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Bizarro World 1992

I'm really not into politics. I think this is a direct result of having worked politics a couple of years in Washington, DC (many years ago) and seeing how the sausage there is made. But with that, like everyone else, I do get captured by good political theater. And this year's Democratic race has been great theater.

I actually remember quite vividly 1992, the year the country first contemplated electing a Clinton to the national scene. Clinton the 1st (Bill) was at the time best known as an inexperienced candidate (his service being limited to Arkansas state politics) who gave one of THE most boring political speeches ever (the 1988 Democratic national convention speech).

His opponent on the other hand, was a different matter. Bush the 1st was the sitting President of the US. In addition, he was a former Vice President, congressman from Texas, ambassador and director of the CIA. During his tenure as President and Vice President, the US had won 1 cold war and 2 real wars (Panama and Gulf War I), come out of a vicious recession and set the ground work for one of the most comprehensive free trade agreements in history. Pretty impressive.

Looking at their resumes, 1992 hardly seemed like a fair fight. But we all know what happened - the governor of Arkansas became the 42nd President of the United States.

So what happened? How did David upset Goliath? What was the slingshot? Call it whatever you like - messaging, positioning, marketing, branding - but that's where the answer lies.

Most people don't have the time or the inclination to understand the different nuanced approaches each candidate has on issues like health care, taxes, etc. But they don't need to. Issue stances are the ingredient lists on the box cover. Sure the candidate needs to know them, but that's not what sells. People don't buy paper towels because of the grade of fiber in the towel, they buy Bounty because its the quicker picker upper. Campaigns are no different. They need to give people a reason to vote for their candidate - and that's not the ingredients list. Pick a word and own it.

In 1992, Clinton was the became the candidate of change. He was literally the guy from Hope (Ark.). He was the heir to Camelot - remember the video of him shaking Jack Kennedy's hand when he was a kid? His campaign song was Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. And what was the problem he was going to solve? Why, the economy stupid. He was young, energetic, optimistic and likeable. That was his brand. He knew the details but didn't run on them.

His opponent, on the other hand, was the candidate of the past. His accomplishments were many and his campaign's chief attribute was his resume. He had a resume, experience and judgment. Unfortunately, none of that mattered. He got positioned as establishment guy who broke his "no new taxes" pledge. And we all know how that campaign ended.

Anyway, I bring this up because as I look at today's Democratic race it seems like a bizarro world 1992. Did Hilary really learn nothing from he husband? (Or from pretty much EVERY OTHER modern presidential campaign?) The candidate of hope, optimism and vision always wins. People want to be inspired, they want to be LED. That's what they expect from their leaders - that's the job of being a leader. Bill knew this. He acted like a president, not a middle manager policy wonk. Don't stop thinking abut tomorrow, it'll soon be here.

Can you imagine Bill Clinton running an ad asking American's whether they want an inexperienced person answering the phone at 3 Am? Or asking what his opponent had accomplished in the Senate? No. Those are bad arguments. Bill was all about sunshine, and optimism and the future. Unfortunately for Hilary, as far as 2008 goes, those are the brand of her opponent.

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Comments (1)

Katie:

Hi Mike,

Was reminiscing of the old days and came across your blog. I am back in town with my family and we are talking about our brief stint in Mt. Lebo. Great to see you are doing well.

Katie Metzger

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