“It's morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.” - W. C. FieldsSometimes I think about cashing in.
When you look at Tea Party rallies, Republican conventions, the various campaign events around the country, you see a lot of merchandise. T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers . . . maybe down to koozies and keychains, for all I know. Conservative blogs, radio shows and certain subscription-based TV channels pimp even more Conservaswag.
The Right Wing is an echo chamber, after all, and echo chambers thrive on message reinforcement. If you can slap a short, snappy quote that confirms their bias on something – anything – chances are they’ll buy it. And in the age of mail order and internet sales, they don’t necessarily know who they’re buying it from (note how many of their pro-American tchotchkes are actually Made In China).
So . . . why not me?
Read on . . .
“When you know who your customers are, that can give you an edge on the competition.” - Alain BouchardThere are something like 45 million registered Republicans in America. Not all of them are ideologues, and not all of them subscribe to the lunacy we associate with the modern GOP. Some are actually just the opposite. As a sidebar, my voter registration has officially been Republican for two decades, when I changed it from Independent. In the whole time I’ve been registered as one, the only votes I’ve ever cast for Republicans were malicious primary votes.
But even taking out the nominal and outright Progressive Republicans, that’s still several million people locked firmly inside the Right Wing nut-o-sphere. Tea Party membership is harder to pin down, since it’s not a single, formal organization per se. The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights found that national Tea Party groups garnered something like 7.5 million “likes” on Facebook, which by itself would make Tea Partiers – or at least their sympathizers – some 16% of the GOP – almost certainly a low number (I have a feeling a lot of Tea Partiers aren’t exactly on FB, if you know what I mean).
That’s a lot of people to sell stuff to.
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” - H. L. MenckenAnd a lot of stuff is being sold to them. With hundreds of vendors ranging from individuals selling their own merchandise out of booths to giant internet operations, it’s hard to pull an overall figure on sales or the dollar amounts involved. All you have to do is do a quick Google search for “conservative T-shirts”, alone, and you’ll get an idea of how much must be out there.
There’s the Anti-Obama stuff, and the Anti-Harry Reid stuff and the Anti-Nancy Pelosi stuff and the more general Anti-Democrat stuff. There’s specific issue merchandise – Fair Tax, Closed Borders, Bomb Isis, and on and on. Conspiracies are always a big player – paranoid notes on gun control, or Agenda 21, or the IRS or, of course, Benghazi. Even leaving aside the specialized stuff, like gold coins, and the harder-to-produce stuff, like books (though you could probably have a reasonably developed A.I. throw one together and be indistinguishable from Ann Coulter’s work), there’s a lot of merchandise of all kinds, most of it the same schlock that you see at convenience store checkouts - cheaply made, big markup, sucker-bait.
So, yeah, sometimes I wonder why, with my outstanding debt and my big mortgage payments, I’m not fleecing these sheep. Or why all of us aren’t. It’s not like there’d be a lot to it. Walk through it with me, and you’ll see.
“A brand is a voice and a product is a souvenir.” - Lisa GanskyThe first thing you need to sell Conservaswag is a company name. Fortunately, the nature of Right Wing makes this easy. All you need to do is invoke the right sense of Americanism, and that just means using the right buzz words. Pick any two from the list:
2nd Amendment Freedom Patrick Henry
3% Gadsden Patriot
American Independence Reagan
Concord Lexington Revere
Conservative Liberty Revolution
Constitution Majority Right
Eagle Militia Saratoga
Federalist Minuteman Tea Party
Flag Moral Victory
Put a couple of those together, maybe with a "Foundation" or a "Conference" or "Forum" behind it, and you have a suitably red-blooded name under which to sell merchandise. Technically, the names don’t even have to go together in any sensible order – word salad is regarded as a language in itself, on the Fringe Right. Just give your new company a mailbox at the local UPS store (listed as “Suite number XXX” in the ads) and you’re good to go.
“A fool flatters himself, a wise man flatters the fool.” - Edward G. Bulwer-LyttonNow for the merchandise. This part is almost as simple as the branding. You’ve seen the bumper stickers, the t-shirts. You’ve seen the flailing attempts at humor on Fox’s Red Eye. There’s not a very high bar to be considered “pithy” among the Tea Party. I’d wager the average Kossack could churn out a few dozen ideas a day without engaging most of their frontal lobe.
T-shirt idea – image of undocumented immigrants with the caption “Community”, a second panel with an image of Obama and the caption “Organizer”. Zing. Done. That’ll be $9.99 plus shipping, please.
Bumper sticker idea – cartoon image of a burnt and blackened bird, with the phrase “Solar Power is For the Birds”. Gosh, that’ll tick off Algore when he sees it on the back of your Ford! Order ten – you can put them in your Christmas cards.
Seriously, it takes no effort at all. Even if we didn’t have a sea of already-existing pap to use as examples, you don’t need a lot of imagination to cater to their sense of humor. This segment of the Right are not the intellectual conservatives of the Goldwater years. They’re not even the folksy-yet-still-kinda-smart Republicans of the Reagan years. This the Palin/Cruz generation, and their humor is to late political cartoonist Herb Block what Jackass is to Jon Stewart.
“When you are skinning your customers, you should leave some skin on to heal, so that you can skin them again.” - Nikita KhrushchevSo you buy cheap (Made in China) merchandise, emblazoned with slogans, tweaks and assorted bullshit you thought up on a lazy afternoon. Take out ads on a few conservative websites, maybe even on conservative radio (I bet Limbaugh’s ad rates are pretty reasonable, these days). And there you go - watch the money roll in.
Because the conservative movement spent years developing a base immune to facts and logic, you can rely on the customer base likely staying a decent size for quite a while. And if you’ve ever caught yourself behind one of these folks in traffic, you know they don’t usually stop at one bumper sticker. However miserable red state economies may be, Tea Partiers always seem to have a few bucks for an anti-Obama T-shirt or ball cap or toaster cozy. The Koch brothers could tell you – the Republican base is a captive market which is, literally, like shearing sheep in a pen, over and over. It’s a sweet opportunity.
Unfortunately, it’s not for me.
“You know the value of every article of merchandise, but if you don't know the value of your own soul, it's all foolishness.” - RumiIt’s not for me because, no matter how much money I see in selling RWNJ merchandise, it’s still selling a kind of poison. It may be true that no vote will ever be swayed, no mind changed, by a partisan blurb on a T-shirt or bumper sticker or beer helmet. It may be true that all the merchandise I could sell would do nothing but reverberate in the echo chamber, validating a few already-fervent Right Wingers and giving them a laugh. It doesn’t even matter that I could donate a healthy chunk of the dough to Progressive causes. It’s still the political and ideological equivalent of making a soda whose active ingredient is E. Coli.
So my mortgage is going to have to get paid one painful payment after another. My student loan will be in forbearance until the day I die, at this rate. I’ll pay my other bills as best I can, and still try to pull off the occasional treat now and then. But I’ll never be rich, not if it means poisoning people’s minds – even if I think their minds are pretty well poisoned already.
“Catering to bad feelings feeds and empowers them.” - Joyce MeyerYes, a lot of people on the right believe nonsense, including a lot of mean-spirited and toxic nonsense. Some of them do it by choice. Some of them do it because they were raised to, and have never had the will or opportunity to question their inherited opinions. Some believe it because, like a lot of Americans, they’re not particularly informed, and by a trick of geography and demographics, the only ones seriously informing them are teaching them to believe it. Some of them, especially on the darkest fringes, are genuinely vile, and fuck them, I don’t want their money, anyway.
What I want is to think they can change. I want to think they can see the light, one day, that no matter how gosh-darned funny that anti-Pelosi seat cushion is, they’ll start wondering why their daily experience doesn’t always line up with their party’s rhetoric, and why the people they keep listening to seem to have no idea what their jobs and household budgets and worries are actually like.
I want to think they can hear a different message, one day. I’m not going to risk that by repeating the one they’re already hearing, even for a buck.