Product Endorsements

Endorsements don’t mean much. Highly-talented overpaid mutant basketball players endorse extraordinarily expensive shoes, or have their own new model each year, and only foolish teenagers buy those, or whine until their parents do. Charles Barkley was once one of those guys but then he said this – “These are my new shoes. They’re good shoes. They won’t make you rich like me, they won’t make you rebound like me, and they definitely won’t make you handsome like me. They’ll only make you have shoes like me. That’s it.”

That was refreshing, but that was unusual. Marketing wizards persist in believing that celebrity endorsements move product – wrinkled old actors you thought were long dead are on your television extolling the wonders of reverse mortgages or gold coins, as the worst is surely coming and you’d better be prepared. Yes, that’s a bit of a joke – they’re living off millions a year in residuals. Sometimes they’re telling you about really wonderful hearing aids – and that is odd because if you needed those you obviously couldn’t hear what they were saying. On the distaff side, once lovely movies stars do the same for cosmetics, and particularly hair coloring and anti-wrinkle creams – you too can remain beautiful even if you’re old and fat and haggard. Just look at them. They still look great. That you were never all that beautiful in the first place is something that’s irrelevant – everyone remembers the past with longing, no matter how delusional. To that end, the pleasant older woman who was once Gidget and then the Flying Nun, Sally Field, tells you about these pills that will make your bones less brittle now that you’re an old woman too. Perhaps you’re to imagine yourself as Gidget – suddenly young again, hanging out with Moon Doggie and the guys at Paradise Cove – but of course that’s absurd. What’s going on here is less direct. Advertisers are counting on the halo effect, the notion that some of the aura of glamour or success will attach itself, however tangentially, to whatever they’re trying to sell you. Maybe that’s not a bad strategy as success is compelling, but few can remember the Official Car of the NBA or the Official Pizza of the Yankees or the Official Hot Sauce of the Academy Awards. Only one of those is real, not that it matters.

The only thing anyone remembers is when celebrity endorsements implode. Lance Armstrong, recently disgraced in his sport and stripped of all his titles, was dropped by all his sponsors – which may have been the first time anyone remembered that he endorsed stuff from Nike and all the others. Who knew? Endorsements can be a tricky business, sometimes far less than worthless. Choosing the wrong person to endorse your breakfast cereal might be deadly.

This is true in the world of politics, although Obama is pretty safe with Colin Powell – Powell was George Bush’s Secretary of State and only a few scattered Republicans now hate his guts. Yes, John McCain was saddened by this, and Romney’s surrogate John Sununu suggested this was just a matter of those black folks sticking together in spite of all common sense – but the Obama ads featuring Powell are up and running as the election draws to a close. The man is widely respected and there might be a halo effect. Or there might not, as Americans have short memories and may not even know now who Colin Powell is, or was. Who is that nice man on television, honey? Political endorsements are about as effective as celebrity endorsements. Fred Thompson is on television telling you that you really ought to consider a reverse mortgage. Who’s he? He’s just that familiar face in some secondary role in some old crime show or some Tom Clancy movie. He was always grumpy. That’s all you remember.

This is all a bit of a game, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza offers his taxonomy of political endorsements which include these:

The Symbolic Endorsement: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush endorsing Mitt Romney for president.

The National Endorsement: Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for Romney.

The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to Sen. John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.

The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008; Oprah for Obama.

Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.

The What-Goes-Around-Comes-Around Endorsement: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing Rubio.

The Obligatory Endorsement: George W. Bush endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.

The “Me for Me” Endorsement: Former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D) 2010 Senate campaign.

The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) passing on an endorsement of Sen. David Vitter’s (R) 2010 reelection bid.

The Backfire Endorsement: Former Vice President Al Gore endorsing former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential race.

The Pariah Endorsement: Jailed former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham backing Newt Gingrich.

That offers a way to think about these things, and a way to view the big endorsement five days before the election, Michael Bloomberg endorsing Barack Obama, about which Cillizza says this:

Bloomberg’s endorsement, which was announced in an op-ed piece the mayor wrote for his eponymous news site, was faint in its praise for the incumbent – knocking Obama for having “devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists” and calling the last four years “disappointing”.

But, Bloomberg also hit former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for his decision to walk away from previously-stated positions on climate change, immigration and health care among other issues. “If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him,” wrote Bloomberg.

In the end, Bloomberg seems to have concluded that Obama was the best of two poor(ish) choices because of his positions on gay rights, abortion and climate change…

That’s not much of an endorsement at all, and Cillizza then puts things in context as this is a combination of two of his categories, the national endorsement and the “me for me” endorsement:

First, the national endorsement piece – Bloomberg is the mayor of the biggest and most high-profile city in the country. His advocacy for gun control and against sugary drinks has given him a national platform. His wealth – and willingness to spend it in pursuit of his political/policy aims – means he is taken seriously.

Add those two last sentences up… and the Bloomberg endorsement is sure to get lots and lots of attention from the national media. And, there is a case to be made that there is some segment of independent/unaligned voters who see Bloomberg as their guiding light and could be swayed by his decision to back Obama.

That’s cool, but Cillizza sees Bloomberg’s “reach and impact” pretty much limited to the New York to Washington corridor. There aren’t many swing voters there, so this may be self-serving:

The bigger piece of the Bloomberg endorsement is the “Me for Me” element. Read Bloomberg’s op-ed; 95 percent of it is why neither Obama nor Romney have taken the right course – aka the course Bloomberg has pursued – when it comes to immigration, climate change and so on and so forth.

The primary goal of the Bloomberg endorsement of Obama seems to be to burnish the Mayor’s own credentials as a reformer with results (with apologies to John McCain).

Josh Marshall is just as cynical:

There’s something more than vaguely ridiculous about the ‘news’ that Mike Bloomberg has endorsed Barack Obama. After all, Bloomberg is a Democrat. He was his entire life and a fairly major giver and only become a nominal Republican because of a very weird partisan politics of New York City. And he couldn’t even keep that up for very long as he eventually shed his nominal GOP affiliation and began running as an independent – as a matter of convenience and ballot position in 2009 he ran as a Republican again.

On top of this of course, he appears to agree with President Obama on virtually every major issue of the day. So aside from whatever middle-aged male pissing match kind of mojo these two guys have going on, it’s hard to imagine how Bloomberg could not vote for Obama unless he had the choice to vote for Mike Bloomberg.

In short, this wasn’t big news, but then maybe these words from Bloomberg were the news:

Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action. …

Over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year. …

One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.

The storm that wrecked his city got to the man. That tipped the scales:

Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap-and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels… But since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.

Maybe no voters give a damn about climate change, but Jonathan Bernstein finds this refreshing:

Linking his endorsement to a specific issue – climate – he does two things. First, he gives a pretty effective issue advertisement on the subject; Bloomberg would likely be able to get the cameras on him at any rate right now, but doing it in the context of a presidential endorsement is more effective than simply repeating what he’s said in the past on the issue. Second, he’s essentially lobbying the president on this issue.

Remember, votes don’t speak for themselves; politicians must interpret what votes mean. In that, they tend to interpret through their own experiences on the campaign trail; that is, if they’ve been talking about an issue a lot, they tend to believe that those who voted them must have endorsed that position. Most of us can’t do much about that, although perhaps more than we think – volunteer for a campaign, or if you have the means donate money, and you’ll get at least someone’s attention. But if you have a very large megaphone, you can do more, and that’s what Bloomberg is accomplishing here.

Ben Smith is fine with that:

It also turns the New York mayor, who had been searching for a next act, on the leading edge of an issue that Sandy had forced the media and political class, whose attention had wandered to the coal-heavy economies of the Midwest, to consider. Bloomberg’s foundation has spent years building a climate initiative, and he has spent heavily on a push to shut down coal-fired plants. If Obama wins, the cause will finally have what it had lacked: a victory, and a political story to tell.

As an endorsement this may have been meaningless – everyone has chosen sides by now and Bloomberg means nothing to them – but something new has been added to the mix, something that needs serious consideration, as Bill McKibben has noted:

Science and its practical consort, Engineering, mostly come out of this week with enhanced reputations.

For some years now, various researchers have been predicting that such a trauma was not just possible but almost certain, as we raised the temperature and with it the level of the sea—just this past summer, for instance, scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost any place on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system.

As nature pulled the trigger in mid-October, when a tropical wave left Africa and moved into the Atlantic and began to spin, scientists were able to do the short-term work of hurricane forecasting with almost eerie precision. Days before Sandy came ashore we not only knew approximately where it would go, but that its barometric pressure would drop below previous records and hence that its gushing surge would set new marks. The computer models dealt with the weird hybrid nature of the storm – a tropical cyclone hitting a blocking front – with real aplomb; it was a bravura performance.

In so doing, it should shame at least a little those people who argue against the computer modeling of climate change on the grounds that “they can’t even tell the weather three days ahead of time – how can they predict the climate?”

Score one for science and the careful observation of actual facts. Republicans, with their evangelical base that fuels the whole enterprise, may keep insisting that science doesn’t know everything – there’s God and faith, and also that Invisible Hand of free-market capitalism that magically fixes everything – but science knows important things, things that may keep us alive. Oddly enough, Bloomberg is a capitalist of the first order – consider the financial and media empire he built from scratch and that made him a billionaire – but he prefers the visible real world. His endorsement may not mean much, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

Still there’s this from Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog:

I’d love to believe that Bloomberg’s words will make a difference. I’m afraid, though, that in America, real action on climate change is in the same category as a truce on abortion, or real action on gun violence: the country is basically in favor, influential coast-dwelling social liberals are very much in favor, but the GOP is against – and that settles that.

Endorsements don’t matter, except that this is one chip in the wall. That will have to do.

Ah, who listens to that short and very strange man who’s the butt of late night comedians’ jokes about his banning giant sodas in his city? He’s not even a celebrity per se – not in the Hollywood sense. He’s no Fred Thompson or Sally Field – but then we don’t want to hear their political views either. A few months ago George Clooney hosted a fundraiser for Obama at his home out here and it’s a safe bet no Romney voter, seeing that on the news, changed his or her mind and decided Obama was the man for them. Things just don’t work that way. All that did was screw up the traffic here in Laurel Canyon.

Chris Cillizza doesn’t consider endorsements of substance, if there are such things – but there actually may be such things. Serious people in the serious financial world all read the Economist. It’s dry and dense and thorough, and it’s all about the deep details of all aspects of business and economics. That makes it inherently pro-business and almost always reliably pro-Republican. They can’t help it. Things just fall out that way, except when they don’t. The Economist just endorsed Obama:

Far from being the voice of fiscal prudence, Mr Romney wants to start with huge tax cuts (which will disproportionately favour the wealthy), while dramatically increasing defense spending. Together those measures would add $7 trillion to the ten-year deficit. He would balance the books through eliminating loopholes (a good idea, but he will not specify which ones) and through savage cuts to programs that help America’s poor (a bad idea, which will increase inequality still further). At least Mr Obama, although he distanced himself from Bowles-Simpson, has made it clear that any long-term solution has to involve both entitlement reform and tax rises. Mr Romney is still in the cloud-cuckoo-land of thinking you can do it entirely through spending cuts: the Republican even rejected a ratio of ten parts spending cuts to one part tax rises. Backing business is important, but getting the macroeconomics right matters far more.

That’s not a ringing endorsement of Obama, but they just called Romney a total fool. No one saw that coming. They too prefer the real visible world, although they are wary of Obama:

Previous Democrats, notably Bill Clinton, raised taxes, but still understood capitalism. Bashing business seems second nature to many of the people around Mr Obama. If he has appointed some decent people to his cabinet – Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Arne Duncan at education and Tim Geithner at the Treasury – the White House itself has too often seemed insular and left-leaning.

Kevin Drum says that’s just crazy:

As the Economist points out, Obama appointed Tim Geithner at Treasury. He reappointed Ben Bernanke at the Fed. His top White House advisor was Larry Summers, a protégé of Robert Rubin and an alumnus of the Clinton White House. He appointed Peter Orszag as director of OMB. He hired Wall Street financier Steven Rattner to manage the Detroit rescue. He appointed Paul Volcker, the man who saved us from stagflation, as chair of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. And he appointed Christina Romer as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors – a lefty, perhaps, but certainly not a business basher. Every progressive pundit I know, from Paul Krugman on down, has mostly complained that Obama’s economic team was too centrist, too mainstream, and too Clintonian. The idea that these folks are somehow unenlightened about capitalism is laughable.

The Economist also has a weird complaint that Obama “surrendered too much control to left-wing Democrats” over Obamacare – in reality, he didn’t surrender to them, he was forced to deal with them because Republicans refused to offer any of their votes in return for centrist compromises – but I’ll let that go.

Instead, Drum recommends Matthew Yglesias with this:

This idea that sound economic policy derives from palling around with job creators is one of the most pernicious myths out there today. And when you think about it, it undermines the whole logic of capitalism. The Soviet Union desperately needed politicians who understood agriculture, industry, and commerce because Soviet politicians were running the whole economy. In America we don’t do that. What the president has to do well is the things that he’s in charge of – being the single strongest voice in public policy disputes.

I think the best example of this is the first term of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Businessmen really didn’t like the guy. But the economy grew like crazy during his first four or five years in office. Why was there such strong growth? Primarily because FDR took the United States off the gold standard. That was a great idea, though it was much-criticized by business elites at the time. Tellingly, even when the policies were clearly working and the economy was growing again after years of collapse, businessmen didn’t change their mind about FDR. That doesn’t show that they’re bad people or bad businessmen, simply that they were really bad at public policy analysis – which is fine, because just as we wisely don’t have politicians running businesses we also wisely don’t have businessmen running the government.

Drum:

Could Obama have used a few more CEOs in his economic team? Maybe – although I doubt that it would have mollified the business community or changed the political realities of Capitol Hill much. But look. Geithner’s job was to support higher capital standards for banks whether banks liked it or not. Summers’ role was to help pass new financial regulations whether financiers liked it or not. Obama’s role was to pass healthcare reform whether the CEO of Wal-Mart liked it or not. All of these things might have turned out better if Republicans had shown any interest in working together on them, but they didn’t. That was the hand Obama was dealt.

All this is true, but an endorsement is an endorsement, and this one, from the world’s most respected financial publication, was stunning – even if it was no more than saying Romney is a delusional clown and Obama isn’t quite there yet – and of course it won’t matter. Fewer swing voters read the Economist than give a damn what the mayor of New York City thinks. The halo effect presumes a halo that everyone, universally, agrees is a halo – of fame or success or insight. The Economist is a specialty publication and Michael Bloomberg the mayor of the city no one can really understand – even those who live there.

So, those were the endorsements. Now, have you considered a reverse mortgage?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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