Monday, 25 October 2010

Why has the Obama Brand Eroded so fast, and by so much? And what can we learn?

Barack Obama became the President in a landslide victory. He had history on his side, being the first African American to make it to the most powerful role in the world. To top it all, he had found an entirely new way of engaging with the community, leveraging technology, web20, and in the process creating a lot of records- in the way his campaign was funded, in the way he created and engaged a huge grassroots movement , in the way he brought an entire generation to voting booths etc

And Yet!

On November 2nd the Democrats are expected to be roundly routed. Despite 8 years of Bush, the Republican base has never been as energised as now, with the Tea Party movement adding to the energy and the zeal, and in the process giving all of us a lot of media moments... His own popularity has dipped – he is now more unpopular than he is popular. (48.4% disapprove vs 42.3% approve) All this in a very short time- talk about short honeymoons...

So what on earth happened? He has not committed any gaffes, he has not had his character besmirched in a big way – let’s not forget, Clinton survived Lewinsky, he has not done anything that was not done by his predecessors – the 1930s deep recession, where Roosevelt held onto power, for instance, saw a lot more expansion in government. And, it is not as if the democrats have crumbled as a party- to my mind, the wave of “lobbying power a’la Jack Abramoff” delivered much bigger blows to the republican establishment.

So what went wrong?

To my mind, he committed a cardinal error. Prevailing thinking in today’s first world- not just the United States, which is dominated by the “middle class”, is focused on career growth and wealth/asset accumulation over their career spans. Yes, the recession has put a big dent on their plans currently, but it has not changed their focus- wealth accumulation.

And they see Obama as standing in their way! His advocated big Government is seen as a barrier to individual wealth creation, both in terms of conventional American wisdom of “free-market” thinking, and in terms of obvious wastages and inefficiencies that are very visible in routing any spending through governmental budgets, let alone the mega bucks that Obama put through the Big Bailout and the Healthcare Bill. The Telegraph has a good article that explores this if you want to read more.

And that sentiment has been exploited by Republicans, through the Tea Party movement. Unlike establishment Republicans, who could not speak out against Obama because of their very own Bush excesses, the so called Tea Party fringe, which is, make no mistake, absolutely Republican, have no such baggage to carry. From Sarah Palin to Rand Paul to Christine ODonnell, they are screaming out loud and clear, and have actually succeeded in bringing enormous energy into what was seen as a spent Republican party in 2009.

So what? I guess the rule that suggests itself is “Don’t bet against prevailing wisdom”. I know that is unpalatable for folks that are inherently higher risk takers, and I clearly am. So, let me modify that. Don’t bet all you have against prevailing wisdom, because there is a very high possibility that you will lose, no matter how much you have going for you currently. Make small incremental bets, and if you are convinced that prevailing wisdom changing, then start to make bigger bets. The caution is- be absolutely sure that the prevailing wisdom is no longer “prevailing”.

Ah yes, Obama has himself to blame, more than anyone else!