Sunday, December 4, 2016

Staying On Message

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.........................."

"Ok, you there on the end.  This is a chorus.  Everybody sings - and the same song please.  No solos.  No sitting it out.  Get with the program.  We need your voice here, so stay on message."

(Note:  I seem so IT incapable, that I am unable to include photos in this blog.  So if the blog post in your email box doesn't have the above photo of five baby birds - four of them with their mouth wide open waiting for food - and a fifth on the end, tight lipped and out of synch with the rest --- my apologies.  I think it might show up on the blog site itself - but that might just be a wistful hope.  Sorry. But if, on the other hand, the birdie photo shows up, then hallelujah, it's a miracle) 

What the Republicans do very well is to craft messages that are designed to reach a specific objective, and then (most importantly) they uniformly stay on that message - no matter what.  It seemingly doesn't always matter if the message bears any resemblance to truth and reality, or even if it is transparently slanted and one sided.

They understand (and no one more than the President elect:  "Lying Ted", "Crooked Hillary", "Loser Jeb) that messages, like advertising, need to be repeated over and over and over again, and in that process they begin to penetrate the public's consciousness and become embedded as truth in the collective psyche.  It is the repetition that is the key - staying on message.

Tide detergent is the perfect example of this phenomenon.  Every since it was introduced decades and decades ago, every six months or so, the packaging forcefully proclaims that the newest version of Tide is new and improved.  They literally claim to make it new and improve it a couple of times a year, every year.  How is that possible?  It's soap.  How can you make it better every few months?  If they actually did make it better that many times, then it makes you think maybe in the beginning this product wasn't much more than a box of dirt.  Tide understands how repetition of the message is what is important.  The same seems true in politics.

The Democrats are, of course, no match for the Republicans in this activity.  If the shoe were on the other foot, and the Republicans were leading the strategy for the situation the Democrats find themselves in, here's what we would be seeing:

1.  They would be filing for recounts in a dozen or more states.  Filing lawsuits claiming voter fraud, voter suppression, interference and hacking by the Russians and anything else they could possibly think of to call the legitimacy of the election into question.  If the Republicans were in charge of the Democratic party, they would be claiming Trump stole the election - illegally no doubt - and would stay on that message for the next four years - calling into question the legality and legitimacy of his administration - to the point where that would become accepted fact and gospel to a segment of the populace.  They would browbeat the media into covering these claims, and they would fan far and wide to promote them.  Delegitimizing the administration would be the objective.  Hammering away at that theme on a dozen fronts is staying on message.

2.  They would add to that claim, that there was not only NO mandate for the Trump administration (since he stole the election) but that since Hillary got two million more votes, the public endorsed her issues, her ideas, not his.  They would again repeat this message over and over and over, calling into question any proposals by a Trump administration or the Republican controlled congress.

3.  They would have already announced that they would oppose any and everyone Trump nominated to the courts, and many of his Cabinet appointments as well.  They would declare their goal to still have a Supreme Court Justice position open and unfilled four years from now (the GOP, in fact, did this when they thought Trump would lose).

And on and on.   The point is to craft messages in furtherance of a specific objective, and then honor the commitment to stay on message.  And why not, it has worked effectively for the Republicans for over a decade now - maybe longer.

I don't expect the Democratic party to embrace such a strategy.  It seems beyond their ability and mindset.  Not since Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn have the Democrats been any real competition to the Republicans in terms of playing hardball politics.  It seems it's just not in their DNA.

But the arts need to take a page from the Republican strategy book.  We need to craft messages in support of specific objectives - whatever those objectives may be - whether a funding goal, a piece of legislation, or something as vague as valuation.  And we need to act as a bloc in universally staying on those messages.

We are a large, unwieldy, diverse field spread out over a massive geographical, economic, political landscape.  Yet, we are able, from time to time, to act with one voice towards a shared, common goal.    We've actually had decent success with the "arts are an economic engine" message, and in staying on that message over the past two decades.  Those that decry that the data is suspect and flawed, or that it is the intrinsic value of the arts that is really important, miss the point.  What's relevant is not the veracity of the claim, but that you succeed in establishing it within a public mindset.  This is politics, not academia.  I don't expect Tide to come out and publicly admit that their soap is about the same as the other guy's soap.  Given the current political realities, it would seem we are at a point where sharpening our messages and then staying on those messages, at least in a political sense, may well be critical to our future.  And this likely applies for the ecosystem of an individual organization as well as the whole sector.

I don't know what the exact message or messages ought to be. That's for the field to determine. But we need to arrive at some consensus (not necessarily unanimity) as to what the message(s) are, and then rally behind them to universally stay on those messages.

I think that for those who feel threatened by a Trump administration, and / or who simply disagree with some / most / all of the proposed policies and agenda - the best thing we can do as a sector is to try to get our messages across.  If every other sector tries, in earnest, to do the same thing, then, in the aggregate, we will be as effective a loyal opposition as we can be.  Theoretically at least, that is how a democracy works.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit