The Empty Branding Of The GOP

Taking the Bite Out of Politics

Among the many problems plaguing contemporary American politics is the proliferation of sound bite politics. The purpose of a sound bite is to capture the essence of a larger issue in the form of a single word or phrase; to simplify otherwise complex issues into quotable, easily-digestible buzzwords. Unfortunately, one need not look any further than the current GOP debates to see examples of this political pollution.

The recent GOP debates have provided fertile ground for the cultivation of various sound bites and buzzwords. Herman Cain branded himself with his “9-9-9” comprehensive tax reform plan and strategically plugged it into many of his speeches and debate responses. Championing the initiative not only for its simplicity and transparency but also for its effectiveness in reducing taxes, Cain and his litany-like recital of its principles actually ignored larger socioeconomic factors that necessitate a more nuanced tax code; in fact, economists have concluded that 9-9-9 would raise taxes for the majority of Americans .

And that is why sound bites are so problematic: there is an inherent contextual neglect. Take for instance Sarah Palin’s shameful 2009 attempt to malign federal health care legislation by coining the buzz term “death panels.” The term deliberately distorts the proposed legislation and erroneously evokes poignant images of government bureaucrats determining peoples’ health care options based on their social worth. Moreover, this arrant appeal to voters’ emotions signifies a designed contextual neglect—an intentional misinterpretation—that exposes an obvious anti-Obama agenda.

But this is the standard in Republican politics. Ron Paul is virtually inseparable from the phrases “sound money” and “end the federal reserve.” Rick Perry and Mitt Romney chatter incessantly about a “strong America” or the “American century,” and sadly the phrases “states’ rights,” “lower taxes,” and “increased military spending” sum up most of the debate content pretty accurately. So what happens when sound bites become the primary medium in which political opinions are transmitted?

Republicans Are Bad AT Government

As politicians continue to speak in nothing but buzzwords and sound bites, the American political psyche undergoes some subtle but substantial changes. In accordance with our consumer-based economy, politicians have commodified themselves, thus forcing voters (consumers) to shop for their favorite politicians. It’s like a supermarket shelf featuring several brands of the same food: the companies must make their brand stand out, so they place a giant sticker on their product that says “no high fructose corn syrup!” even though the food had none to begin with. Likewise, politicians vacuously attempt to market themselves through the empty branding of sound bites, desperately playing into the political proclivities of their respective base.

Thoughtful politics have no place in a political arena that functions like a business or like a supermarket. This means that the responsibility of thought lies in the voter. By informing one’s self and casting an incredulous eye to the media, voters can begin to parse reality from delusion—voters can read a politician’s list of ingredients rather than the fraudulent sound bites designed to make them sell.

But does the American public really want to take the time to fully immerse themselves in a particular issue? Or, in the drive-thru, instant-gratification, Internet era are Americans too apathetic to care beyond the abridged, sound bite version? While it could be argued that it is the media’s job to untangle these contextually negligent sound bites, it is often the media propagating them. With the 2012 election looming on the horizon, the American public must make the effort to listen beyond the sound bite and understand the context in which politicians make their claims. Because, really, it’s the difference between reality and a concocted American utopia that can never exist.


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