Republicans: PR-challenged

By Kelly Hollowell

I’ve heard it said “if you’re not a Democrat in college you have no heart, and if you’re not a Republican once you’re out, you have no mind.”

However clich?, it was true for me. I was pretty idealistic in my college days – well, pretty idealistic and pretty ignorant of politics. I was a science major and lived most of my days buried in the biology lab. When I lifted my head from the petri dish, the party that appeared to care most about “women, children, minorities and working Americans” just appealed to me.

Once I actually took the time to evaluate the differences in the party platforms, I realized I was not a Democrat at all but a closet Republican. So I came out of the closet based solely on the issues. Yet to my surprise, I often found myself still drawn by the facile marketing skills of the Democratic Party that lured me in on little more than appearances in the first place. I also wondered why the Republican Party provided so little curb appeal to college students, minority groups and blue-collar Americans.

Even more today, Democrats give the appearance through very attractive and racially diverse spokesmen that “they are willing to compromise, work in coalitions and be practical about what they can accomplish.” They have party slogans and team rhetoric memorized and on the tips of their collective tongues.

In the midst of complicated issues, they effectively use sound bites to convey their messages to the American people. Their platform message (true or not) is that they care about people, all people, but especially the little guy. At the same time, they paint Republicans (true or not) as uncompromising, religious zealots led by stiff-collared businessmen from the South – which is exactly how Republicans look and act in most public forums.

The marketing skills handled so deftly by the Democrats are important. Who can argue? These skills can reach far into everyday news and events that ultimately reveal their influence on Election Day.

Want an up-to-date example?

Last week, the AP reported on the critical to lukewarm public views of public schools in light of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 signed into law by President Bush in 2002.

This legislation, which now dominates the national debate on education, is designed to improve student achievement by overhauling the public-school system. The overhaul requires, among other things, measurable progress among all groups of students and penalties for schools that fall short.

The need for such dramatic education reform couldn’t be more obvious or immediate. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “since 1965, the federal government has spent more than $321 billion to help educate disadvantaged children. Yet nearly 40 years later, only 32 percent of fourth-graders can read skillfully at grade level. Most of the 68 percent who can’t read well are minority children and those who live in poverty.”

So are people supporting the new legislation and praising the Republican Party for attempting to reform our failing public-school system? No.

This reflects nothing more than a good Republican work going unrecognized and under-capitalized politically due to the failed public relations and abysmal marketing skills of the Republican Party. Simply put, this is a HUGE opportunity missed, because the blame for the horribly failed conditions of our public schools rests squarely with the Democrats and liberals.

Everyone knows that teachers unions are the largest special-interest group of the Democratic Party. That means Democrats and liberals have controlled every major school system in the nation for more than 50 years. That said, the American people should be rallying behind the Republican-sponsored initiative at education reform.

They aren’t, because few people know what this legislation is. They don’t know exactly why it’s needed or how it is intended to work. The massive media campaign necessary to connect such a needed and aspiring program to the people never happened.

Worse, this is only one example of a botched opportunity to improve the “caring” curb appeal of the Republican Party to the American people.

So it goes, mostly through the magic of good marketing, Democrats are portrayed as caring, easy-going and smooth by very affable and good-looking spokesmen easily drawing in large voting blocks of Americans. Republicans, on the other hand, speak mostly from the head – not the heart – often sounding uptight, uncomfortable and legalistic. (Fox News’ Hannity and Colmes are exceptions to both these stereotypes.) But if Republicans could learn a few basic people skills in communicating their platform and accomplishments, they would become known as the Party of the People – because in truth they are.

Even better – they might even win the next election.