Sunday, July 15, 2012

Best. Campaign. Slogans. Ever.

The history of presidential campaign slogans is a rich one, and by "rich" I mean "pretty funny."

Slogans have ranged from rhyme ("All the way with Adlai") to homage ("All the way with JFK") to double entendre ("All the way with JFK.")

Sometimes, within just four years, a slogan can go from timeless ("I like Ike") to charmless ("My pick is Dick.") At least, mercifully, the latter is no longer repeated.

In the old days, they did not have focus groups to boil the message down to a pithy point. Thus: "Be vigilant and watchful that internal dissensions destroy not your prosperity" was Millard Fillmore's catchphrase in 1856, a slogan which did not, understandably, vault him into power.

Then there was "Henry Clay for his country feels, but Polk would stop our water wheels." In 1844, you apparently did not mess with Americans' water wheels.

Not that brevity was necessarily better. Dewey's slogan in 1948, "Save what's left," did not exactly launch ships.

Harsh slogans are nothing new either: "Better a part-time president than a full-time phony" was one cry. Other winners included "Coolidge or chaos," "Dump the Hump," "In your guts you know he's nuts," "Perhaps Roosevelt is all you deserve," "Nixon and Spiro = zero," "Phooey on Dewey," "Had enough?" and the endearingly lackluster "He's all right."

Herbert Hoover ran on the slogan "You never had it so good." The year? 1928. Four years later, after the Depression had ravaged the country, his reelection motto was "It might have been worse." It might well have been true, too, but truth is generally not the best crowd-rouser.

A slogan is advertising, plain and simple. So "The same currency for the bond-holder and the plow-holder" just comes off as clunky. Not to be out-clunked, Horace Greeley ran on "Universal amnesty and impartial suffrage."

Woo-hoo, right?

Samuel Tilden tried "We demand a rigorous frugality in every department of the government," a sentiment which still plays today, but only in the more Tweetable form, "Cut the fat."

Do you even know what this year's candidates' slogans are? Obama's is "Forward," I guess because "Still hoping, still changing" just did not have that winning ring. Romney's slogan, "Believe in America," is as pleasantly vague as the man himself.

Say what you want about President Nixon, he had many slogans. If I could co-opt one of his from 1968, and yell it from the rooftops on behalf of the voters, believe me, I would: "Bring us together."

. . .