By Robert Becker
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 relies on only one word.
As Molly Ball of The Atlantic explained, slogans vary when focus shifts — 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 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 clown (smirking, WFT?). Plus, how is the unknowable future comparable to, say, sporting events, even wars, fast with measurable outcomes? “An America built to last” surfaced, but was dropped: 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 suits Obama’s fence-sitting mode while setting forth the stance of his extremist opponents: “Backwards.” With a vengeance, and booming, gung-ho war cries: “let’s take back the Robber Baron Age” and embrace 19th C. capitalism.
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 Etch-a-Sketch slogan lubricates all the faux religiosity of our faux exceptionalism, “Believe in America.” As if we can “disbelieve” in our ever-belligerent empire hunting down weaklings to intimidate, boycott, invade, or bomb. Yes, I believe America is disintegrating, 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, our election now comes down to one establishment-centrist party endorsing the status quo (lit. “the state in which”) with glimmers 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, reactionary ditties have vanished, though Romney’s off-key singing at the drop of cliché smacks of revivalist sermonizing.
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 slogan 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). Remember 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, constant deal-making, frontiers pushed and covenants sanctified — 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. Like “23 skidoo.” In this spirit and for your amusement, I close out with fanciful kiss-offs suitable for loser Rethugs this year. And one factual one.
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?”
Santorum: “If I were only purer, and less pushy, God would have delivered our presidency to me. 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 twice.”
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 every blond chick I met found me irresistible. I am irresistible, practically.”
The Real, wow finale
Sarah Palin: “Anything is Possible.” This one is factual: at the Wasilla Super Tuesday caucus, CNN asked her, “Sarah Palin for President, 2016 — is it possible?” And the ditzy Tundra Dumb One responded, “Anything in this life, in this world, is possible. Anything is possible for an American. I don’t discount any idea or plan that, at this point, isn’t in my control.”
No, kaput-governor and most mortified of our modern public figures, this is not the Land of Oz, despite your incoherent syntax. Everything is NOT possible and, like Trump or Cain, your wining national office is an insane pipe-dream. However, we know all too well how your reality of convenience will explain away all of your future failures: “Well, God who decides all must have more important tasks for his missionary sister. But I don’t blame God. Instead, when down, I blame Levi Johnson: if he only hadn’t banged my Bristol, I could have been someone. Any American can. Just keep reloading.”