Saturday, September 13, 2008

How I Lost to Sarah Palin

From the moment she took the podium and began her convention speech, I knew exactly who Sarah was, for me.  Attractive, sassy, plain-spoken, clear-cut, congenial, throwing the moose meat to a crowd eager for change and hope.  Unprepared for the task ahead but blithely unaware of what she was stepping into.  Yep, it was her, but also not her, it was him!!  Tom P., the man who defeated me for high school student body president.

Back in the day, I was a smart, earnest, somewhat popular geek who had taken an interest in student government, the debate team, and drama club, and I knew how to give a good speech.  I was elected class president, served on the student council executive committee, and had planned to run for student body president from early on in my high school career.  I loved politics and was active in political campaigns in the northern suburbs of Chicago back in the 70s.  Ab Mikva and Adlai III were my teenage political ‘crushes’ from those years. 

As it turned out, I didn’t know much about politics after all, and Tom gave me a lesson I never forgot.  At a student assembly a few days before the election, we delivered our first (and only) campaign speeches to the ‘masses’.  I stepped up to the podium with mine, full of lofty ideas, plans and programs for the year ahead, and quotes from Frost and other writers and political leaders I admired.  Nerdy, but a good speech, actually---well, at least the teachers loved it.  J  Tom followed me, and his performance was charming, powerful, and memorable, not so much for the power of his ideas, which were lacking, but for his ability to position himself as one of the crowd, and deliver a few one-liners about putting one’s pants on a leg at a time, reminding us about our common ground.  He positioned his candidacy as the guy from the shop class who was now ready to lead.  He won the crowd over immediately.  My moose was cooked.  I lost (narrowly) in the election a few days later.

 I’ve since gone on into the media business, where that lesson, among others from my teens, still resonates.  My first magazine job was in circulation and direct marketing, and I was taught a basic principle of marketing early on---selling the sizzle, not the steak.  I learned that purchase decisions, planned or impulse, are partially rational assessments of product attributes, but they are mostly driven by affect---how the decision to buy makes us feel.  And I learned a lot about how to use this principle to sell a variety of media products to diverse market segments over the years.

We buy products, fall in love, or elect public officials in many of the same ways.  For better or worse, we don’t inspect the ingredients on a can of soup, ask a first date for a resume and recommendations, or chart out candidates’ credentials, programs, and qualifications one against the other.  The Republicans know this and live this, and we don’t.  Sarah P, her presumptive boss, and the rest of that crowd are going to give us more of a taste of this during this election cycle.  And, incredibly, we’re buying it---again.  Almost 50 days to go.  Barack, where’s the beef??  And the sizzle?




  1. Wouldn't it be amazing if, this time, Americans voted firmly rooted in their intelligence and compassion, instead from of their complacency and bigotry-flavored fear?

  2. Had you known then what you know now...E would have made "Hockey Uncle" signs.