“. . . [C]apitalists are not compulsively driven to maximize profits—as Marx believed. But there is a good deal of evidence that they are obsessively concerned with “practical” material outcomes and have always underestimated the importance of symbols and symbol smiths.”
Jeane Kirkpatrick, The New Presidential Elite
Traditionally, Procter and Gamble has marketed to what I call the Great Washed. This segment was described in a 1953 Time Magazine article by then P&G CEO Neil McElroy: “. . . they’re ordinary people, good people, who win wars for us, produce our manufactured products, and grow our food. . . . They use a lot of soap.”
Today, the supposed massive middle is still the target. For engineering sustainability into products, Procter and Gamble focuses on the widest area of the normal curve:
We have found that two relatively small groups exist, one at each end of a decision-making spectrum. On one end, “niche” consumers are willing to sacrifice performance or value for a more sustainable product. On the other, a small segment is focused on providing “basic living” for their families and do not make purchases based on sustainability factors. But the vast majority of consumers still reside in between these two groups as the “sustainable mainstream.”
Encompassing 70% of consumers overall, this sustainable mainstream group wants product choices that have environmental improvements, but they will only change their purchasing decisions when they can get the performance they require and the value they need. They won’t—and can’t—sacrifice performance or price for environmental benefits, especially in tough economic times.
At P&G, the sustainable mainstream is the focus of our sustainability efforts. This largest consumer segment matters most to us, because meeting their needs lets us provide the greatest positive impact.
Above is a listing of Method’s main US retailers. In terms of sales — $100 million vs. P&G’s $82.6 billion – Method’s share is just a very thin line in a pie chart. Still, it does not seem likely that these major mass marketers are allocating store space for a niche market. Method’s customers are not just the negligible tail end of a normal distribution; they are early adopters.
Forty years ago, the political “market” began a shift away from economic to cultural issues with voters coalescing “around ‘core’ positions on either side of the center.” (Kirkpatrick, 1976) “[The] salience of bread and butter issues has been declining while style, image, and abstract issues of principle are of steadily increasing importance. . . . [M]oral concerns are also needed to make persuasion persuasive. . . . Unlike wealth, status, knowledge, and health – rectitude can for all practical purposes be had for the claiming.” (Kirkpatrick, 1976, p. 254) Kirkpatrick calls the avant-garde of this transformation symbol specialists, which I take to be the same demographic that Guy Kawasaki in the Mackintosh positioning statement described as knowledge workers. (Kawasaki)
Of course every brand is in varying degrees cultural, with Harley Davidson and Apple as the most highly developed. The traditional idea is of one product being superior to others – perhaps in an intangible or even ineffable way. With Method we have something new — the best example of a brand claiming to be right, with the competition then by definition wrong.
Method’s marketing messages of product purity and concern for oneself, one’s family, and one’s home are very similar to Procter and Gamble’s. By adding a moral dimension, Method can seize control of the argument space and so set the terms. Describing “big businesses” as “very difficult” . . . “to change,” Method’s founders clearly see themselves as early adapters (spelling intentional) in a new market environment.
In 2007, Method ran a successful ad campaign, Detox your home. Method products featured in this promotion ran on the Home Shopping network:
The fact HSN is featuring Method products is an interesting gauge of the all important mainstream acceptance of greener more eco-friendly products.
The green segment of cleaning products is poised for rapid growth:
“By 2013, Mintel anticipates eco-friendly cleaners will do an astounding $623 million in business and account for 30 percent of the household cleaners market by then . . . .”
Now it would be one thing if America were on some wild spree to spruce up, but green cleaning is showing this growth at a time when the conventional cleaning market is stagnant. The broader category grew only 7 percent–which is actually a decline of 7 percent when you factor in inflation–from 2002-07.
The surge in sales of the supplies reflects both macro and micro trends. Four in 10 people surveyed for the Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products–US–January 2009 Market Size and Forecast report said they were more concerned with the environment now than they were one year ago. Worries about the health and safety effects of toxic chemicals in traditional household cleaning products on one’s family have swayed consumers to a category that was once led by independent brands such as Simple Green, Seventh Generation and Method. Seven in 10 Mintel respondents said they worried about chemicals in household cleaners and four in 10 cited allergies as a reason for buying eco-friendly cleaning products. Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from some form of allergy, according to the report.
Clearly, no one is going to buy both conventional and green products and then scrub twice. Every package of an eco-friendly cleaner in the shopping cart jostles out the conventional equivalent.
Another zero sum issue is shelf space:
Shelf space is a scarce resource and it has to be distributed across a larger and larger number of items. It is in particular important because the amount of space allocated to a specific item has a substantial impact on the sales level of that item. This relation between shelf space and sales has been widely documented in the literature. However, besides the amount of space, the exact location of the SKU on the shelf is also an important moderator of sales. At the same time, the effectiveness of marketing instruments of an SKU may also depend on the shelf layout. (Erjen van Nierop, March 2006)
Method’s Eric Ryan on Sales
Selling is a transfer of emotion . . . And if you’re really passionate about anything you can sell a bag of shit.
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From a presentation by Eric Ryan
Cleaning is a connection to your home, your family.
Nike: to most people, running is a chore.
Eco-cleaners are a niche category. We had to grow the category.
Targeting the most valuable groups-—not the biggest
a smaller audience
P&G and Unilever can’t bring their products together and create synergy.
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Jeane Kirkpatrick, The New Presidential Elite
252 / The Presidential Elite and the Presidential Parties
economic class. The heavy concentration of symbol specialists and students in the dominant McGovern ranks magnified their influence beyond what numbers alone would suggest.
In 1951 Lasswell described the contours of the “post-bourgeois” revolution. While the bourgeois revolution marked the rise of the businessman and the decline of feudal aristocracy, the “major transformation” from the bourgeois to the post-bourgeois era “is the decline of business (and of earlier social formations) and the rise of intellectuals and semi-intellectuals to effective power.” It was, Lasswell noted, the Polish Marxist Waclaw Machajski who first identified intellectuals as the ascendant social class .20 Modern politics and technology, it was argued, make the “persuasive skills” of intellectuals indispensable to the capture of political power. Education has replaced blood and capital as the indispensable qualification for political power. Lasswell, Lerner, and associates documented the rise to power of members of middle income skill groups in the century’s principal revolutionary movements: the Nazis, the Bolsheviks, the Italian Fascists, the Kuomingtang, and the Chinese Communists were examples. But examination of the ruling elite of democratic nations reveals the same trends in recruitment. It could as easily be said of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson, George Pompidou, or Francois Mitterand, as of Mao or Lenin, that “it was through their education that these individuals acquired the skills they used to articulate their political ideologies and organize their political movements .2 1 Experts in the persuasive and organizational skills are as valuable in democratic as in revolutionary politics. In fact, the democratic leader’s need to win approval and votes makes him peculiarly dependent on persuasive abilities—reinforced by organizational effort. Where in past times and other places organizations could be built with material rewards, today in the United States organization, too, often depends on the persuasive powers of the leader. The organizational expert builds after a leader mobilizes followers. Solidary organizations are less dependent than ideological groups on the verbal skills of leaders, but nevertheless require periodic articulation of purposes and verbalization of common commitments. The ideological—or rectitude based—organization is singularly dependent on the agitational skills of its leaders to state and reiterate the purposes that are its raison d’etre. In their special dependence on the rhetorical output of leaders such organizations resemble charismatic communities. The highly educated activists that people both parties constitute the special constituencies of the persuasive leader. The influence of symbol specialists rests not just on their numbers, but on the extent to which other portions of the highly educated elite value the skills of articulation and argument.
A New Class? A New Breed? / 253
Persons in the symbol specialist group—the teachers, journalists, clergy, social scientists—had no single point of view. Neither did their first cousins, the lawyers. The diversity of point of view within these functional groups is most dramatically illustrated by some leading political figures. Contending Democrats George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey were both university teachers whose persuasive skills and related political abilities enabled them to create organizational bases where none had previously existed. George Wallace, Henry Jackson, Richard Nixon, and Edmund Muskie are lawyers, but they did not acquire the same perspectives on politics from the study of law any more than William Buckley, Tom Wicker, George Will, and James Reston, all of whom are eastern establishment commentators on politics and society, reach the same conclusions about the meaning of events. The point is clear enough. The writers, teachers, and lawyers who parlay verbal skills into political influence do not necessarily share the same perspectives on political events, not even those who went to Ivy League Schools, or grew up in small midwestern towns, or share a southern accent. But though there is no necessary relation among education, function, and ideology, there is nonetheless a tendency for the symbol specialist to embrace liberal, adversary positions. If symbol specialists constitute the ascending portion of the middle-class political elite and material specialists are declining in influence, then the attractions of power will probably encourage ever larger numbers of lawyers, whose skills are in any case very similar to those of other verbal experts, to adapt their perspectives to fit ascendant styles of belief and behavior.
There are class interests and predilections that characterize all parts of the verbalist elite. One common interest is in having the parties adopt practices that favor the skills of this class as opposed to wealth, birth, or beauty. Symbol specialists share a concern with discussion and advocacy of the ideological aspects of politics. A symbol specialist may be said to have a vested interest in the intellectual and moral aspects of politics because he is expert in articulating, analyzing, criticizing, and moralizing. These skills are especially useful in ideological politics. The greater numbers of symbol specialists in the McGovern ranks almost surely affected the success of that movement in communicating with communicators, just as the presence in Wallace ranks of more persons without verbal sophistication stimulated negative comment among those who value verbal skills.
The rise of ideological politics in this country has accompanied the growing importance of symbol specialists in American politics and government. It appears that the broker conception of government is giving way to a public interest conception of government that involves much larger roles for planners and explainers. It appears, too, that political
254 / The Presidential Elite and the Presidential Parties
salience of bread and butter issues has been declining while style, image, and abstract issues of principle are of steadily increasing importance.
Ideas, values, and issues are the currency with which symbol specialists pursue politics. What money is to the businessman and manpower is to the trade unionist, words are to the symbol specialist: they are the base value utilized in the effort to win other values—power, status, moral approval, wealth. A special relation exists in politics between rectitude concerns and verbal skills. Obviously, verbal skills are needed to dramatize moral concerns, but moral concerns are also needed to make persuasion persuasive. Moral claims are readily available to the middle income symbol specialist. Unlike wealth, status, knowledge, and health—rectitude can, for all practical political purposes, be had for the claiming. Lasswell noted that “Social conflicts afford ready opportunity for advancement by the use of ‘ought’ words. Symbol specialists are demanded who can invent or elaborate the language of justification for the exercise, or the denial of authority. “22 Moral claims are the resource most readily available to persons lacking the wealth, numbers, social status, legitimacy, and other attributes with which political power is won. Moral claims and critiques are the principal resource available to the revolutionist or reformist group which is long on critical and verbal skills and short on other values. The greater the prominence of ideology in a political struggle or in a regime, the more elevated is the role of the symbol specialist. “The pattern for mythmaking by intellectuals,” Lasswell noted, “was, set for our society by Plato, who dreamed poetically of the ‘philosopher king’ in whom omniscience was at one with omnipotence.”23 Ideology is the preferred political instrument of the intellectual classes. History—both recent and remote—establishes the ability of upwardly mobile, intellectually skilled persons to attach themselves to rulers who have won power by other means. But moral criticism, ideology, and value manipulation are the symbol specialists’ preferred instrumentality in the political spheres—doubtless because this is his own terrain.
Lasswell and Lerner have documented the role of the symbol specialist in this century’s principal revolutionary regimes, and Edward Shils has emphasized the intellectual’s role in the politics of the new nations .24 Meanwhile elite studies have documented the growing prominence of verbal skill groups in American, British, and French politics.
Because of their training and proclivities, symbol specialists have a special aptitude for the “demoralization” and “remoralization” of politics. The process of demoralization consists of criticizing and undermining the myths and legitimacy of established institutions. The process of remoralization consists of providing new myths and new authorities. Both processes offer the opportunity to define reality; both involve attractive
A New Class? A New Breed? / 255
opportunities to reinforce definitions and conceptions of morality with power .25
The processes of demoralization and remoralization of American politics are already far advanced .26 The effort to demoralize and to re-moralize politics involves interpreting specific questions as parts of larger wholes and linking all questions to basic values. In brief, it involves reversing the processes and habits of incrementalism. The end of ideology and convergence hypotheses argue that in technologically complex societies more and more problems will be perceived and treated as technical rather than political and that government will more and more become a series of technocratic solutions to technical problems. Such a development appeared particularly plausible in the early stages of the demoralization of politics. But just as problems formerly perceived as political may be treated as technical problems, so can problems previously perceived as technical be redefined as political problems. (Many of the central “ecological” issues consist of questions that have until recently been perceived and treated as technical questions.) The remoralization of politics proceeds by investing small questions with larger meaning and moral significance. One consequence of this process is intensification of political conflict. Verbal sophistication becomes an ever greater political asset; lack of verbal skills, an ever more crippling liability. An early consequence of this process is to increase greatly the need for symbol specialists. The resulting increase in numbers of symbol specialists leads to the further “moralization” of politics and policy making which further increases the need for symbol specialists, and so forth. The result is a continuing process, whose end is not yet in sight, in which the need for and number of symbol specialists engaged in political and quasi-political activities increases geometrically. Their increased numbers lead to even greater emphasis on ideology and style, and the more important ideology and style become in politics, the more likely politics is to attract persons who are sensitive to and affectively involved with ideologies. Personality and political systems interact reciprocally. The character of political actors affects the character of the political process, and the character of the process affects who is attracted into it. The dominance of presidential politics by a skill-based professional class of verbal specialists will have continuing consequences in American politics—whether or not that class remains divided among itself or achieves unexpected unity. Some of those consequences will be discussed in the following chapters.
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A New Politics? / 355
stood in what Noble Cunningham, Richard Hofstadter, Allan Sindler, and Austin Ranney have termed the anti-party traditions that views party organization as an obstacle to popular government and seeks through such mechanisms as the direct primary and the “open” party to bypass an “entrenched” party leadership.
That the declining cohesion of the majority party should have occurred alongside the rise of “direct” action (marches, massive resistance, demonstrations, violence) is important; that both should have occurred during a period of rising challenges to the legitimacy of government, declining confidence in the society’s basic institutions, decreasing voter attachment to the parties (as reflected in split ticket voting and the success of “independents”), and declining levels of party identification clarifies the significance of the process. That this entire process occurs alongside the rising salience of issues in American politics is, of course, enormously suggestive.
The fact that issues achieved new importance during a period when bread and butter issues were not salient violates some firmly held expectations about what moves and does not move voters. The nature of the issues and the scope and the intensity of responses indicated that basic values had become involved in the presidential politics of 1964, 1968, and 1972. Disagreements between and within the parties (especially the Democratic party) proved unusually difficult to compromise because their scope was wide and the associated feeling intense. Compromise was also made more difficult by the fact that many persons most concerned about the issues were also least concerned about party and winning and had least confidence in the system.
An interesting correlative to these trends is the rise to political prominence of a new social type whom, following Harold Lasswell, I have termed “symbol specialists.” The declining role of businessmen in presidential politics and the rising importance of professionals, especially symbol specialists has been predicted and noted by various commentators on industrial and post-industrial society. This process is related to, but not identical with, the rise of the managerial class. Symbol specialists share with managers a position based on skills deriving from higher education rather than one based on wealth, ownership, or heredity. But the nature of their skills is substantially different, as is their social and economic position. Managers are specialists in the organization, production, and transmission of goods and services. Their skills are highly compensated, and their economic interest and social status are closely allied to those of the owners of the enterprises which they manage. Symbol specialists are experts in the production, manipulation, and communication of the symbols with which we interpret events, define goals, and attribute meanings. These are the teachers, advertisers, journalists, clergy, and other
356 / The Presidential Elite and the Presidential Parties
wordsmiths, including publishers and commentators. But symbol specialists not only communicate values and myths, they are also guardians, destroyers, and creators of the collective myths that bind together and rip apart communities and societies. A society that does not reward its symbol specialists neglects its foundations, for, as many political philosophers have understood, a society that loses its sense of rectitude does not long endure. It is symbol specialists who manipulate and ultimately control common understandings of the meaning and morality of events.10 The evolution of the welfare state in capitalist nations demonstrates that capitalists are not compulsively driven to maximize profits—as Marx believed. But there is a good deal of evidence that they are obsessively concerned with “practical” material outcomes and have always underestimated the importance of symbols and symbol smiths. Symbol specialists, who have achieved power in most of the twentieth century’s revolutionary regimes (communist, fascist, nationalist) receive relatively low financial, power, and status rewards in democratic, capitalist regimes—a fact that may or may not be related to the generally low opinion writers, teachers, clergy, and moralists have held of bourgeois societies.
Symbol specialists’ enhanced role in American politics reflects the increased importance of symbol manipulation under conditions of mass communications and the elevated prestige of symbol skills in a society that features a huge educated class. Governments and politicians always stand in need of symbol skills, but the rise of electronic media—especially television—has greatly increased the political importance of symbols. The number of symbol specialists has multiplied alongside their ever-growing potential audience of relatively highly educated persons who value the persuasive skills.
I do not argue here that American politics has fallen under the sway of a communications-based knowledge elite, but that presidential politics is heavily dominated by professionals and others (e.g., housewives) of similar education and that the training and skills of such persons predispose them to value persuasive skills above, for example, negotiating skills, physical strength, courage, business, or legislative accomplishments.”
It is not inevitable that American politics should be dominated by symbol specialists or highly educated professionals, but the importance of public relations image and style assures that communications specialists will play a significant role. And the adoption of presidential nomination and delegate selection processes that make success dependent on self-presentation gives communication skills a special value, so does the salience of ideology and style in politics. The relatively high prestige of symbol specialists also constitutes a political asset of large importance.
A New Politics? / 357
The political role of symbol specialists is important to just the extent that they have distinctive perspectives on American politics. And as this analysis demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt, while these, delegates did not hold a single point of view, they, more than any other occupational group, were carriers of new ideological and organizational styles.
Because many symbol specialists stand in an adversary posture vis-a-vis the dominant culture, the process of demoralization of traditional myths, understandings, and beliefs can be expected to continue, and because persuasive moral criticism requires a standard against which to measure existing institutions, the creation and/or introduction of alternative conceptions of legitimacy—the remoralization of politics—can be expected to proceed apace. Both processes—of demoralization and remoralization—are far advanced. The politics of demoralization proceeds by calling into question the justice or fairness or morality of outcomes, the legitimacy of procedures, and the authority of agents of government. This process has become a familiar aspect of contemporary politics. The process of remoralization provides new criteria for resolving debates, distributing scarce resources, and establishing legitimacy and authority in the light of which past and present policies may be judged. Both processes involve rejecting old values and standards of value in favor of new values and standards of value. Both processes proceed by linking small questions to large ones and treating policy problems as moral issues. Of course, all this expands the scope of conflict, heightens its intensity, and complicates its resolution.
The fact that so many symbol specialists are critics and opponents of the traditional culture and that they have an important influence on the focus of attention and the formulation of issues has an impact on the capacity of the parties to represent voters, most of whom are attached to traditional views and values.
As Table 11-1 demonstrates, the views of Democratic symbol specialists and students (many of whom are doubtless on their way to becoming symbol specialists) were least representative of the views of rank and file Democrats; and material specialists’ views were closest to those of Democratic identifiers. (The mean difference between Democratic students and rank and file was 75.5; of symbol specialists and rank and file, 72.2; of lawyers and rank and file, 48.9; housewives and rank and file, 63.5; and material specialists and rank and file, 33.6.) These differences are large enough and consistent enough to be taken seriously. Still, the differences between symbol specialists and rank and file were not as great as those between McGovern delegates and the rank and file. (See Table 10-9.) The facts that some symbol specialists were found supporting each of the candidates and that in the Republican party symbol specialists
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A New Politics? / 365
. . .
The Realignment Hypothesis
Some observers see split ticket voting, declining party identification and intraparty schisms as symptoms of a major realignment of voters, such as those which occurred in 1800, 1828, 1860, 1896, and 1932. In the past, major realignments have occurred when large numbers of voters abandoned their traditional party loyalties. James Sundquist, whose Dynamics of the Party System is the most comprehensive analysis of past party realignments, has identified as a minimal precondition of a massive shift in voters’ loyalties the rise of a new issue or issues that cut across existing alignments and polarize millions of voters for a sustained period of time.” Such new cross-cutting issues must be more powerful than the issues associated with traditional party alignments and more powerful than the previous institutional identifications. Realignment does not necessarily entail the appearance of new parties, but may involve the redistribution of voters between existing parties. It is distinguished from such transient phenomena as split ticket voting by its greater durability and the large numbers who alter their institutional identifications.
366 / The Presidential Elite and the Presidential Parties
A currently popular scenario concerning the future of the American parties predicts their realignment into a “conservative” and a “liberal” party, each of which will be more ideologically homogeneous than the existing parties. There are two main versions of the realignment scenario. One is that of William Rusher who proposes that American conservatives “form a new party that will replace the Republican party in toto as one of America’s major parties.” 18 Rusher’s new conservative majority party is to be based on a coalition of social conservatives, many of whom are Democratic neopopulists, and economic conservatives, most of whom are now found in the Republican party. The new conservative coalition will reflect a new social and economic reality that “pits the hard hats, blue collar workers, and farmers … against a new and powerful class of non-producers comprised of a liberal verbalist elite … and a semi-permanent welfare constituency all coexisting happily in a state of mutually sustaining symbiosis.” 19 The resulting party structure will, Rusher argues, provide an institutional expression of the conservative majority that is currently divided between the parties.
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368 / The Presidential Elite and the Presidential Parties
. . .
As conventionally stated, the realignment hypothesis assumes that voters and parties will divide on a single dimension (e.g., economic issues or cultural issues) and that parties will form around “core” positions on either side of the center. It assumes that a two-party system and widespread, relatively stable voter identification are the “normal state” that will reemerge after a period of electoral instability. In consequence, such alternatives as the persistence of multi-dimensional conflict are not considered. A combination of economic conservatives and social conservatives, such as envisioned by Rusher, might prove possible, but it should be noted that most democratic parties in most democratic systems offer the opposite combination; namely, social conservatism and welfare state economics.
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