The Republican Scare: A Branding Nightmare

In 1982, potassium cyanide laced pain relievers killed 7 people in Chicago and led to the collapse of a popular consumer medication. The Tylenol Scare resulted in a market share drop from 35% to 8%. In the aftermath of this tragedy, a new standard for packaging was adopted to prevent product tampering. But Tylenol still needed to persuade the public that their product was safe to purchase and use. In pursuit of that goal, they embarked on an unprecedented marketing campaign to confront what may have been the most daunting public relations challenge in history.

This is precisely the position that the Republican Party finds itself in today. After six years of a toxic administration whose policies have led to a poisoning of public discourse; with corruption infecting Capital Hill, the Justice Department, the Pentagon, and the White House; and a president whose market share is dipping into historic lows; Republicans have concluded that they need to persuade the American people that their brand of politics is safe for our families and our country. In pursuit of that goal, the Republican Leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has embarked on a marketing campaign to repair the party’s brand.

GOP congressmen and lobbyists are holding meetings to gussy up a product that has lost the confidence of consumers. One participant, Rep. John Carter, views the initiative as an exercise in new age self-reflection:

“We’re trying to look into our conscience and define ourselves, and as we define ourselves, decide how we can best communicate that to the rest of the world.”

More accurately, they are trying to design new packaging without enhancing product safety or purpose. While some of them recognize that it will take more than a fresh coat of varnish to restore their credibility, many are convinced that they can improve their image in the eyes of the public if they can just spin some more wool to pull over said eyes. In that regard they may have an ally in the press. The Washington Post’s coverage of these meetings unfolds under the title, “Boehner Leads Effort to Polish GOP ‘Brand’,” and quotes Rep. Jeb Hensarling expressing support for such leadership:

“I would hope Leader Boehner lets his voice be heard loud and clear.”

At least for the moment, Hensarling’s hopes will go unfulfilled because, the story’s title notwithstanding, Boehner’s voice is nowhere to be heard in the article; not a single quote or attribution.

This nicely illustrates how Republicans plan to mount their comeback – with a shallow facade and a dearth of substance. It is a profoundly superficial approach that addresses only the PR aspects of the problem and does nothing to cleanse the party of contaminants or seal it to prevent further calamity. This is analogous to what would have occurred if Tylenol had launched their PR effort while leaving millions of bottles of possibly tainted medicine on the shelves of the nation’s pharmacies. Their rehabilitation would not have been particularly effective if new victims kept showing up in the morgue.

The Republican Party doesn’t appear to be concerned about the production of more victims. The practical result of their strategy insures that the deceptions that led to the war in Iraq, and the war itself, are going to persist into an indefinite future. The incompetent and compromised Alberto Gonzales will continue to lead the Travesty of Justice Department. Bribery and extortion will remain the keystones of legislative business in Washington. And secrecy and deceit will gain momentum as a means to conceal the scars on the body of American Democracy.

The Tylenol Scare was a sad milestone in our nation’s commercial history that devastated a handful of innocent families. The Republican Scare has proven far more destructive leaving thousands of families, in the U. S. and Iraq, forever ruined. And all they have to say for themselves is that they’re polishing their brand. Unfortunately for them, the Republican Scare is their brand now. Due to their incessant promotion of fear in pursuit of power, they are wedded to this new identity whether they like it or not. Even if they could stuff that genie back into the bottle, by today’s standards that would constitute product tampering and you can’t sell those sort of fouled wares in this country anymore…..I hope.


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