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The partisan divide in American politics is not only greater and more rancorous than ever, it’s becoming worse on a daily basis. “Youngblood,” you say, “How can this be?” Well… I’ll tell you how because I know exactly why it’s happening. Great and growing partisan rancor is good for business. It’s good for the continued growth and financial health of the American Political Industry.
Stick with me here. It won’t be at all difficult to follow and understand the train of logic, but it is a long and winding road. And as long as I’ve already used that clichcé, I’ll begin my look inside the Political Industry with a look inside the much more familiar Automotive Industry. You’ll find the parallels to be as stunning as I did.
First, let’s consider the four key groups of players that make up the automotive industry.
- Suppliers of parts, components, equipment, tools and services to the automotive manufacturers
- Automotive Manufacturers themselves (The many competitors at the core of the industry competing for the consumer’s dollars)
- Automobile Dealers (The Sales Channel for the Manufacturers)
- Customers (The ultimate source of all the money)
The competition among all the thousands and thousands of Suppliers is unrelentingly intense. Each is endlessly striving for higher quality at a lower price. Each is scrapping and clawing to get that big contract from GM or Ford or Chrysler, or…
The competition among the 62 major Automotive Manufacturers and all the other smaller ones is also unrelentingly intense. They too are forever focused on increasing the quality of their cars while lowering their prices. Ditto for all the Automobile Dealers competition-wise. Seems like every town in the country has that one street with one car dealer after another after another.
At the end of this supply chain is the source of all the money that feeds everything further back up that supply chain, the Customer. It’s obvious that the main point I want to emphasize here is that all the unrelentingly intense competition throughout that entire supply chain delivers cars that are of dramatically higher quality, with much higher gas mileage that are immensely safer for a relatively lower, inflation-adjusted price than ever.
The automotive industry is a beautiful example of American ingenuity and capitalism delivering ever better products to its customers at ever better prices.
Now let’s take a look at the exactly analogous American Political Industry. It has the same four key groups of players:
- Suppliers of political services and tools (Candidates, Think Tanks, Campaign Managers, Consultants, Canvassers, Strategists and Political Staffers)
- Political Parties (The two competitors for dominance of the industry – which is measured in terms of voter support and dollars)
- The Media (The Sales Channel that delivers the sales pitch to the voters)
- Customers (The voters – the ultimate source of all the money)
It’s time to pause and think now…
It’s time to perceive and appreciate the exact parallel between the structure of the Automotive Industry and the structure of the Political Industry. From Suppliers of raw materials and services to Industry Competitors who process and package those materials and services, so the Sales Channel can explain to Customers why they need to give their dollars in exchange for the product. Supplier to Industry Competitor to Sales Channel to Customer. Wheels and engines and windshields; to builders of cars; to dealers; to customers. Polling data, campaign management services and think tank ideas; to political parties; to the media; to the voters.
Really interesting isn’t it? I wonder though, if we dig down a level deeper, if we’ll find any significant differences between the structures of these two industries.
Shall we begin with the elephant in the room? I’ve already mentioned that there are 62 major automotive manufacturers. For the record, Wikipedia lists 399 more for a total of 461 automotive manufacturers. So… In the Automotive Industry, there are 461 competing ways to build a car. In the American Political industry, there’s the Red Way and Blue Way.
There are 461 ways to build a car, but only 2 ways to deal with the coronavirus. There are 461 ways to build a car, but only 2 ways to design a healthcare system. There are 461 ways to build a car, but only 2 ways to think about abortion.
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That uneasy feeling you have right now is called cognitive dissonance. 461 ways to build a car, but only 2 ways to design a healthcare system? Logically, that makes no sense. Yes, a modern car is complex, but a healthcare system is vastly more complicated, with vastly more components, people, services and scientific knowledge involved. More parts means more different ways to combine those parts, right? Yes! But still, there are only two ways to run the healthcare system?
How on earth did the two political parties possibly get the whole country to believe there’s a blue way and a red way and no other way to deliver healthcare? Or deal with a pandemic? Or think about abortion? The answer is they exploit their duopoly status to suck in and control all the other participants in the political industry for their mutual benefit.
A monopoly in an industry is bad, right? They’re the only game in town and can get away with delivering shoddy quality at a high price because the consumer has no other option. That’s why federal regulations are in place to prevent a monopoly from occurring. Keep this thought in mind. We’ll come back to it again a bit later.
A duopoly, only 2 competitors in an industry, can be even worse for the consumer – much worse – than a monopoly. If the two competitors collude with one another, they can create not actual intense, bitter competition, but merely the illusion of intense, bitter competition. Think professional wrestling. Unlike that sort of show, real competition means spending a lot of money and expending a lot of effort to create a better product than the other guy. In the political industry, this would be a better, more effective, more efficient party platform.
But it’s NOT real competition in American politics. If the two parties can orchestrate things so the pie gets split pretty much 50/50, they can both spend less money on policy-making and use those savings to enrich themselves and their pals working in the other parts of the Political Industry.
The Democrats and the Republicans are the Duopoly in control of the Political Industry.
This is the crucial point. The Democrats and Republicans are the Duopoly in control of the Political Industry. A duopoly that has co-opted its suppliers and its sales channel into serving the interests of the duopoly.
Here’s how it works.
Humans love to be on teams. It’s simply the way we’re built. Pick a sport, for example. Any sport. They all have traditional rivalries, because rivalries are fun. The University of Georgia vs. The University of Florida in college football. The Yankees vs. The Red Sox in Major League Baseball. Manchester United vs. Liverpool in professional soccer.
Fans of one team love to “hate” the other team. Note the quotation marks around the word “hate.” It’s not “real” hatred. It’s just “for fun” hatred. For the most part… There have been occasions when sports rivalries exploded into serious violence. Check out this list of History’s 7 Most Terrifying Sports Riots.
Anyway, the folks who run sports leagues are keenly aware of this powerful human tendency. Stoke up the rivalry! The greater the rivalry, the greater the number of hats and pennants and t-shirts and flags and bumper stickers and all manner of stuff with the team logo on it we can sell. The higher we can jack up ticket prices. The bigger the TV deal we cut. The more money we can make for ourselves.
The sports league strategy is to crank up the rivalry as high as possible without passing that tipping point into actual, real hatred and violence.
Do you think maybe the folks running the two political parties have noticed the stupendous, money-generating success the sports industry has had with this strategy?
Of course they have! And of course they also realize that there are literally thousands of pairs of sports team rivalries, meaning the overall American Sports Industry pie gets cut up into thousands of pieces. In the American Political Industry, the pie gets cut into only 2 pieces! Wow!
Step 1 for the political duopoly is therefore to prevent any additional competitors from entering their league. Without getting down into the weeds about how they do this, let’s just recognize that there is no viable 3rd party in the U.S. Never has been. None in sight.
Step 2 is to get better at stoking the rivalry thing. The duopoly looks to its suppliers. They explain the rivalry strategy to them. They recruit the thousands of intensely competitive competitors among all the think tanks, political consultants and strategists, campaign management firms and candidates and get them all working on better ways to make the Red/Blue rivalry more intense. That means more money is needed to pay all these suppliers. Which leads us to…
Step 3 – Get more money to pay all these suppliers, and provide an incentive for even more suppliers to join the fray. More competing political industry suppliers is good for business for the duopoly. But there’s a problem… Stoking the rivalry means getting the word out to 330 million American citizens. That’s a lot of people and that’s really, really difficult. The duopoly needs help.
They see how the automotive industry established a sales channel. How they established and continue to nurture the growth and financial health of a network of thousands of intensely competitive car dealers to do all the sales work. Is the same sort of sales channel possible for the political industry? Could maybe the media fulfill that role? Is it possible to get thousands of intensely competitive competitors including journalists, news anchors, political pundits, bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers and all the giant media conglomerates constantly and aggressively stoking the Red fire and Blue fire 24 X 7 X 365?
Of course, we’re all subjected to a never-ending media onslaught screaming at us to HATE the Reds and LOVE the Blues. Or alternatively to HATE the Blues and LOVE the Reds. That creates a flood of campaign donations to the duopoly, who give themselves a raise to reward themselves for their fundraising success, and then pump the rest back into their suppliers. The suppliers now have more money to dream up more ways to stoke the rivalry and they give all those ideas, information and insight to the sales channel – the media – who beat we citizens over the head with it causing us to throw even more cash at the duopoly.
And the cycle goes round and round. And it gets a little bit bigger with every trip around the circuit… The politicians have harnessed the power of rivalry and intense competition – the fundamental drivers of American ingenuity and economic success – while at the same time totally insulating themselves from any real competition at all.
Politics is a profit-driven industry like any and all other industries. It’s innately driven to grow and thrive and enrich its participants like any and all other industries. The participants are in it for the money and the power just like participants in any and all other industries. OMG!!! The politicians are in politics for the money and the power?
And now the three not-so-shocking conclusions to draw from all this…
One: To call a politician a “public servant” is utter and total nonsense; complete horse manure; pure marketing hype. Politicians are in the political industry because they perceive it to be their personal best path for acquiring money and power. Um….. just like 100% of the other humans living in the U.S. who chose different industries for their careers. The difference is the aggressive, world-class hypocrisy exhibited by politicians who exploit their duopoly to enrich themselves, while at the same time claiming the self-serving title “public servant.”
Two: Politics is not only a duopoly, it’s also a rigged industry. Who creates and enforces all the rules for regulation of the manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, etc., etc. industries? The politicians do. They’re the “objective outsider” that prevents an industry from colluding within itself to exploit we the people. And who regulates the political industry? It’s the same damn colluding politicians that make up the political industry itself. Don’t ya’ just love it when the fox gets assigned to guard the henhouse?
Three: It doesn’t matter if you think Trump is the worst, most corrupt president ever, or the most mighty-fine choice to ever hold the office, if you make your judgement based on the job he’s doing as Public-Servant-In-Chief. The Duopoly has been hard at work for decades – decades – shoveling money into their political strategy suppliers to come up with ever more effective schemes for their sales channel – the media – to shove down the throats of we unsuspecting citizens to make us even more rabid fans of whichever team we have chosen, extracting still more money from our pockets, so they can execute and reinforce the cycle over and over and over.
Trump’s ability to be an effective President of the United States of America and Commander-In-Chief is incidental to the primary goal of the duopoly. Did you get that? Trump’s ability to be an effective President of the United States of America and Commander-In-Chief is incidental to the primary goal of the duopoly.
The primary goal of the American Political Industry – the Democrat/Republican Duopoly – is to grow and improve the financial health of the Political Industry. For that job, Trump is an astonishingly effective, truly OUTSTANDING choice. Arguably the best choice ever for leader of the duopoly that is the political industry.
I’m your Intentionally Vicarious host Todd Youngblood – Energized by realizing that what used to seem like some bizarre, political circus – especially the intensity of the Red/Blue rivalry, often downright hatred – makes perfect sense when Politics is viewed as an industry focused on its own growth and financial health. Much more appalled than ever by the true enormity of the hypocrisy of the damn politicians. Actually, they’re not all hypocrites. Some of them are too damn stupid to realize what’s going on around them. And man-oh-man am I fired up by realizing that telling this story is really, going to help me have more fun than anyone else I know.
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Thanks for paying attention…
NOTE: I owe the inspiration of this episode to Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl who co-authored this paper. I’ve been a student of Professor Porter’s work since the mid-80s.