A New Age of Liberalism?


I don’t think that Barack Obama’s election signifies the coming of a new liberal era any more than I think the United States was a center-right country during the majority of the Bush years. But it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s more significant that there’s a widespread perception that American attitudes — and perhaps even “American culture” — have changed fundamentally over the past six months.
Interestingly, Random House and The Nation are banking on this change in their marketing strategy for The Nation’s Guide to the Nation, a guidebook to liberal America that they released yesterday. When it comes to divining how political attitudes affect book sales, Random House and The Nation are about as authoritative a partnership as we’ll ever find and, through their marketing materials, they’ve given us a window into their thinking. Whether or not they actually believe liberalism is on the march, they’re pretty sure that marketing to emboldened liberals is the way to sell books.
It’s pretty clear that six months ago, they believed liberals were feeling demoralized and isolated. The July 18 promotion letter from Vintage Books, part of the RH company, begins:

“Are you in need of a strong drink after the Bush presidency? Unfortunately, I can’t mail you a vodka gimlet, but instead, the book that accompanies this letter offers suggestions for a progressively-leaning pub in your area.”

The post-election promotion flyer tells a different story. It opens with a montage of pictures with the text “Helping you find your way in this new age of liberalism” front and center. Page 3 is pretty clearly a revision of the July 18 promotion letter, but it reads:

“Ready to celebrate the election of Barack Obama? Why not give a toast at the left-leaning bar in your area?Or maybe you’d prefer a cup of coffee from the local cafe where they serve up both fair trade beans and an activism-oriented message. Or you could just want to settle down with the liberal talk radio station broadcasting from a station near you…This phenomenon-to-be will be published as a Vintage Books Trade Paperback Original this January, just in time for the inauguration of Barack Obama, and the ushering in of a new era of liberal culture.”

In case there was any doubt, a friend of mine at Vintage confirms that the new language reflects a deliberate shift in marketing strategy based on what they see as changes in consumer attitudes.
Obviously, this holds both promise and peril for Democrats and the Obama administration. Just as the myth of “center-right America” created space for the Bush agenda (and a sense in Congress that Members are politically constrained from supporting commonsense, internationalist foreign policy choices), the idea of a “new age of liberalism” can grease the wheels for some long-overdue progressive policy changes. The danger here is the expectation that broad, sweeping liberal change is on the horizon, which it probably isn’t (the disappointment in some circles with Obama’s cabinet choices is Exhibit A).
As an aside, The Nation’s Guide is pretty cool. I wish I’d picked it up a few days ago before I left Salt Lake City — I definitely would have popped into the One World Cafe, where patrons determine portion sizes and pay what they think is fair or volunteer in the kitchen or garden. Not a bad system for the visitor on a student budget.
— Scott Paul


7 comments on “A New Age of Liberalism?

  1. Jake Barlow says:

    It would genuinely be exciting if Liberal Ideas were truly gaining in popularity, but I seriously have my doubts. That said, it would only take a brilliantly sublime marketing campaign – well-timed seasonally – to cause a sea change in opinion.
    If anything, Apple has at least taught the world that people don’t know what they want until they’re told what it is they truly want.
    Of course, Apple is not all that Genius. Evangelical ministers, Shamans, priests, used car salesmen, and quite a few dictators have known this Secret since they first began preaching the gospel and inciting the masses. The secret to the success of these masters of message is to first assess what it is people are looking for, or to discover what they are missing. Once that is figured out, the rest is simply manipulating their emotions adroitly enough to imbue your product with the features .
    Marketing 101. Saturation and Domination.
    But in a country – nay, world – saturated with and dominated by dumbed-down, Wal-Mart-style wholesale Conservative ideology, we are all in dire need of a targeted messaging campaign to popularize critical thinking and celebrate common sense.
    It’s nice to see someone trying.


  2. Sam says:

    And 6 months from now – “Sobering up to the fact that even Barack Obama couldn’t stop the death march of our economy?…” I really really hope that “New Age of Liberalism” isn’t just a euphemism for “moment of desperation before the 2nd great depression”


  3. pw says:

    I think we’re a pretty judgmental nation. We find ourselves needing hard-and-fast labels more, perhaps, than most political adults in other countries. So, for example, “socialism” has become a bugaboo here when in fact socialism may not be what you and I embrace but it’s a perfectly respectable political option in other democracies.
    What Americans seem to believe lately is that you’re liberal or conservative — or, say, an outlier like a libertarian or Christian rightie. In fact, most of us are a mix, something we find out when we come up against the pc gangs in each of our major parties. A “leftie,” what drew me to Obama from the start was his mix of beliefs, not because he and I would agree on everything. He has shown real political maturity, very possibly because of his experiences in other countries and because he himself doesn’t fall into any particular category. He’s neither black nor white in any sense of those terms and, in that, is much more like most of us who are liberal in our willingness to accept differences but who may have strong personal beliefs we wouldn’t for the world try to foist on others. The Republicans’ hard turn to the right was not a philosophical but a political choice. Now they’re paying the price for demanding that people join them in the narrowest possible space. Americans, for the most part, like their spaces open, accessible and not shaped like bear traps!


  4. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The pragmatists have justified reasons to doubt that the incoming US administarion under Barack Obama may be able to adopt a policy of divorcement regarding the influence and leverage of institutional liberalism, now dominating the US-foreign policy in the dark shades of neoutilitarianism.


  5. ootb says:

    The thrust of the article seems to suggest that whatever inclination is expressed, right or left, it is all a product of marketing. Bullshit. We have endured 8 years of misgovernment – that must be undeniable to any decent, rational human. Quit trying to smooth it out.


  6. JohnH says:

    LIBERAL? Surely, you jest.
    It doesn’t take much time in Latin America to realize that (Norte) Americanos have lost the vocabulary of liberalism. How can they be liberal, when they lack the ability to even articulate liberal concepts?


  7. TonyForesta says:

    The political pendulumn is supposed to swing back and forth periodically, – but since force of American politics has been held ruthlessly on the right for eight brutal years, – there is a significant amount of progressive tension and enertia pent up that is going to find expression. There can be little doubt that the animal spirits of progressive politics are eager to have their day.
    I personally doubt the powersthatbe (the predator class that owns and controls the mechanics of government and our socalled representatives) will allow any real significant change, – and though any incremental movement toward progressive or liberal policies will be more than welcome, – I am hoping and praying for a swift return and restoration of the rule of law and the Constitution first and foremost, and an equally swift rejection and repudiation of the lawlessness, and systemic treachery, deception, treasons, betrayals and criminality that defined America under odious reign of the bushgov.


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