“To lean forward is to think bigger, listen closer, fight smarter, and act faster.” – MSNBC.com
Substantively, what does this quote mean? What message is MSNBC trying to put out with its two-year, multimillion dollar self-branding campaign to “lean forward”? The definition provided is a jumbled mix of vague and essentially meaningless platitudes. The murky, nebulous slogan itself is clearly just meant to be memorable and hopefully catchy. The viewer must examine the content of the commercials in order to discern what is actually at the heart of this campaign.
Although there are a few feel-good, uncontroversial broadcasts included in the advertising blitz, the bulk of the commercials are spent putting forward a progressive political agenda. Phil Griffin, the chief executive of MSNBC, has been quoted as saying, “MSNBC has established a sensibility, a position, a platform,” and that, “MSNBC is really the place to go for progressives.“
"Declaration of Forward”
The “lean forward” campaign strongly supports this assertion. The progressive message underlying them all fundamentally differs from conservative arguments. In the initial commercial “Declaration of Forward”, MSNBC claims that we are the “United States of Come-As-You-Are” and that, “our differences are what unite us.” This simply isn’t true. Our differences may make America unique or even beautiful, but what unites us as Americans are our shared principles. It’s troubling to see the progressive network co-opt the name and language of the Declaration of Independence in the “Declaration of Forward” commercial without recognizing that it is the principles laid out in that very document that weave us together as one people.
“Do Their Part”
Hardball host Chris Matthews appears in an interesting ad spot called “Do Their Part”. In it, Matthews says, “I think one of the problems of the country is that we’ve all been basically excused,” through tax cuts or allowing others to serve in the military. He’s pushing a theme of civic responsibility, but it’s more than a little bit hypocritical since he himself did not serve. Regardless, he argues that Americans must “do their part in this country, including paying fair taxes.” This doubtlessly refers to the progressive outcry over income inequality and “tax breaks for the rich” that I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post.
However, looking at the numbers from 2009, the top 1% of earners paid 36.73% of income taxes. The top 10% of earners paid 70.47% of income taxes, and the bottom 50% of earners contributed only 2.25% of income taxes. In fact, the bottom 47% of earners paid no income taxes whatsoever, which is an oft-disputed statistic that PolitiFact.com has verified.
What percentage would Chris Matthews consider a “fair share”? Should the top 10% of earners pay 90% of all income taxes? How about 100%? Shouldn’t 47% of Americans contribute something in order to do their fair share? Matthews’ implicit claim that wealthy Americans aren’t paying enough in taxes only makes sense if you believe that the federal government has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
“As Much An American”
That isn’t the only mildly ridiculous “Lean Forward” commercial featuring Matthews, though. He also appears in “As Much an American”, in which he slams Republican candidates for not admitting that the president is, as the title indicates, as much of an American as they are. For one thing, who’s saying that Obama isn’t? Is it really fair to demand in a commercial that the Republican candidates say something, and then blast them in the same commercial for not saying it yet? How are they supposed to respond to that?
Besides, wouldn’t this be a more appropriate demand to make of them in an interview? After all, Matthews does host a political television show, so this wouldn’t be particularly difficult for him to set up. The fact is that he wanted to take a cheap shot at the Republican field of candidates and he picked the most unfair format through which to do it.
Perhaps the most famous of the “Lean Forward” commercials released so far would be Reverend Al Sharpton’s “Blueberry Pie” commercial. The near-incoherent, rambling story told by Sharpton was quickly parodied on Saturday Night Live. Even a blog post on the famously liberal Huffington Post website admitted that it’s “pretty wacky.”Still, of the many advertisements in MSNBC’s branding campaign, this one may have the most truth to it beneath the silliness.
Sharpton’s point is simply that the Bush-era Republican party made a mess of governing through deficit spending, bailouts, and expanding entitlement programs, and now Republicans are denouncing the Democrats for doing the same things. In other words, Republicans engorged themselves on the taxpayer-funded blueberry pie, and now they’re hypocritically attacking Democrats for feeding off of the same diner table.
Here’s what he doesn’t understand, though: The Republican party has undergone a major transformation after what amounts to a takeover by the Tea Party. Republicans who paid lip service to fiscal conservatism for decades while wasting tremendous amounts of cash are getting kicked out of office all over the country, and their replacements are serious when they talk about a return to limited, Constitutional government.
Put simply, Sharpton’s criticism is fair, but doesn’t apply to a new class of representatives who are on the frontlines in criticizing the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress for continuing and magnifying the policies of deficit spending, bailouts, and government expansion. The Tea Party is forcing Republicans away from the blueberry pie, but Democrats are asking for seconds, if not thirds.
The massive success of Fox News, a network that makes little effort to disguise its conservative leanings, has clearly influenced MSNBC to embrace its progressive identity in an obvious effort to boost ratings and viewership. The “Lean Forward” advertising campaign is, at its heart, polished gimmickry.