This is not a political blog. This is not necessarily a political post. This is not a condemnation of policy positions. This is simply an observation about Brand America. I recently came across an interview that was done with Lamar Alexander (R-TN) by Ezra Klein, a blogger with the Washington Post. Much of what he said is neither here nor there in relation to what this blog is about. However a few of the things he said struck me as powerfully... well, weak and off brand. Just listen to this:
We’d be better off if we set a clear goal and took discrete steps towards that goal. We can accomplish more that way.
That would be the conclusion that a lot of people will come to. The way professors and academicians and lawyers approach a problem is to try to rationalize large areas of society and come to a general conclusion. But most people don’t live and work that way.
But I think it’s more the nature of the country. If we were Belgium or Denmark, we could do comprehensive things all day long. But we’re 300 million people. Anything comprehensive doesn’t seem to work very well. Over 30 years in public life I’ve had more success when I’ve tackled problems step by step.
I think this whole thing is conceptual and philosophical. I think thinking a small group of people are smart enough to impose, by law, a top-to-bottom change, is too much.
and last but certainly not least...
But over the past two years, I’ve looked at all these issues and come to the conclusion that the policy skeptics are right. We don’t do comprehensive well in the Senate. It’s not because we don’t do our job well. It’s because we’re such a complicated country.
Wow. I barely know where to begin. I was under the impression that America was a place where we can accomplish great things. Large scale things. Things like ending Fascism and sending a man to the moon. What happened to the idea that when America gets its act together it can do anything? This kind of message, from a senator seems, to me, to be a stunning admission of uselessness and seems to only feed into a cynicism about what the United States is capable of. And it's shockingly off brand.
Beyond the idealized version of ourselves that we have as Americans, it is simply a basic fact that the world looks to America to lead. We have been referred to as the beacon on the hill, the land of opportunity, home of the free and we've translated that language and promise into results. This is the definition of a brand.
A senator essentially comes out and says America can no longer make big changes or strides is pretty unbelievable. Particularly one coming from a party and state that usually trumpets the populist mantra of power to the people. He goes on to cede forward thinking to Belgium and Denmark. Suddenly those sadistic Euro-Socialist regimes are the new nations of change. It's like Google ceding search to Yahoo.
A problem for a brand is when you start to let the promises get smaller and smaller, people believe that's all you're capable of. Successful brands go for the big sweeping idea. They deliver or they fail. The lesser brands keep getting more conservative to the point they are no longer useful. So, what is America's promise, and how are we going to deliver?