I had an epiphany at the Americans For Prosperity Town Hall meeting here in Waukesha on Saturday morning. I realized that marketing, not facts, wins elections. In our collaborative post, Phil Scarr and I provided fancy charts and graphs to dispute many of the AFP’s factually inaccurate statements, and we made some jokes at their expense. But it would be disingenuous of me to exclude these findings: the AFP event was tight, I secretly coveted their marketing capabilities, and it would behoove liberals to utilize their methods.
Now, before some radio show host goes all knee-jerk reaction on me, I will clarify: I am NOT saying we should be more like the Wisconsin GOP. But taking a page from its strategic playbook would prove incredibly useful. Yes, we’re in the right, and we should be able to just talk about all of the horrible things Walker has done to our state in the last year (too numerous to list here) to get him out of office.
Unfortunately, though, it isn’t enough to be “right,” not in the age of reality television. Like reality t.v., what you get from the GOP isn’t always “real.” But it doesn’t matter because both have mastered the art of editing. With editing power, reality has become somewhat irrelevant, as it was at the AFP Town Hall.
The entire event was carefully orchestrated and the true reality of what Walker has done to the middle-class in Wisconsin was scrubbed, sanitized, and handed back to the audience in an easily digestible format. From the nine minute video to the messaging that never once veered off track to the panel discussion that allowed the audience to feel included, the AFP had it going on. It was executed with military precision; not a second was wasted. It felt less like a political event and more like a motivational seminar.
The AFP even told the audience up-front that they weren’t there to talk politics; they were there to spread the “good news” about the reality-that the Walker Way was working. The whole event was slightly evangelical in nature, but it was damn effective. Eight hundred and fifty people left that Town Hall, free dvd in hand, invigorated, empowered, and eager to spread The Word of Walker.
I have attended many events in my thirteen-year career as an activist, some very well put-together and successful…but none quite like the AFP’s. I would encourage liberals to attend events like this one (if they can stomach it) to see for themselves what we’re up against, and what we could do to tighten our messaging and marketing techniques.
I don’t have all the answers, far from it. But I do know that if we assume we’re going to win the recall because the facts are on our side and obvious, we’ll all be in for a big shock come election time.
I recognize that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has a messaging system already in place. I understand that the Wisconsin GOP has the funds to assist with its fancy marketing provided, in part, by the Koch brothers. But I’m also unwilling to accept the premise that we can’t amp up our own marketing, AFP-style, so that we can WIN.