To a Republican, a slogan is not merely a slogan. The slogan is the campaign. A slogan can substitute for actual governance; it can even substitute for the thought expressed by, er, the slogan itself. Case in point: "Compassionate Conservatism". All you have to do is say it; after that, you don't actually need to show any compassion. You've already expressed it in the slogan: you're done.
So it is a bit depressing to see McCain so blatantly ripping off Obama's own slogan, instead of crafting one himself. Obama's slogan was "Change You Can Believe In"; McCain's new version is "A Leader We Can Believe In". Obama's omnipresent logo consists of blue over a hill of red and white; his website has a field of blue over red, with subtle "sunburst" rays in the background. McCain has chosen for his new theme a field of greenish-blue over red and white... with subtle "sunburst" rays in the background...
Hey, it's mavericky, I'll give him that. And I guess somebody's convinced him at his point that green and greenish should be his favorite colors. As a Republican, perhaps it reminds him of money. Perhaps it replaces an environmental policy -- rather than caring about the forests, perhaps we can just paint all our shopping malls a nice forest green and get on with our lives.
But I'm disappointed in McCain's slogan, ripped off or not. A Leader We Can Believe In. I'll grant him that an appeal to leadership is likely to go over well with conservatives -- a hell of a lot better than appeals to, bolt the door and hide the silver, change, shudder -- but it is so dull. So conventional. It lacks creativity, yes, but more to the point it lacks pizzazz. A proper conservative slogan should not just appeal to a wholesome conservative lust for strong centralized leadership, it must also offer assurances that this particular conservative will not fuck things up the way all the other conservatives have. It must appeal to the God-fearing, and the bigoted, and the God-fearingly bigoted (i.e. John Hagee). It must sound inspirational while at the same time recognizing that conservatives are terrified of anything but the status quo -- and waxing inspirational about the status quo is a damn difficult prospect.
So I am chagrined that John McCain has, despite my pleas, not chosen any of my own suggested slogans. I worked very, very hard on them, and knowing that he was a conservative I sent them via the most conservative method of delivery I could find, which is to carve them into stone tablets, tie them to the back of a mule, and walk away, trusting that the rest would eventually work itself out according to free market principles.
Here were my own suggestions. If any of you see that mule, send him McCain's way.
Compassionate Maverickism. Simple and to the point. The compassion part would serve notice that you have no actual interest in compassion and are just getting that part out of the way right off the bat, while the maverickism sounds appropriately rebellious and manly. Since you haven't technically been a maverick in, what, a decade or two, this also would appeal nicely to the sullen longing-for-the-past that conservatism is so continually engaged in.
A Changely Leader For Nonchangelyness. I like this one because nonchangelyness is a fantastic, very Bushian word. Creative half-literacy would resonate well with the Bush base, while the dual messages of change and non-change would satisfy those that recognize the Bush years have truly sucked, but who still cringe at the thought of attempting anything even the slightest bit different. This slogan properly conveys the message of nearly every modern Republican election, which is "yes, I know we screwed things up last time. But this time will be different, because we're going to do exactly the same thing."
McCain: Get The Hell Off My Lawn. People have been concerned about your age and health: the only way to combat this is to respond to it directly. With a slogan like this, people will know you are still vigorous enough to care whether or not people are on your lawn. Your concern about proper lawn care will resonate with the suburban middle class. And your invocation of hell will enliven the religious base, who are very eager to know that there is some class of people, somewhere, who you are willing to consign to hell for the most petty of reasons.
From Iraq To Iran, I've Got The Plan. Anything that rhymes is golden, especially when your core constituency is made up of people whose memories are atrocious enough to have forgotten, well, nearly everything disastrous that's happened the last eight years. Coupling a rhyme with war imagery, though, that's especially good messaging. It says to your opponent, not only am I wholeheartedly for this war, I'm even willing to turn it into a nursery rhyme. Which will come in handy for indoctrinating the young tots who will be fighting the next war -- camouflage onesies will be all the rage.
White And Pasty, '08. If you're going to go for a slogan that can be easily put on a bumper sticker, you're stuck with three or four words max. So you have to make those words count by encapsulating your entire strategy, and by drawing as much distinction between yourself and your opponent as possible. Let's be honest, here: Republicanism is down to pretty much one major constituency, these days. Might as well give them the props they so richly deserve.
Let's face it, John -- in this constant attempt to redefine yourself as the white, dull version of Obama, you're doing yourself a disservice. First you proposed going on a joint field trip to Iraq with Obama -- sortof the warzone equivalent of the buddy system. Then you proposed flying around the country with him in a series of town hall debates, so that he would have about 20,000 less visitors per venue and you could speak to a full set of chairs for a change. Now you're copying not just his slogan, but even the graphic design on his website? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but you're in danger of making your entire campaign subservient to his. And that's just bad form.
Look, nobody's going to mistake you for the svelte black guy with new ideas -- you needn't worry. You need to focus on all those people that will be swayed by your charming ex-maverick status, your translucent Republican whiteness, your disturbing, Batman-villain grin whenever you've read one of your own punchlines off the teleprompter, and your encyclopedic ability to have, at one moment or another, every possible position on every issue of the last fifty years.
Forget Obama's cheering crowds and inspirational slogans: you must look to appeal to all those people in America who are suspicious of cheering crowds, and positively terrified of inspiration. In this election, those people will be your base.