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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Republicans for Blacks? Oh Yes!

Clockwise from above: George Bush, Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln and F.D Roosevelt. These American Presidents symbolise how identities changed

ThisBarack Obama could well be one of the most fascinating 360 degree turnarounds in the image and identity of two rival brands. Most of you, who follow American politics, know that the Republican Party brand is closely identified with pro-rich tax cuts, less government and an unbridled faith in the power of Laissez faire and the ‘Right wing’. In contrast, the rival Democratic party is now known to be the one that supports the cause of the African Americans, the poor and the needy. It is also instinctively identified by media pundits as the party of Big Government. In fact, die hard Republicans have been lamenting since November 4, 2008 when Barack Obama won the historic American presidential elections that the US might now become a socialist country!

That was not always the case. Going back to the 19th century, the Republican Party had a clear brand image as a Party with ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ and forward looking ideas, while its rivals were hide bound conservatives. Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican President of America in 1960. And, it was Lincoln and the Republican Party that abolished slavery and ‘emancipated’ the blacks. This led to a bitter civil war where rivals of Republicans and Lincolns fought, killed and died to protect the idea that blacks were inherently inferior and deserved to be slaves. For decades after this, it was the Republican Party that cashed on this brand identity.

Till the early 20th century, Democrats had a brand image that was associated with wealth, status, land holdings and privilege. And, it was the southern states – where slavery was most widely prevalent – where the Democrats held complete sway, while the less ‘conservative’ regions of America opted for Republicans. All that changed by the time the Democrat F. D. Roosevelt replaced the Republican Herbert Hoover as the President of America. Roosevelt launched a series of sweeping public investments that vastly – and permanently – increased the role of the government in America. After Roosevelt, the Democratic Party radically changed its brand identity and started getting associated with the underdog, while the Republicans started veering towards Wall Street, the rich and the privileged.

This transition was almost complete by the time John F. Kennedy became the President of America, 100 years after Lincoln first took office. The Kennedy administration launched initiatives that would have resulted in the end of segregation – a pernicious practice where southern America denied blacks the right to either vote or mix with whites. Black children could not attend white schools and black Americans could not share a bus seat with whites. Before Kennedy could finish this deeply divisive but progressive mission, he was assassinated, just like Lincoln was. It was his successor Lyndon Johnson who ensured that segregation became a thing of the past in America. No wonder, more than two-thirds of black voters still vote Democrat!

By the time Ronald Reagan became the Republican President in 1980, the party’s brand identity had undergone a complete metamorphosis. Reagan was all about free markets, capitalism unbridled, tax cuts for the rich and obeisance at the altar of Christian Conservatism. Reagan also launched the era of complete Republican domination of American politics. But, the cookie started crumbling with George Bush Jr. who became too closely identified with cronyism and crony capitalism. Will Barack Obama trigger another brand revamp for the Republicans?

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2009

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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