Published on November 7, 2012 | by Elspeth Merry


It’s the slogan, stupid

Barack Obama’s 2008 Slogan swept him to victory [Flickr]

With arguably the most powerful country in the world’s presidential elections having just happened, the words on everybody’s lips over the last two months or so were Mitt, Obama, no Obama, no Mitt.

People certainly weren’t pontificating over the banal political slogans “Forward.”, by Mr Obama, with the full stop even being an ardent talking point in the US, to “Believe in America” – Romney’s contribution.

The absurdity falls under the contradiction, who doesn’t believe in America? Who doesn’t want to move forward? Such statements seem to have become means of humour; you almost get excited at what the next campaigners are going to churn out in their cheese infested TV ads.

Meaningless Messages

Political editor of the Daily Mirror, Jason Beattie, comments that more recently political parties believe they need to have a slogan, rather than give thought to what it may achieve. The test here is to apply the inverse challenge.

For example the current Tory slogan “Britain can deliver” is meaningless as nobody is going to campaign on the slogan “Britain can’t deliver”. Beattie further comments on Obama’s “Forward.”, saying it was equally vacuous and summed up the problem with his campaign: there was no clear message of what he wanted to achieve in the second term.

Indeed, where have all those thought-provoking, campaign-changing slogans gone?

Making the difference

As prosaic as political slogans may seem, they can be the difference between winning and losing. Dr Jonathan Herbert, politics lecturer at Keele University, says they are significant because the give the opportunity for the ordinary voter not to think.

“They are shorthand means of communicating vague candidate sentiments to the electorate. In an era where many voters pay politics only very limited attention, slogans are the key means of communication.”

However, this assumes we are all brainless sheep, but if you think back to a campaign trail, what sticks in your head?

Most will remember the bumper sticker. It is there to sum up a party’s spirit, to be that annoying catchy liner that sticks in your head like a Kylie Minogue chorus. But Jason Beattie insists that the right slogan, at the right time, for the right campaign, can make a huge difference.

For example the Conservative attack in 1979: “Labour isn’t working.” and Obama’s short, “Forward.” definitely isn’t his best attempt. Indeed, his first presidential campaign’s “Change” and “Hope” came at a perfect time, and added importance to that particular era; the financial crisis of 2008 needed both hope and change.

Looking back through history, you can pinpoint the good, the bad, and the damn right hysterical. “Bibles will be burned, property rights destroyed, and the marriage institution abolished”- this was the 1800 Federalist Party of John Adams attack on Thomas Jefferson, because of his sympathy with the French Revolution.

You couldn’t get any more to the point than that. Then Harry S.Truman, President of the United States from 1945-1953 used “Pour it on ’em, Harry” during his presidential campaign.

Sure it was the age before Internet, but who could honestly look at that and not be sidetracked to an inapt thought of hilarity.

Satirical Sayings

Of course you can’t mention political bumper stickers without Bill Clinton’s 1992, “It’s the Economy, Stupid” – an alleged effort to avert media attention surrounding reports of his infidelity.

It came at a time when there was a prevailing recession situation in the US and quickly became a popular sound bite.

Nowadays, celebrities always join the political hip parade. In 2004 – as if rapping wasn’t enough – P Diddy thought he’d try his hand at politics, and adopted the hard-hitting “Vote or Die” in his attempt to convince young people to vote.

“This is a matter of life or death. This election is life or death, which is why Citizen Change has come up with our campaign slogan ‘Vote Or Die’,” stated Diddy at the time.

Diddy’s heart was in the right place, but his Citizen Change campaign took things to a rather farcical, dramatised level.

Indeed, in the age of Internet, a bad slogan is always in danger of being exploited, and the people are even putting political slogans into their own hands and coming up with their own inspired catch phrases.

On the satirical website, Funny or Die, there is a slide show of entertaining slogans aimed at the current US election; “Romney and Ryan – a president with no first names, a vice president with two”, and “Romney-Ryan, making sure the middle classes never lose their yachts.”

This might be a small mocking jab, and probably won’t make a difference to their campaigns, but humour can be extracted from all corners of the political slogan trail.

In a few days, after the American presidential elections have taken place and the winner has risen above the loser, will “Forward.” and “Believe in America” stay at the forefront of our minds, representing this particular moment and generation in those few words?

Only time will tell, and then before you know it the next one will be churned out for all to see.


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