Politics—like almost everything else except getting herpes—is about marketing. Candidates are sold to the public in the same way as poorly constructed automobiles, ineffective deodorants, and phony erectile-dysfunction pills. Which explains why, when confronted by difficult issues, they break down, smell bad and go limp.
Effective campaigns aren’t about issues, which are complicated, messy subjects that require considerable research to understand and unbiased analysis to develop workable solutions. Instead, candidates’ inner circles focus on branding—finding catchphrases that capture the public’s attention, even if they have nothing to do with solving problems.
So far in this election cycle in Maine, Republicans have been doing a far better job of sloganeering than Democrats, who appear to have taken ersatz ED meds.
Take welfare, for instance. The average taxpayer believes that sizable numbers of those receiving food stamps, Medicaid, and general assistance are gaming the system. Sure, they base this assessment on what the Dems disparage as “anecdotal evidence.” But when nearly everyone has a welfare-cheat story to tell, the anecdotes outweigh the studies that claim abuse is rare because hardly anybody gets convicted of it.
What those studies really show is convictions are rare.
The GOP upped the ante when Governor Paul LePage announced he would no longer reimburse municipalities for general assistance payments to illegal aliens. Democrats howled that this was unconstitutional, but no matter how loud they shrieked, all the voters heard was something about stopping illegals from getting public money. That sounded pretty good to them.
The Dems have a valid point here. The LePage edict banned not only those who’ve slipped across the nation’s borders surreptitiously, but also immigrants seeking asylum, who aren’t necessarily here illegally. But valid points are not the same as telling points, and, when it comes to welfare, the Republicans have all of those.
According to Democratic leaders, Medicaid expansion is supposed to be the issue that decides this election. They blather on about the myriad consequences of not expanding eligibility to 70,000 more people. But while the Dems are making their complex arguments for this program, the non-Medicaid-receiving taxpayers are hearing the debate through the GOP’s filter. More Medicaid isn’t about increasing revenue to cash-strapped hospitals or improved preventive care. It’s about giving more welfare to the same slugs who are already ripping us off.
Democrats have also bungled the nursing home issue. Members of Maine’s older demographic are scared to death they won’t be able to get quality long-term care at facilities in their communities. Of course, being scared to death means they’ll never have to worry about that problem. Nevertheless, both parties have strongly supported increased funding for nursing homes.
But only one party gets credit for that.
In the final days of the last legislative session, LePage introduced a bill to hike state reimbursements to these facilities. As with most of the governor’s last-minute initiatives, it was crudely assembled, particularly its funding mechanism. Legislators, who’d already passed a significant increase in nursing-home funding, set about trying to find a fast fix for LePage’s flawed proposal, but the governor announced he’d veto the bill if it was amended. Democrats decided that rather than fighting the clock and LePage, they’d let the measure die.
And just like that, Republicans had won the branding battle.