The worst of the campaign slogans

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is it just me, or has the presidential race gradually become less fun, as we begin to realize that one of these people is actually going to be our leader for at least the next four years? The early giddiness, excitement and promise are wearing a little thin. Maybe the only way you get elected these days is bitterness: to convince voters that everything is a totally ruined, hopeless disaster - to be completely blamed on someone else, of course - and that the only chance of survival is to believe that this one person has the magical unicorn answer. They haven't really told us what it is, but we are supposed to believe they have it.

In Hollywood, they call this "suspending disbelief."

Case in point: the slogans.

Twenty-two candidates for 2016, hundreds of behind-the-scenes political wonks, fundraising experts and the best marketing gurus money can buy, and not one comes up with anything inspiring. If you can't be creative or original in your own slogan, how are you going to come up with a way to unite a split society?

Let's look at the contenders, shall we?

"Everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion," for Hillary Clinton. "Everyday?" How condescending is that? We're clearly the drab "little people" who can't manage life without someone to save us. She's also used, "Hillary for America." Were we confused that she was running for president of Zimbabwe?

Bernie Sanders counters with, "A political revolution is coming." How revolutionary is it really to elect someone who has been in Congress for a quarter of a century? Also, it just kind of sounds ominous, in a Che Guevara sort of way.

So many of the slogans seem as negative as the race itself.

The Great Orange One tells us to, "Make America Great Again." Without him, apparently, we're chopped liver. Over on the Democrat side, Martin O'Malley had the same vibe, "Rebuild the American Dream." It's not a transmission, Marty.

"Believe Again," said Bobby Jindal. Yo, Bob, we never stopped, and if we had, it would have been because of the broken-down, infighting Congress you've been a part of. "Restore the American Dream for Hardworking Families," pleads Rick Santorum, whose work has basically been running for president for the past decade. And Ted Cruz says he is *"Reigniting the Promise for America," (* = unless you're a refugee, a DREAMer, Muslim, gay, etc.)

Marco Rubio's tagline of late has been, "America is a great nation in decline," a slogan that could appeal only to manic depressives and perhaps Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame.

What do this batch of Debby Downer slogans have in common? The message seems to be that everything has already gone to hell in a hand basket anyway, so you might as well go ahead and elect me. What's to lose?

We get the strategy, but do we have to swallow that the country and the American concept have failed that badly? Perhaps our leadership has let us down in many ways, but that doesn't mean that America has ever lacked promise.

All, by the way, rip off John Kerry's sad sack slogan "Let America be America Again." Never copy a fail.

Marco Rubio's official slogan, "A New American Century," should require the payment of royalties to Al Gore, who trademarked "Leadership for the New Millennium." Someone should tell Rubes that the century was new 16 years ago.

How about Rand Paul? He went with, "Defeat The Washington Machine. Unleash The American Dream." Wait a minute, he's not only been a cog in that machine since he was first elected to the Senate in 2011, he's a second generation cog. That makes him the leash.

Mike Huckabee had the nerve to make his slogan, "From Hope to Higher Ground," clearly a ploy to sell copies of his book with that as a title. What does it even mean? A sarcastic poke at Barack Obama's original "Hope" campaign, perhaps? Higher ground either is a religious metaphor or he expects a flood.

Chris Christie's slogan is equally hard to decipher - "Telling it like it is." Telling what like how?

Poor Jeb Bush was clearly led astray by some advertising whiz who came up with "Jeb!" as a slogan. Sure, let's be meaningless and self-centered, that always works. Same for "Kasich for Us." There's a reason Bob Dole lost with "The Better Man for a Better America."

Some are just awkward and clunky. "Ready to Be Commander-In-Chief on Day One" (Lindsey Graham) and "We Must Do Right and Risk the Consequences" (Rick Perry) sound more like something to chiseled on a tombstone than a campaign theme.

There's nothing new under the sun when it comes to slogans, with the same machines cranking out the same themes, carefully crafted to plink the American guitar strings of our inborn pride. JFK's "Let's Get America Moving Again" from 1960 could easily be a theme for any of the new candidates all these years later.

So, who gets the award for the best slogans of the 2016 race?

Ben Carson had one of the better offerings, I thought - "Heal. Inspire. Revive." Okay, it sounds a little like an ad for a yoga studio, but it's punchy and spunky.

Carly Florin wasn't bad, with "New Possibilities. Real Leadership." Vague, but upbeat and it looks solid on a t-shirt.

In a tight race, though, I'd have to give the nod to Lincoln Chafee's "Fresh Ideas for America." Short, sweet, stressing change, and unrelentingly positive - a little literary happy face sticker. It echoes the "Change We Can Believe In" slogan that paid off for Obama Part Deux, and Wild Bill Clinton's, "A New Voice for a New America" from 1992.

Best of all time? "Give 'Em Hell Harry!" (Truman, 1948), "Happy Days Are Here Again" (FDR, 1932), and the viciously effective, "Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?" (Reagan, 1980).

Interestingly enough, in over 200 major political slogans since they started to appear in the 1830s, the words democracy, freedom, constitution and God have never once appeared.

Of course, when you get past the slogans, most of the candidates are alarmingly the same, and none remaining really offer much hope of getting the two parties together to accomplish bipartisan achievement.

I hope I'm wrong on this, but it seems difficult to argue with what a British commentator said of his country's recent elections.

"It doesn't matter if there is a change in management. It's still a brothel."