16 March 2005

so right and so very, very wrong.

nick kristof, that is. kristof is right that one can be pro-choice and anti-abortion. right that americans like prayer and hate [to talk about] sex. right that hilllary clinton needs to be nice to be successful. last but not least, right about the fact that hard-charging women don't get elected unless they're hard-charging conservatives. somewhat improbably, however, kristof misses (or just plain ignores) the fact that none of this is neutral or natural or particularly OK.

he endorses hillary clinton's recent golly-i-love-jesus-ness -- along with her acknowledgement that (wow, shocker) abortion is a difficult, serious, painful choice -- as a recognition that clinton knows what her party needs to do to "rebrand itself." thanks very much, mr. kristof, but on the whole i'm not thrilled with the idea that the theory and reality of reproductive rights (or the separation of church and state, or welfare benefits, or defense policy, for that matter) should be contingent on the success of a "rebranding" endeavor.

note, also, the complacency with which kristof reports that hillary's well-liked because she offers people coffee in meetings. or that such behavior constitutes a "makeover" that has been popular with new york voters. yes, that's right: women, the more you act like a fucking secretary, the more people are going to accept you. unless they live in the "heartland" of oregon (!?!?), in which case they never will.

but back to this branding issue. naomi klein has a good piece in the nation this month about the importance of disentangling concepts themselves from the marketing of said concepts, concentrating specifically on the bush administration's "rebranding" of its iraq policy. as if ink-stained fingers on billboards somehow excuse the fact of our dishonest, violent and generally mercenary incursion in that country. as is usual with me, i keep thinking about The Greeks in all of this. aristotle tells us that we can't take actions for the wrong reasons and expect good results. plato tells us, essentially, that the fact that we (as a society) like it doesn't mean it's good for us. i read about hillary clinton fetching coffee and speechifying about her prayer life, or about bush' reframing of the iraq debacle, and i long for the return of teleology and philosopher kings.

(ok, not entirely. but still:)

the impulse toward branding, commodifying and selling political debates as if they were widgets or bras or toothbrushes or fruit snacks sucks all the deliberation, reflection and decency out of the debating. it also, i think, explains americans' increasing tolerance for specious bullshit, decreasing attention spans for difficult facts, and homo economicus selfishness on the international scene.

here is a question, about which i will hopefully have time to write more later: given that we (progressives) need to market ourselves and our ideas in order to succeed, is there a way to do so responsibly? can it be catchy and powerful without being dishonest?