Bye bye, Miss American Pie

Just got back from vacation and spent a fair bit of time listening and watching the US news. I have always been a tremendous admirer of the USA. I love their entrepreneurship and as a marketer have always loved the  marketing that comes out of the USA.  So it with great sadness that I see a great nation losing some of its luster for reasons (i.e. the debt ceiling) that are baffling.

Why does a country that produces the greatest business persons, entrepreneurs, scientists, entertainers’ athletes etc. produce such mediocre politicians?

While listening to the woes of the USA over the past few weeks it made me think about one of my favourite songs.

In the autumn of 1971 Don McLean’s American Pie entered our collective consciousness, and many years later remains one of the most discussed popular music ever produced. A cultural event at the peak of its popularity in 1972, it reached the top of the Billboard 100 charts in a matter of weeks, selling more than 3 million copies; and at eight and a half minutes long, this was no mean feat. This was no ordinary song. What set American Pie apart had a lot to do with not totally understanding what the song was about, provoking endless debates over its epic cast of characters.  But however open to interpretation the lyrics may have been, the song’s emotional resonance was unmistakable: McLean was clearly relating a defining moment in the American experience—something had been lost, and most Americas at the time knew it. Opening with the death of singer Buddy Holly and ending near the tragic concert at Altamont Motor Speedway, Americans were able to frame the span of years the song is covering—1959 to 1970—as the “10 years that the USA had  been on their own.” It is across this decade that the American cultural landscape changed radically, passing from the relative optimism and conformity of the 1950s and early 1960s to the rejection of these values by the various political and social movements of the mid and late 1960s.

Coming as it did near the end of this turbulent era, American Pie seemed to be speaking to the precarious position the USA found itself  in, as the grand social experiments of the 1960s began collapsing under the weight of their own unrealized utopian dreams, while the quieter, hopeful world receded into memory. And as 1970 came to a close and the world this generation had envisioned no longer seemed viable, a sense of disillusion and loss fell over the USA; Americans weren’t the people they once were. Source 

Sound familiar? Again America is going through a major transformation.

I used to think America would solve its problems, after all else failed. Now I’m not so sure. The political class is looking more dysfunctional than ever. You can’t help but be depressed by the game of debt-ceiling chicken being played in Washington.

“The only thing that unites the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington today is their mutual desire to suppress the truth. Nobody wants to come clean about how deep the fiscal hole really is. None of the players trying to negotiate a deal has anything to say about entitlement programs such as social security, Medicare or Medicaid. Together, these account for more than 40 per cent of all federal spending. All sides are silent on what Robert Bixby, executive director of the non-partisan watchdog group Concord Coalition, calls the underlying structural deficit. Even the toughest version of the deals on the table will shave less than one-half of 1 per cent from the entitlement spending that’s mandated over the next 10 years”. Source

What is really troubling is the impact that the Tea Party has on the country’s politics. For the record I am a strong proponent of people having a voice in politics but there is always a danger when you let a “squeaky wheel” overpower all other opinions.

Very few sensible people support spending money you don’t have; this is true in running a government as well as running a family budget or a business. But anyone who seriously believes that the USA will be able to significantly reduce their debts and deficits without generating more revenue is “dreaming in Technicolor.”

For example almost half of the U.S. federal budget today is accounted for by Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. If nothing changes, these three programs will consume more than 100 per cent of the U.S. budget in 25 years’ time. PIMCO bond king Bill Gross argues the U.S. situation is actually much worse, when one includes the unfunded liabilities of Social Security ($8 trillion), Medicare ($22.8 trillion) and Medicaid ($35.8 trillion). Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mary Meeker calculated the balance sheet for the U.S. if it was a company, and estimated that USA Inc. presently has a negative net worth of $35 to $40 trillion.

This is clearly unsustainable and is why there must and will be major cuts to social programs in the U.S. in conjunction with significant tax increases. Source

Winston Churchill once quipped that “the United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative.”

I wish my American friends well as they are going through a rough patch and hope sanity and common sense will prevail among their politicians during this very difficult time.

7 Replies to “Bye bye, Miss American Pie”

  1. Jim – it seems you are a voice in the wilderness, linking political dysfunction to marketing dysfunction. I found you via a search for “Marketing Warfare politics”, thinking that there would actually be some conversations on the web about how Trout and Reis’ ideas can apply to politics. Not much came up, I’m sorry to say, but at least you’re talking about this stuff. I think it’s very important, and the *lack* of good marketing except from the extreme right wing of American politics has contributed in large part to America’s current level of dysfunction. They’re the only ones telling a compelling story, but unfortunately it seems to be disconnected from reality in a significant way. And no one else has a articulated anything coherent, even though their positions are much more aligned with reality. But they don’t know how to do marketing, so that’s the inevitable result.

    Looking forward to following your thoughts in the future.

    1. Yes!!! the right hire the best marketing guys . No question about it. The Democrats in the USA ( and the Liberals in Canada) hire PR flaks who would not know what a marketing strategy was if it hit them over the head. That is one of the reasons I wrote this post and stay tuned as I have just begun.

      With respect to the dysfunction in the USA, it really bugs me as most of my family is American , although I am a Canadian, and I think Americans deserve better politicians than the ones they presently have . The situation in your Congress and Senate is a travesty.

      1. Jim – thanks for the reply. Clearly I’m in total agreement with you.

        I called you out on my new blog http://dontthinkofanelephant.com if you want to see yourself 🙂

        Are you familiar with George Lakoff’s concepts about “framing” and the stuff the Cognitive Policy Institute (http://cognitivepolicyworks.com) is trying to do for progressive politics in the U.S.? I think there’s some promise there, although they seem strangely opposed to using marketing techniques and keep talking about “frames” – which is good for theory but not for practice. I think that’s strange because marketing techniques are essentially “applied cognitive psychology,” which is what those guys are all about. Anyway, that’s my hobby horse which I’m starting to ride with the Don’t Think of An Elephant blog (named after the Lakoff book, of course).

        1. I am somewhat familiar with Lakoff. Yes , I am a very strong believer that consumer psychology better known as consumer behavior in the marketing world is key to marketing success. I taught Consumer Behavior for many years at our University and cognitive psychology is a key element for marketers. The big difference is marketers apply psychology concepts into every thing we do . For us it is not about theory but how we do our business. In political marketing , consumer behavior is a very important and used very effectively by top marketers, especially guys like Frank Luntz http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Luntz who works for the GOP.

  2. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

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