By Dean Crutchfield
Washington politics have served themselves up like fries and bacon: lacking nutrition, pitiful for your heart and a hard habit to kick. Apparently not any more according to Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times, “Make way for the radical center”, an article last Sunday that promises to “flatten the incumbents and let the people in” with the launch of Americans Elect, a nonprofit political organization that plans to select a Presidential candidate for 2012 and transform American politics via the internet by becoming a platform for action.
With the serendipitous expansion of digital networks, digital groups and cultures are exploding. American Elect is aiming to be a new century brand that plans create itself entirely – leveraged by the power of digital communities – by placing people at the center of the experience. It’s already expanding new value pools by creating a networking system for recommending people who share similar views.
Our Founding Fathers abhorred electioneering; political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution, they were frowned upon yet they were born out of an ideological debate about the nature of Government. In the election of 1828, Jackson called themselves the “Democratic Party” and the Adams faction, the “National Republicans” proving grassroots politics are very much like grass roots new century brand building – it all starts with that key element, a belief in a “transformative idea”. Their category buster according to Americans Elect:
“The first-ever open presidential nominating process. No special interests. No agendas. No partisanship.”
New century brands have to take a position which depositions the opposition. The case for Americans Elect is a polarizing Two Party system that stymies debate, chokes choice that quashes voter involvement. The beltway is about to experience a radical
transformation and Americans Elect eyes an untapped opportunity to act and feel differently by enabling supporters to proactively take part in the forming of the party and even be able to become candidates online – a truly transformative platform for action. That takes leadership, the second element: vision without action is a daydream, and action without vision is a nightmare.
Pundits are already asking who will be Americans Elect’s candidate? Who are the people floating it? The credible handful of American Elect Board members are throwing some sops our way like “the rules will come from the community” but questions remain about public identification of funders. It’s early days, but transparency is critical for a new century political brand that pledges “a greater voice for all Americans, no matter their party. Every registered voter can be a delegate. Any constitutionally eligible citizen can be a candidate.”
People react one of three ways: resignation, anger or possibility. Therefore, a critical second element for Americans Elect will be a leadership who can turn the hard into the possible: adamantine protestation regarding the phalanx of powerful interests marshalling their influence daily in Washington to usurp the voices of the people. To do so will require this leader to be seen like an all terrain military combat vehicle. Sadly however, those who often seek office are perceived to be self-indulged rather than have the public good in mind. If Americans Elect finds a leader who proves to be a lightning rod figure charging into the public fray it will bolster its credibility, and it’s chance of success and it is a direction that has to be made clear by Americans Elect:
“We’re using the Internet to give every single voter – Democrat, Republican or independent – the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012.”
Obstacles remain as there are laws that preserve the stability of the Two Party system, e.g. single member districts, restrictive ballots laws, etc and it’s always been tough to ink your name on the ballot without a major party. This is the first-ever open nomination using an Internet convention to elect the candidate, and the uniqueness will garnish millions of dollars of earned media attention and potentially attract millions of supporters, but with what belief? As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I’m stumbling, but at least I’m stumbling in the right direction.”
Therefore, the third element of a new century brand is the core support that surrounds the leadership, playing a pivotal role instilling the belief of the movement and its operational success. The core activity for any party is to generate funds, build Platforms and entice new members, followed with the nomination process, candidate support and the entire process of working in Government to get policies installed. Americans Elect have some smart folks with deep pockets, but a new century brand, like the recommendation engine for Amazon or the power of reviews on eBay, is all about active
participation from the consumer. According to the web site of Americans Elect,
“The people will choose the issues. The people will choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the ballot in every state.”
Third parties typically don’t expect to win and they often die when they do. Victory conditions for Americans Elect rest between being a supreme example of eternal taciturnity and enigmatic wisdom couched in stoic silence or proclaiming shame on us for groveling at the sphincter of extreme left/right wing shibboleths.
Our passion for innovation, acquisition and exchange drives America and should drive the purpose of Americans Elect, not patriotism: the last refuge of a scoundrel, as remarked Samuel Johnson, the 17th century British lexicographer.
Politicking and brand are interdependent and this will become prolific following the Supreme Court 5-4 decision that allows corporations the same right to donate as individual citizens. The advent of the Internet as a social catalyst and the phenomena of social sharing have spawned a new model for (political) new century brands to distribute points of view, reinvent categories and rally a movement. In this case challenging a Two Party system that has simply run out of brand equity. Add to that changes in voter’s behaviors and the unprecedented growth online, the territory is ripe for cheap, rallying and profitable ways – with innovative campaigns – to engage the fourth element, voters.
As the August Guns prepare us to fight a sluggish Japan-like economy, Americans Elect would be wise to learn from the legend of three great Shoguns that united Japan. The first, Oda, united Japan with brutality: “If the bird will not sing, kill it.” His suc¬ces¬sor, Toku¬gawa, real¬ized the aggressive mis¬take and decided Japans’ new phi¬los¬o¬phy would be of patience: “If the bird will not sing, wait for its song.” Finally, the third shogun, Hideyoshi, reflected back on the mis¬takes of the pre¬vi¬ous two and united Japan with the phi¬los¬o¬phy of: “If the bird will not sing, make it sing.” Now please, if that’s okay.