-written Times front pager, "A Mayor Who Takes the Subway — by Way of S.U.V." features the above photo of the “MetroCard mayor" walking briskly to one of two gleaming, black Chevrolet Suburbans, presumably waiting to drive the mayor to a subway station some twenty blocks from his Upper East Side home to catch an express train to City Hall. Ashton Kutcher could not have designed a better episode of "Punk'd" than this political moment. Simultaneously shredding the Bloomberg brand's greenish tint - and his "Regular Subway Joe" political visage – this episode is likely to linger in the minds of New Yorkers long enough to bump his brand out of contention for any post-mayoral office for a great while to come.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Love Letters: Hillary's Transformation from Goldwater Girl to 'Pseudo-Hippie' and Beyond

NEW YORK – Positioning Hillary Clinton is a difficult proposition. To many Democratic liberals, Senator Clinton is a true-blue centrist, a DLC Democrat, and former Goldwater Girl, who unapologetically supported the invasion of Iraq, voted to certify George W. Bush's election, and stood squarely for economic growth through relatively unfettered free trade. To Conservatives, Hillary represents the feminism, free love, free-speech, and free-thinking liberalism and political uncertainty of the 1960s. To Democratic Centrists, Senator Clinton is a measured, rational, political professional, whose willingness to forge a balance between the interests of the business community and the public at large. In fact, Senator Clinton possesses all of these qualities – and this is precisely why it is so difficult for her coterie of professionals to position her campaign.

From a branding perspective, we might try to divine her essence, the core of Senator Clinton's unique and defining qualities. And the key to this might live far from the many biographies that have been written about her. The key might be found in letters of her own hand.

As Senator Clinton seeks to position herself as the next President, perhaps her campaign might find a powerful kernel of differentiating truth in the handwritten tomes of her Wellesley youth – the defining moment in which Hilary Rodham transformed herself from Goldwater Girl to Democratic Leader.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ohio, The Myths of Free Trade, and the Next Democratic Agenda

NEW YORK – Has the fulcrum of the Democratic Party lurched leftward on the always prickly topic of trade? New York Times' Robin Toner reports that, in the sprint toward 2008, the DLC's dogmatic devotion to unfettered free trade might be wavering with the realization that elections are not won on the coasts with appeals to the educated élites, but instead fought in the rusting ramparts of places like Mahoning County, Ohio.

Led by freshman senator Sherrod Brown, the buckle of the Rust Belt is poised to tip the long-held Blue Dog Democratic belief that free trade functions as a rising tide that lifts all boats. Apparently, even Senator Hillary Clinton is on board with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the incessant free trade nostrums of the early and mid-1990s no longer hold true for the working people of middle America. Admitting that the global economy, as moderated by the Bush administration, might be “trickle-down economics without the trickle” for America's working class, Hillary Clinton has made a sharp left turn in her philosophical journey from Goldwater Girl to Centrist Democrat to Leading Contender for an increasingly "progressive" Democratic presidential nomination. For those who follow every nuance of American politics, this is either big news – or an indication that the old "New Democrat" tropes are not playing well in the Heartland.

Iowa frontrunner, former Senator John Edwards, has long understood the domestic costs of globalization. Toner notes, with former Representative David Bonier of MIchigan helming his campaign, Edwards make no bones about the downside of America's dramatic overall economic expansion, in which “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent" over the past two decades.

The Times also cites Barack Obama's observation that “People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs... and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”

Why are the Democrats finally taking to heart what the Progressives have been taking them to task for since the passage of NAFTA? Could it be that Democratic leaders are looking at the foreclosure epidemics sweeping metros ranging from Cleveland and Detroit, to Seattle and Birmingham, Alabama and asking, "What gives?".

In the fall of 2001, this author asked the question, "With the greatest economy in generations as his foundation, why couldn't Gore win in a landslide? Why did he win Michigan and not Ohio?" On the macro level, all was well. But, a deeper look at the numbers demonstrated something else: Gore won the states that faired well in the New Economy and lost in the states where median household income had dropped during the previous election cycle.

Interestingly, Gore's campaign caught fire toward the end, when his "people versus the powerful" message caught the attention of working people and indpendents. If he had simply "gone populist" a month earlier, he might have won in the landslide that history would have predicted. A little class warfare didn't hurt Andrew Jackson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt either. It might not hurt the Democratic class of 2008.

As Republican wordsmith Frank Luntz argues in the Los Angeles Times piece, "A GOP Comeback Strategy," that "No Republican can win the White House without winning Ohio." We agree. If, as Luntz maintains, "A successful Republican candidate in Ohio will have learned how to articulate a culturally conservative message fused with government accountability and economic opportunity specifically tailored to voters in the industrial heartland," then, to us, the same holds true for the Democrats. "Without the support of the anxious working class," Luntz asserts, "Ohio will also turn deep blue. And so will the United States."

To this, we offer a more resolute spin. The party that captivates the support of the anxious working and middle class middle-Americans of Ohio (on election day and in the voting booth) – and ensures their votes are counted – will not only prevail in gaining the White House, they'll likely pick up Congressional seats from coast to coast.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

'Smart Trade': John Edwards Re-Reinvents the Fair Trade Brand

FT. DODGE, IA – If you're a rural American, John Edwards feels your pain. In small town after small town, the former senator from North Carolina relates his personal experience as the son of millworker growing up in a town that would be decimated by the exportation of American jobs to foreign lands where the low-wages are only one of the many benefits to enterprising corporation.

In Edwards' eyes, and to be honest, The Brandwagon's, unfettered free trade has been a very mixed blessing. Yes, jobs have been created in America – and beyond. In fact, the massive private sector expansion within China has been a tremendous boon to American companies ranging from Google to Boeing and from Microsoft to Caterpillar. But, as Edwards readily acknowledges, the costs to rural America, the industrial Midwest, and the cotton-mill South have been extraordinary.


To Edwards, trade represents an opportunity, one in which pro-worker American values, environmental controls, and health and safety regulations can be exported to each of the countries from which we import. By toughening our stance on trade
rules, America can influence how America's partners conduct their affairs by leveraging the strength of our purchasing power. Here, Edwards offers a pragmatic approach, exclaiming, "We live in a global economy.... We can't put our head in the sand and pretend that's not true."

To Edwards, the rural and industrial America's future unfolds with a commitment to "Smart Trade," the realization that Lou Dobbs's brand of protectionism won't benefit the workers at Boeing or Caterpillar, while simultaneously pressuring those regimes that refuse to embrace humane worker health, safety, environmental, and wage standards, to modernize their business approach And, most importantly, Edwards is vehement in his desire to rebuild America's intellectual infrastructure through a stronger commitments to education, worker training, backed by the new investments in the technology necessary for future advancement in this century and not the twentieth.

With his initiative to create "150,000 green collar jobs a year," his plans to entice teachers to relocate to rural communities, and his push to wire rural America with the broadband access necessary in order to build a foundation for real competitive advantage in an increasingly global economy, Edwards' Smart Trade approach might gain real traction in "Red Country." Of course, "Smart Trade" was one of Kerry's positionings in 2004, but in Iowa, in 2007, its already paying dividends for former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hillary's Coronation: Don't Count on It

BERKELEY, CA – Conventional wisdom tells us that when the dust settles next spring, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Presidential nominee. She has the money, the name recognition, the organization, the political endorsements –– and a seemingly insurmountable gender gap, being the only woman in a field crowded by men. So, she's going to win, right? Obama, Richardson, and Biden should start positioning themselves as Veep nominees? Don't count on it.

It is common knowledge that Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure nationally, and while possible, it is unlikely that she could build a coalition that would deliver 270 electoral votes next November. In fact, her seemingly wide coalition of support is so narrow, that she even faces a battle to secure the Democratic primary that the pundits have already awarded her. With eight years as First Lady and six years of free, high-profile media coverage as U.S. Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton is one of the most recognized figures in American politics. But, with name recognition is well over 90 percent, why can't she seem to muster the support of more than 40 percent of Democratic primary voters?

Despite the number of candidates Democratic votes have but two choices in their primaries: "Hillary Clinton" or "Not Hillary Clinton." Nobody wants to say it, but right now, "Not Hillary Clinton" is winning.

One could argue that as candidates drop out, support will shift to Hillary as the logical choice, and then it's lights out for Edward, Obama, and anyone else who dares to challenge the Clintons. However, I don't believe Hillary Clinton is anyone's "second choice" in the Democratic primaries. As with most polarizing figures, anyone who would even consider supporting Senator Clinton is already firmly in her camp. Democrats have known Hillary for 15 years and they either like her or not – and it appears now that a majority do not.

I can't tell you who will be the nominee when the dust settles after Super-Duper Tuesday next February. However, as candidates drop out of the Democratic primaries for lack of money, lack of support, and lack of press coverage, two distinct camps of support will remain: Hillary Clinton's – and whoever remains in the race against her. Right now, if you ask me who will be accepting the nomination in Denver, I would bet on the latter.

'Southern-Fried Reagan': Fred is Well-Framed By The Christian Right

NASHVILLE, TN — Fred Thompson is quickly becoming the savior of the Republican brand for many conservative Christians. Armed with a powerful assessment by Southern Baptist Convention's Dr. Richard Land, who argues in David Body's CBN blog, "It's Fred Thompson's Race to Lose," the Senator is now positioned within a critical Republican market segment as "the man to beat." Land's declaration that "Thompson has an ability to connect with people. He comes from small town America where he can appeal to NASCAR dads, Security moms, and Reagan Democrats," is gold in race where the top-tier competitors are both big city Northerners.

While Land can't officially endorse candidates, the gravitas of his words are legend. In framing Thompson as "Southern-Fried Reagan," Land adroitly positions the Senator in powerfully stark terms: "Thompson is the true heir and he is not a Yankee." And, most importantly, Land's powerful imprimatur further hardens the difficulties that Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney face in garnering the support of Christian Conservatives. To win the Republican nomination, Guiliani and Romney must perform well outside of the Northeast urban corridor. And, in all fairness, Romney's recent surge's in Iowa and New Hampshire – and Guiliani's current strength in Florida, New Jersey, and California – portend a long, hard slog for any Republican presidential hopeful. However, for a candidate not officially included in the race, the Brandwagon believes Fred Thompson is the man to beat.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

We Give Thanks to Our Founders and Our Declaration of Independence

PHILADELPHIA – For those of us who hold our nation's Declaration of Independence and Our Constitution as sacred documents, July 4 is more than a celebration, but a day of reflection. Yes, we shall endeavor to imbibe of the food and drink that delights our senses. We shall laugh with our friends and find joy with our children. But, on this day, this 231st year of our Nation's Independence, we shall endeavor to carefully consider the "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" and share its contents with all of those we hold dear. Today, we set aside our differences on the myriad political views that shapes our Nation and gives thanks for "That which we all agree." For our Declaration of Independence was adopted by unanimously by the Thirteen United States of America. To our founders, we thank you.

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription, Courtesy of the National Archives

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1 – Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Column 2 – North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn; South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Column 3 – Massachusetts: John Hancock; Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton; Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
Column 4 – Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross; Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Column 5 – New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris; New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Column 6 – New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple; Massachusetts: Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery; Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott; New Hampshire: Matthew Thornton


The Declaration can be heard at NPR.org

Monday, July 02, 2007

Forget Coy, Can Wes Clark 'Secure America'?

NEW YORK – Gen. Wesley Clark is at it, again. Asked in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, whether the good general has any presidential intentions, he coyly replied, "I think about it everyday."

Judging by the response to our last Wes Clark posting, were wondering if Clark is vetting the veep possibilities – or, is he seriously thinking of a run. With web hits ranging from Osaka to Iron Mountain, interest in a potential candidacy by Gen. Clark topped The Brandwagon's all-time charts. Our hats go off the people of Clark's "Securing America" blog for sheer tenacity. But, please spell our name correctly – it's b-r-a-n-d-w-a-g-o-n with an "r" as in ®!

That said, here's our best thinking from the wonderful world of strategery. First, sift through the hubris and really distill the essence of Wes Clark. What lurks beneath the General's perfectly-creased, telegenic veneer? Who is the "man"? And, why should I want to go fishing with him? Beyond the platitudes of each policy position, what is different about who he is, what he does, and why should we care? And speaking of issues, other than opposition to the war, what casts Clark in a different light than the competition? Then, take a look at the competition. What do they stand for? How are they different? How does the General stack up? Most importantly, where is the opportunity for differentiation. And go beyond the Rhodes Scholarship and general's stars. John Kerry is a bright war hero and he still lost.

In our thumbnail estimation, Clark's real opportunity resides outside opposition to the Iraq War and the saber-rattling vented toward Iran. We think that Gen. Clark's real opportunity might lie within his current "Secure America" positioning. But, to be successful, "Secure America" must become a transformative trope used at every touchpoint throughout the campaign. "We must Secure America by ensuring that our manufacturing base is not exported to foreign shores. We must Secure America by providing individuals and small companies access to affordable health care in order to make ours a nation of doers and not disassemblers..." If Secure America means that we're preserving jobs in the Rust Belt, Ohio is in play. If Secure America only refers to national security, the campaign might not resonate beyond the national security moms. To compete, Gen. Clark must demonstrate how he will Secure America at every turn. After all, national security is heavily dependent on domestic, economic security.

Is Gen. Clark the person to "Secure America"? Perhaps, but his campaign must extend this positioning to each point of contact, from the website, to mailings, to Gen. Clark's wardrobe. "But, he's the most well-dressed of any candidate save for Sen. Obama," Clark's supporters might plead. And, they are not wrong. He is well-dressed. But, we ask how does his wardrobe stake a claim that he is doing his part to Secure America? While we're not suggesting that he wears the combat boots of his son, ala Sen. James Webb – we are suggesting that Clark consider donning American-made suits and shoes and then talk about how his Cleveland-made threads bring income to the working families of Ohio, "securing" their livelihoods and "securing" the local tax base to "secure" an education for future generations.

If Gen. Clark defines his "brand" – and "lives it" in every possible way, he just might have a shot at being heard.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

$32.5 Million Dollar Man: Obama Leads the Money Primary

WASHINGTON – Sen. Barack Obama has taken some lumps in recent days, with sagging poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. But, in the one primary that really counts at this point in this twenty-four month election cycle, Obama is the candidate to beat. In beating Sen. Hillary Clinton at was what was once considered her own game, Obama has established himself an awesome political force, raising $32.5 million from some 154,000 contributors.

Of course, money does not always guarantee votes. And whether Obama translate this success into a general election victories in Ohio, or Florida, or Missouri remains to be seen. But, it does force the Democratic party's leadership, and leading contributors, to confront the idea that Obama is a very, very serious contender. Obama is no longer an outsider. He is no longer a challenger. Obama represents an established candidate, one whose brand is burnished by $32.5 million freshly-minted silver dollars, the hard-earned bounty of a groundswell of supporters and not merely a select few max-out donors.