Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Democrats dogged by stimulus branding

What's in a name? A lot, and not too surprisingly, the Democrats are showing their penchant for allowing themselves to be out-framed by the Republicans due to clumsy naming and branding.

While most of the pundits are portraying the politics swirling around the stimulus bill as partisanship and philosophy (i.e., government spending vs. tax credits and tax cuts), I suggest that much of it is actually about brands, names and frames.

Let's start with brand: Ask anyone about the big economic debate in Washington, and what are you going to hear? The stimulus bill or the stimulus package. That is the brand -- meaning, that's what the bill is promising to offer, an economic stimulus.

Now let's look at the name: The bill that is being developed to help get America out of its economic pit is called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill.

There is a clear divergence between the brand and the name, and that's a problem. A big problem. Here's why: The goals, expectations, scope and costs surrounding a recovery and reinvestment bill should be far-reaching, sustainable and strategic. In contrast, the goals, expectations, scope and costs supporting a stimulus bill should be quick, targeted and short-lived.

How, then, can a bill named recovery and reinvestment ever live up to its brand as a stimulus bill? Short answer, it can't.

As Democrats work to make the best recovery and reinvestment bill in their power, they are being pummeled by Republicans (and the media) for looking like liberal kids in a progressive candy store. This is inevitable, because through the lens of the brand, the Democrats are essentially pimping out a what is understood to be a stimulus bill to include much of what Obama campaigned on -- a re-investment in America's infrastructure, values and long-term economic sustainability.

Democrats have every right to craft the best recovery and reinvestment bill they can draft. But everyone else also has a right to complain that they are shoehorning reinvestment ideology into what has been branded as a stimulus.

In the final analysis, I lay blame on Obama and the Democrats for this political problem. They should have named and scoped this economic stimulus bill in alignment with how it is branded: a short-term, high-impact, politically uniting package that jump-starts the economy in 2009. If President Obama would have led the congress to first draft a narrow stimulus bill for a big, post-partisan win, it would have garnered him more political capital for his larger battles ahead.

1 comment:

Be sure to see the follow-up to this post here: http://www.betweenthecolumns.com/2009/02/less-stimulating-stimulus.html