The Conversation

On Branding, or How I Stopped Fearing The Human Fund and Learned to Love "Money for People"

Roger Simon was just wondering, "Is the word conservative now a bit of a turn-off?"

All this is the long way around to saying that the problems creating the current dissension at CPAC stem in part from the word “conservative” itself. It seems mired in the past — even when it is not. As much as anything else, in an odd way, it’s a semantic difficulty. Young people particularly (and even some older folks like myself) like to see themselves as oriented toward the future. Clinton was no fool when he chose “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” as his theme song, corny as it may now seem. The truth is yesterday is gone. Liberals, as we all know, rebranded themselves with some success as progressives — a word that was, ironically, itself once discredited. The wheel goes round on these things.

I just independently wrote on the same basic topic:

The left never brands itself as the Left or Liberal, does it? No, they brand themselves as "for everyone." We need to start doing that. For example, we shouldn't have an organization named "League of Conservative Women." (There is no such league; this is a for-instance.) We should have a "League of Women," period. Not just for "conservative women." But for all women. We tend to brand ourselves -- and worse yet, we've internalized this to the point where we think of ourselves this way -- as "the conservative alternative." We need start branding ourselves as, and thinking of ourselves as, the Universal Default.

I also began thinking, independently, actually, something similar to Simon's idea.

The fact is, liberals began running from the l-word when "liberalism" became unpopular. You used to not be able to get a guest on cable who'd answer to the descriptor "liberal." They insisted on being called "experts" in whatever they were talking about -- a descriptor that conceals their politics and boosts their credibility.

I think many people wouldn't like the idea of similarly running from the c-word, conservative. However, I am wondering if the term is now sufficiently unpopular to make it, in terms of salesmanship, a net-loser. It is true that something like 38% of the public self-identifies as "conservative" and only 21% identifies as "liberal."

But I never thought that was very important. Politics is more about what you don't like than what you do like. For example, I personally have always been more anti-liberal than pro-conservative, if you understand my meaning.

And I wonder, now, whether the public is more anti-conservative than it is anti-liberal. While more people may affirmatively like conservatism and self-identify as conservative, it could very well be the case that liberals have succeeded in defining us in negative terms such that the public, while not really liking liberalism per se, is more anti-conservative than it is anti-liberal and will wind up voting according to that sentiment.


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