Slogans, more than Sermonizing by Steve Cone
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: there's no other slogan since 1844 using only one word. Perhaps, TR snapped "Charge," and Obama's gets more energy with "Charge Forward."
As Molly Ball of The Atlantic explained, slogans should 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 Mr. Consistency on most 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 hard measurable outcomes? "An America built to last" surfaced, a real winner, 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, polluted 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 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 the 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, o ur election now comes down to one establishment-centrist party endorsing the status quo (lit. "the state in which") with promises of forward motion -- 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 ditties vanished, though Romney's off-key singing at the drop of cliche smacks of revivalist sermonizing. When Mitt the hustling music man toured Michigan, he goofed badly, asking the local band to play "On Wisconsin" -- despite himself hailing from Michigan!?
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 or decades, and all I got was 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?"
Santorum: "If I were only purer, and less pushy, God would have delivered my presidency. Next time, I'll know better: 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
Bachmann: "I got 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?"
Cain: "I could have been a star -- if I hadn't been star-crossed. So, I never held public office, and what if every blond chick I met found me irresistible. I am irresistible, practically."
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