Today’s cover article in the NYT Magazine is most worthwhile. It paints a clear although not simplistic picture of Obama’s economic proposals. The Senator really does come across as that rarest of birds, a pro-growth redistributionist.
But it’s really troubling that other people are better at distilling Obama’s policies than are his surrogates or–most disturbingly of all–the candidate himself. Consider this snippet from the article:
So I asked Obama whether he thought he had been able to tell an effective story about the economy during this campaign. Specifically, I wondered, did he think he had a message that compared with Reagan’s simple call for less government and lower taxes. He paused for a few seconds and then said this:
“I think I can tell a pretty simple story. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan’s insight and ran it over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn’t arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace.
“Now, that’s the story. Now, telling it elegantly — ‘low taxes, smaller government’ — the way the Republicans have, I think is more of a challenge.”
In other words, we have the hard stuff figured out. We just have to figure out how to sell it. Problem is, I assume that the Senator’s peeps have been working on the sales pitch for some time, and it never seems to get any better. If anything, it just gets appended, with nothing ever deleted.
Sales execs in technology companies have a well-worn dictum: “never confuse selling with installing.” In other words, don’t complicate your narrative with niggling details about how the product will be installed that will only raise questions and doubts with the customer. How to do this while still being truthful is the stuff of the salesman’s art. On the economy, Obama and his team are very inartful sales people. It’s time to step up their game by dumbing it down.
What about this:
Here are the main features of Barack Obama’s plan for America’s economy:
For 95% all Americans: Lower taxes.
For all Americans: More affordable health care. Major, long-term investments in job creation, infrastructure development, and energy independence. Responsible, accountable government.
For lobbyists and special interests: A whole lotta heartache.
We’ll now take questions from the floor.
Can’t you just see Joe Biden in Muncie, Indiana? Sleeves rolled up, red faced. “You, sir. Did you make less than $250,000 last year? You’ll pay lower taxes when Barack Obama is President. You, ma’am with the beautiful baby. I bet you didn’t make $250,000 last year. Would you like to pay lower taxes? Would that help you feed your family? You, sir. Do you think that somebody who made $9.1 million last year–and yep, that’s what 1 out of a thousand families in this country makes–sir, do you think that family could afford their taxes to go up so we can ALL have better schools and cheaper health care? You know what: so do I. AND SO… DOES… BARACK… OBABMA!!!!”
Of course I’m oversimplifying, and I’m sure my oversimplification could be improved on considerably by professionals. But it’s time for distillation in service of connecting with voters. The Obama campaign is rightly proud of the fact that their mastery of detail is much of what makes their plan hang together. But there’s no percentage in exposing the detail to voters whose concerns are considerably more immediate and concrete. You have made the sale that you know what you’re doing. The sale you haven’t made is that you know what they are going through. It’s time to talk about people’s economic problems in terms they understand; not abstractions and analogies to times gone by.
In other words, don’t confuse selling with installing.