We’re suckers for great marketing. Slogans simplify big ideas into memorable phrases. With “Where’s the Beef?”, Wendy’s repositioned McDonalds’ burgers as skimpy. FedEx debuted a logistics and delivery revolution with “When it Absolutely, Positively, Has to be There Overnight.”
These slogans became totems for much bigger ideas, and so it is with the masterful crafting of “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) as a catchall for “owning the libs.” For months I argued that no K-12 school system anywhere teaches CRT. My bad for totally missing the marketing genius behind the misapplication of the phrase. They know it isn’t taught anywhere this side of grad school, but it makes a great stalking horse.
Columnist Thomas Edsell put me right: “Christopher Rufo, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and a self-identified brawler, takes full credit for turning critical race theory into a political wedge issue.” Here’s Rufo’s Tweet: “We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”
Russ Vought, head of Citizens for Renewing America, agrees: “Friends, It’s a good day when the political class, consultants, and even the media are forced to admit we’ve been right: picking cultural fights leads to electoral wins.
“This was our thesis when we started Renewing America. It was our thesis when we made fighting back on Cultural Marxism and Critical Race Theory a pillar of our work. It was our thesis when we launched an all-out blitz across the country in states and local schools boards with our Stop CRT Toolkit and model legislation. And it will continue to guide our path forward.”
What you’re seeing is marketing raised to an art form, and you’ve got to hand it to them: It’s working. They’ve rebranded an innocuous academic study into a dastardly effort to turn our children into *gasp* progressives.
Take Loudon County, Virginia, the poster child of the current wave of school board confrontations, where we find a couple of hundred very angry parents cursing the (nonexistent) teaching of CRT. There are 81,000 children in Loudon County public schools, but as we’ve learned, the loudest few control the room.
We silly liberals think our brand is Righteous Truth and Equality, but we don’t understand branding. You see, your brand is not yours unconditionally. What you think of as “your brand” is what you hope it is to your customers, but in reality, both your actions and the actions of others, antagonists included, influence how people perceive you and define your brand.
Propagandists have always known that words have power, and that owning their definition limits your opponent’s options. Rush Limbaugh re-branded the word “liberal” such that it connotes weak-kneed poindexters who do nothing but promote Communism. Nice touch. Because it’s nearly impossible to re-rebrand co-opted words, the left abandoned “liberal” in favor of “progressive.”
Not a fan of smart, accomplished women (they terrified Limbaugh), he famously branded them “feminazis.” His go-to move with powerful women was to objectify them. In dismissing successful liberal talk show host, Stephanie Miller, who is both smart and powerful, he never mentioned her without reminding the audience that, “while misguided, she’s a babe.”
You can also thank him for the childish rebranding of the Democratic Party as the “Democrat” party.
Concerned about the environment? You’re a “tree-hugger,” a pejorative intended to make you look weak and stupid. “Socialism” is next, but there’s a generational problem with trying to brand it as a catastrophe for soul of the country. If you’re under 40, it connotes fairness and an answer to unbridled capitalism that has held young adults in economic limbo as corporations and billionaires have prospered. As the rich get richer (another nifty piece of rebranding, this time from the left), and the rest get squat, the rebranding will work with Whites over 40, but won’t stick to the rest of the populace. They know the right is using the “socialism” bogeyman to stave off spending on things most Americans want like free Pre-K education, fighting climate change, and tax-credits that keep millions of children out of poverty.
Culture war is a winning strategy for Republicans. Dems are MIA. Their failures are less policy failures than failures of imagination. Not employing equally creative, compelling, and actionable messaging as the other side does is a recipe for electoral and societal damage.
Great arguments all for hiring a top-notch agency—and for term limits.
©2022 Jon Sinton