I’m pretty progressive/liberal in my politics, but I’m not one of those people who has a knee-jerk reaction to people whose political ideas I oppose. I’ll listen to what they say and if they are just repeating talking points from The Mother Ship, then it’s time to tune out. But if they get beyond the usual blah blah, then I perk up and see what they have to say. For example, yesterday I was listening to NPR and they had Newt Gingrich doing an opinion/analysis piece. Before I could change the station, he started to talk about something that, to me, was very interesting: consultants in politics.
I know, it’s not the most sexy topic, but it has an effect on our view of politics — that is to say, it makes our view of politics worse. So, you may be asking, what’s the deal with consultants and politics? Simply put, they give politicians advice based on poll-tested “research.” This means as consultants push a candidate to conform to what their research is saying will make them electable, said candidate becomes less him/herself and more of a product. Also, consultants push candidates to announce their intentions to run earlier using the rationale that they will be able to “brand” themselves in the mind’s of voters. “Branding” is an advertising technique that works well to sell products, but if you’re a candidate who actually has ideas that aren’t poll-tested (or market-tested), you will probably be told (by a consultant, naturally) that you’re not “viable.”
Now, if you happen to get elected, you have to spend most of your time trying to get re-elected. And guess where most of your money goes? Yep, to consultants who have convinced politicians that their election strategies and advice are integral to their political survival.
Newt’s advice to candidates? Be yourself. Don’t cave into focus group research and other “data” designed to package you into a viable candidate.
At first, I was very impressed by Newt’s advice But then I remembered Newt’s recent speech to the National Federation of Republican Women about making English the official language in the U.S. and how Spanish is the language of the “ghetto,” and I thought: “Um, Newt? You’re a big proponent of globalization. And that means having economic, political, and social connections with people WHO DON’T NECESSARILY SPEAK ENGLISH! Yet here you are doing what your consultants say will endear you the right wing base.”*
So much for “being yourself…”
* Seems Newt has tried to make nice after the fallout (probably a consultant’s suggestion). And while he didn’t apologize outright, he did illustrate that he’s been taking Spanish lessons when he issued his “communication…from a sincere heart.” So, what you have here is a guy who will jump at the opportunity to “bash the darkies”among the true believers in his political base, and then issue a “sincere communication” directed to the offended group with a George H.W. Bush subtext of “Message: I care!” Nice, huh.