“Sarah Palin is the whole package. There couldn't be a better vice presidential pick.”
President of the Susan B. Anthony List (a “pro-life” group)
Not Buying It
“Sarah Palin—The Package Looks Better But The Poison Will Make You Just As Sick”
–A headline from the Down With Tyranny blog
For some time now, we’ve thought of presidential politics in terms of packaging. (See The Selling of the President 1968) A shocking and ironic idea in 1968—that a political candidate would be packaged like a product—but, business-as-usual by 2008. Decades ago voters had to be persuaded to trust a candidate. Today we just call that “buying in.”
So it comes as no surprise to us when news reports, editorial columns, and the politicians, themselves speak of Governor Palin as a package—although McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate has also been called a surprise package. The Republican Party’s presentation of the Governor of Alaska to the rest of the country was really more of a product launch than an introduction.
Politicians and political candidates are not the only type of metaphorical packaging in politics. The legislation they pass or vote down—veto or sign into law—is also a package. Hence, the Alaska headline: “Governor Palin signs energy package.” Or America’s favorite: the “Economic Stimulus Package”
Speaking of which, my favorite quote about Bush’s “Economic Stimulus Package” is from Barbara Ehrenreich:
“With all the talk about how to stimulate it, you’d think that the economy is a giant sex organ. Ben Bernanke may not employ this imagery, but the immediate challenge—and the issue bound to replace Iraq and immigration in the presidential race—is how best to get the economy engorged and throbbing again.”
from This Land is Their Land
(Which brings us to certain other meanings of the word package.) I didn’t watch much of the Republican convention, but I caught some of Palin’s speech, and my ears pricked up when I heard how she described her husband.
“He’s a lifelong commercial fisherman … a production operator in the oil fields of Alaska’s North Slope … a proud member of the United Steel Workers’ Union … and world champion snow machine racer. Throw in his Yup’ik Eskimo ancestry, and it all makes for quite a package.”
–Sarah Palin in her Republican convention speech
That Palin—herself “a package”—should also describe her husband as “a package,” shows that it’s not just politicians who get metaphorically compared to packages. I’d say, it’s become quite the cultural norm to compare ones self and ones loved ones to inanimate product packages. But why has packaging become the metaphor-du-jour? The dehumanizing effects of “personal branding” in a free and unfettered market?
According to writer, Lucus Conley, personal branding is…
“… conceptualizing an individual as a product on a shelf and strategizing how best to market that product to the world. But personal branding isn’t a theoretical exercise —it’s a symptom of a chronic cultural disorder resulting from society’s prolonged overexposure to branding.”
Obsessive Branding Disorder
If it’s cultural disease, it’s one we all now share and have learned to live with. Still, the idea of “packaging” a potentially succeeding president as “Pitbull with Lipstick Brand” or “Socially-Conservative Hockey-Mom Brand” perhaps trivializes the gravity of our choice. If we accept that these candidates are like products on the shelf, then maybe we feel like it’s no big deal whether we reach for a political Coke or political Pepsi when we’re in the voting booth.
Certainly the Republicans are not the only ones packaging their message. Obama’s campaign has enjoyed great success in making the Democrats the “Change Brand.” So much so, that now John McCain’s campaign is engaging in a kind of trademark infringement. The recent switch in republican strategy from “Experienced War Hero Brand” to “Maverick Change Brand” is a little like some abusive, cheating husband pleading with his wife as she leaves him, “Baby, I can change!”
I’m a little worried that, with all this deceptive-labeling of the “new-and-improved Republican Change Brand” there is a likelihood of confusion for political consumers.
I’m hoping all you younger political consumers will show up in droves at the polls. If you’ve never voted before, let this election be your first presidential purchase. (And if you haven’t already, please don’t forget to pick up your local voter registration package before next month’s deadline!)
Beach Packaging Design