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Slogging Towards Campaign Slogans: Power Lines or Puffery?

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Finally, erratic Obama wordsmiths have slogged their way to the ideal slogan: "Forward," aptly safe and succinct and vacuous. What if it echoes MSNBC's "Lean Forward," itself no powerhouse of punch? Less is certainly more these days, and this president notches one more historic threshold: no other slogan since 1844 uses only one word. Perhaps, TR once snapped "Charge," and I wager "Charge Forward" would give Obama's more energy.

As Molly Ball of The Atlantic explained, slogans shift when focus shifts -- here, from foreign policy to health care, now to the economy. But "nobody seems to know exactly what the message is, or what this campaign is about," she opined, a main "part of the problem with Obama's presidency. It's sort of been all over the place."

Yes and no, for Obama's been Mr. Consistency on the bulk of corporate, Wall Street and military demands. "Forward" is no worse than the incumbent's other discarded missteps, like "Winning the Future." That provoked guffaws from the Palin crown (smirking, WFT?). Plus, how is the unknowable future comparable to, say, sporting events, even wars, normally with much harder, more measurable outcomes? "An America built to last" surfaced, a real loser, but why intimate decline? "We can't wait," lived ever so briefly, tossed out either for sounding petulant or too much like fidgety, back seat kids begging for a pit stop.

Consider the clarity, if not automotive and game resonances, of "Forward," distilling all the complexities of national leadership into one word, accessible to grade children and aging grandparents alike. Or to soldiers (charge forward, no retreat) or actors (stage front), even football linemen after the snap. Frankly, besides its vacuity, this slogan fits Obama's fence-sitting mode while implying the only arguable stance for his extremist opponents: "Backwards." With a vengeance, and booming, gung-ho war cries: "let's take back the Robber Baron Age," embracing the 19th C. until the Rapture redeems our fallen nation.

Slogans or Sermons?

Indeed, Republican domination, in the words of the NYTimes' Timothy Egan, is a regressive onslaught by "Do Nothings and Know Nothings." On point, Mitt Romney's proposed slogan lubricates all the faux religiosity of our faux exceptionalism, "Believe in America." As if we awake can "disbelieve" in our ever-belligerent empire hunting down weaklings to intimidate, boycott, invade, or bomb. Yes, I believe all too well in an America that's disintegrating, that favors the rich, and readily abuses massive civil and human rights.

And yet political slogans voice character and values, even notions of conquering that troublesome future. Thus, right now the election now comes down to one establishment-centrist party endorsing the status quo (lit. "the state in which") with promises to inch forward -- vs. the extremist establishment party that worships a status quo that was static, if not quo, a century ago. Lucky for us, dreadful 19th C. campaign song ditties vanished, though Romney's off-key singing at the drop of cliche smacks of revivalist sermonizing. When weird Mitt the hustling music man toured Michigan, he committed a major musical gaffe, asking the local band to play "On Wisconsin" -- despite himself hailing from Michigan!?

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Of course, "Forward" doesn't exactly stir the innards or blaze into subterranean memory like "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too," "54-40 or fight," even "Return to Normalcy" or "The New Deal." Nor should we ever slight curiosities: "This is a White Man's Government!" (1868), "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" (1884), "Full Dinner Pail" (1900), "Hoo but Hoover?" (1928), or "Give 'Em Hell, Harry!" (1948). How many still recall how closely "Yes, America Can!" (Bush, 2004) anticipated Obama's merry high moments: "Yes We Can," "The Audacity of Hope" and "Change We Can Believe in?"

One could do worse, to recap American history, than scanning campaign slogans since 1840. Add cogent linkages like: Square Deal (Theodore Roosevelt), New Freedom (Wilson), New Deal (Franklin D. Roosevelt), Fair Deal (Truman), New Frontier (Kennedy), Great Society (Lyndon Johnson), and New Covenant (Clinton). So, making deals, pushing frontiers while sanctifying covenants -- sounds damned American to me. By the way, Obama's latest backward-looking, forward-hoping re-election video is impressively professional.

No guts, no slogans

Speaking of language-leadership links, I laughed hard when hearing this comic non sequitur from W. the Disingenuous, disavowing his own signature rip-off, the "Bush" tax cuts: "If they were called some other body's tax cuts, they're probably less likely to be raised." In fact, huge majorities wish his tax scam for the rich never existed and would go away forever. Only a few million less want you and Cheney to fade away, invisibly and forever. As in "23 skidoo." In this spirit and for your amusement, I offer fanciful kiss-offs suitable for loser Rethugs this year.

Gingrich: "Lost are all my great, insufferable ideas. I guess I just didn't lie well enough." Or "I've been unzipped for decades, and all I got -- three wives and a bad rap." Or "Can you believe I lost to that lying Etch-a-Sketch phony -- me, the only real adulterer with principles, except for Cain?"

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Santorum: "If only I were purer, and less pushy, God would have delivered my presidency. Next time, I'll know better: really focus on my faith and the one, holy, apostolic Church."

Perry: "It's not that I'm dumber than other Texans, just snake-bit with a condition called OML, Oops Memory Lapses. Hell, W screwed up worse and he won twice."

Bachmann: "I have received the divine message. I was punished for being too forthright, too doggone honest for this crooked world. And having Perry steal my thunder. Didn't I prove my goodness by adopting that gaggle of kids and never making any gaffes?"

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Educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English) Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. From '92-02 he did marketing (more...)
 

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Do they reveal true values or character?  Are... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 6:06:59 PM