The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


December 3, 2012

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Political branding key to future campaigns

— Barack Obama will never be “our lord and savior,” as actor Jamie Foxx said last week. But he is godlike at making people see him as a transformational figure.

If Republicans want to win, they should study why people see President Obama as a messiah and emulate the tactics he uses that are so powerful artists paint him as Christ crucified and hope embodied.

Ultimately, it comes down to branding, which Republicans are about as good at as unsuccessful Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin is at explaining “legitimate rape.” In fact, a computer program created by a child could be designing most Republican advertisements and campaign material, given that their motif for the past 50 years has been the same: flags and eagles combined with a candidate’s name.

Other conservative-libertarian symbols probably alienate more people than they attract. The Gadsden flag, for example, depicts a coiled, hissing rattlesnake underscored by “Don’t tread on me.” It may have been a perfect symbol for American revolutionaries and embody the tea party’s distrust of government. But times have changed — a lot. For starters, America is a lot more urban, and pop culture is paramount. Young people are mostly ignorant of American history, see the Constitution as a “living” document and are not moved by symbols of our past. In fact, they likely see them as relics of a slaveholding, oppressive society.

Art critic Jed Perl wrote in the Dec. 6 issue of The New Republic that the popularity of Andy Warhol, whose advertising-inspired loud prints of celebrities and consumables that fetch multimillions at auction, reveals the new America. “Warholism is the dominant ism of our day, grounded as it is in the assumption that popular culture trumps all other culture, and that all culture must become popular culture in order to succeed,” he wrote.

Many people hate pop culture and love America’s historic symbols, reminiscent though they may be of a flawed past. But we live in today’s world, not one where the Founding Fathers still walk the earth. It requires meeting people where they are — not changing principles, just approach.

Obama gets this. Why do you think he all but only visited comedy and talk shows the closing months of his campaign? He knew that winning the pop culture meant winning it all.

Likewise, and more importantly, the iconography created by his campaign resonates with the prevailing culture. The “O” with the bright sun and flowing fields conjures images of a brighter tomorrow with Obama at the center of it — the sun, or the son as Jamie Foxx and others have labeled him. The “O” obviously stands for Obama, but it works outside of his name as an emblem for America. The Democratic National Committee, in fact, keeps using the symbol instead of the presidential seal. Commentator Bill Whittle says of the ubiquitous O: “What they are branding is in fact an ideology, centered around a cult of personality.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s brand — red and blue wavy lines in the shape of an “R,” by comparison — is like a bad copycat. The flow of the lines makes it feel somewhat modern, and it summons the U.S. flag. But the “R” in his case speaks mainly to the candidate without invoking a better, or any, vision of America.

Politics do not offer salvation for anyone, conservative or liberal alike. And adopting successful tactics does not mean shelving a belief in a limited government.

But icons are powerful tools that shape a candidate or a movement’s image in the public. Given the success of Obama’s image machine, conservatives need to understand branding is at least as central to their cause as the ideas animating it. When or if that happens, progressives will not know what hit them, because freedom and prosperity are so much more appealing than a government forcing each person to pay his or her fair share.

Marta H. Mossburg writes about national affairs and politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her at

Text Only
  • Our View.jpg Our View: Pledge must be priority

    Mike Seibert, after being elected Joplin’s mayor on Monday, immediately pledged that the city will be operating with transparency.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your View: Free choice

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) regarding right-to-work seems to assume that if workers are given the choice of joining a union, they won’t join.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Serious drawbacks

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) lays out clearly and persuasively the serious drawbacks with so-called right-to-work legislation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Step aside

    The people of Joplin made it clear they wanted change at City Hall with their decisive votes to replace two council members.

    April 16, 2014

  • Geoff Caldwell, columnist: Government without apology or explanation

    Americans feel closest to their Uncle Sam at this time of year as he extends his hand for his “fair share” to fund his numerous endeavors.

    April 16, 2014

  • Phill Brooks, columnist: Value of outside fiscal experts for government

    Missouri recently lost a man who had been one of the state’s tax leaders of decades past.

    April 15, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Hate hurts us all

    Investigators say Sunday’s shooting of three people — two at a Jewish community center and another at a retirement complex in Overland Park, Kan. — were hate crimes.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Other Views Other Views: State’s theatrics

    Conservatives in the Kansas Legislature have taken advantage of a serious problem — inequities in public school funding — to attack teachers and create new problems.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Joan Banks, guest columnist: Right-to-work isn’t what’s right for Missouri

    Right-to-work legislation is up in the air right now in the Missouri Legislature.  Last week, the bill failed to get enough votes to advance to the Senate, but supporters are working to get those votes and move it forward.

    April 14, 2014

  • Our View: A hand across

    Have you ever needed $20 to help you get by until payday, a ride to work when your car wouldn’t start or someone responsible to watch your children for a few hours?
    Of course you have, and odds are you picked up the phone and there was someone on the other end willing to help.

    April 13, 2014

Local News
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter

The Supreme Court may take up a challenge to an Ohio law that bars false statements about political candidates during a campaign. Do you think false accusations made in the heat of an election should be punished as a crime?

A. Yes.
B. No.
     View Results
NDN Video
Disbanding Muslim Surveillance Draws Praise Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Boston Bomb Scare Defendant Appears in Court Pistorius Trial: Adjourned Until May 5 Diaz Gets Physical for New Comedy Raw: Ferry Sinks Off South Korean Coast Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast Freeze Leaves Florida Panhandle With Dead Trees At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict? Raw: Fatal Ferry Boat Accident Suspicious Bags Found Near Marathon Finish Line Boston Marks the 1st Anniversary of Bombing NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program 8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Sex Offenders Arrested in Slayings of CA Women India's Transgenders Celebrate Historic Ruling Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge