In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?
In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. The GOP would have you believe that they are dedicated to creating wealth while their opponents are committed to redistributing wealth. This is a powerful message in a nation framed by the Puritan work ethic.
The Democratic party does not at present have an effective counter-message that offers hope in ample measure. Their policies and promises paint a picture of a comparatively flat economic landscape. In essence, the party seems to say “if you want to have enough, we can help you.” This is a viable and valid message for a rational popultion, but in America’s media-saturated, hyper-consumerist culture “enough” is a glass ceiling message that doesn’t parse as “you can have X” – instead, it parses as “you can only have X.” People want to be well-off and if nothing else in the world is clear to us, it should be that hope trumps rationality every time. Successful political action must appeal to the public’s aspirations, because psychologically Americans are unwilling and unable to let go of the American Dream they’ve been fed since they were toddlers.
This must change. Now. (More…)