The brilliant Terry Gilliam film Brazil, set in a dystopian future Britain, begins with this TV interview with Mr. Helpmann, a deputy Minister of Information:
INTERVIEWER: Deputy minister, what do you believe is behind this recent increase in terrorist bombings?
HELPMANN: Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless minority of people seems to have forgotten certain good old fashioned
virtues. They just can’t stand seeing the other fellow win. If these people would just play the game, instead of standing on the touch line heckling
INTERVIEWER: In fact, killing people.
HELPMANN: In fact, killing people, they’d get a lot more out of life.
Somehow, I thought of Mr. Helpmann when I read this passage from Ryan Lizza’s piece on House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, licking his wounds after the GOP’s thrashing last November:
At the January retreat, a halfway point in the midst of these budget battles, Cantor sounded chastened, or, at least, like a man wanting to appear chastened. “We’ve got to understand that people don’t think Republicans have their back,” he said. “Whether it’s the middle class, whether it’s the Latino or the Asian vote.” It was not “necessarily our policies” but, rather, how “we’ve been portrayed.” He added, “It goes to that axiom about how people don’t really care how much you know until they know you care. So we’ve got to take that to heart and, I think, look to be able to communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Cantor had been struck by one presentation at the retreat. Patrick Doyle, the president and C.E.O. of Domino’s, had given a talk called “Turning It Around,” in which he explained that he revived the failing company after conducting extensive research that led him to conclude that Domino’s pizza was terrible. But Cantor seemed more interested in Doyle’s sales advice than in his point about his product.
“There was a discussion about features and benefits,” he said. “Marketing 101, right? If you’re selling detergent and you put a new blue dot in a detergent block, that’s a feature. But the benefit is it gets your clothes cleaned.” He paused to let the lesson sink in.
“Well, we have features that we’re for, whether it’s balanced budgets, whether it’s fiscal prudence or reforming entitlements,” he said. “Those are features—those aren’t ends in themselves. But they’re going to produce a stronger America. They’re going to save the safety-net programs for those who need them. We have to apply our principles in a way that translates to understanding that we actually are focussing and trying to help people and meet the needs that they have.”
See, there’s nothing wrong with the policies, only the marketing. If only the public would be sporting enough to see this!
The Lizza piece is fascinating for what it says about the psychology of the GOP today. It has become difficult to impossible actually to govern, because the whole RINO narrative — in which to compromise with Democrats, or to take any but the hardest line — has become so central to the Republican base.