Back in the 2004 Presidential Election, with the help of that Echo Chamber called the MSM, the American People were repeatedly told they "shouldn't change horses in the middle of the stream"
Eventually that simple idea took hold and swayed the majority of people to stay with the "horse they knew" instead of get a "new horse" with "fresh legs" and "a fighting spirit"
American decided, and in its collective wisdom, that "tried and true" horse named Bush was a safer bet than the "untested" horse named Kerry ...
Although I'm still not quite sure how appropriate it was to call the President "a Horse", or to call the Iraq War "a Stream"?
Appropriate or not, it worked. And nearly 3 years later, we're still stuck mid-stream!
Here are some examples of how this simple but powerful Slogan became the "assumed context" in most of the political analysis, during the run up to Election Day 2004:
CNN AMERICAN MORNING
Interview With David Gergen
Aired February 24, 2004
O'BRIEN: There's an underlying message there of boy, don't you want to stay with what you know than rather what you don't know.
How important, how pointed is that message, do you think, to voters?
GERGEN: It can be very important, especially during a time of war. It's, the president who argues stick with me, we're in the middle, we're in the middle of the stream, don't change horses right here and now, has often been an appealing argument to voters in the past.
CBS Evening News
The Political War Over The War
CBS' Kuhn On Bush, Kerry And The War In Iraq
NEW YORK, March 17, 2004
When the country was split by war and not simply by party, Abraham Lincoln argued before the nation, "Don't swap horses in the middle of the stream." A century and a half later, another Republican is running the same campaign, as an unwavering leader dedicated to protecting America's security.
That "Horse in Midstream" idea became so commonplace that even Democratic Party members were repeating it, as a "matter of fact":
Kerry struggles on national defense
By Terence Hunt (The Associated Press)
But with the nation on edge about terrorism, voters trust Bush over Kerry by a wide margin to keep the country safe. That is Kerry's biggest problem, persuading voters to make a change in wartime. "He [Bush] has the residue of September 11. There's kind of a reluctance to change horses in the middle of the stream," said Tom Kayser, a Democratic delegate delegate from Minnesota.
SO why did this folksy slogan work anyways ???
What made this simple Talking Point echo through out society to such an extent, that even Democrats themselves were repeating it, and worried about it? (So worried in fact, that few dared to attack the Horse-Stream metaphor head on.)
Here are few observations on the slogan's effectiveness:
- It was catchy and easy to remember, and easy to repeat.
- It provided a simple picture of the Election choices.
- The mental picture was simple enough that even a 5th Grader would understand it.
- The Slogan had vested in it, the authority of Lincoln, who had first coined the phrase.
- The Slogan easily served as "a springboard" into that "shallow pool" of other key GOP Talking Points:
A) "Stay the Course"
B) "We don't Cut and Run"
C) "We got to Fight them over there, so we don't have to Fight them over here!"
"Stay the Course" once again was a simple and powerful slogan that pushed all sorts of Morality Buttons (as George Lakoff will explain shortly.)
Anyone that didn't support "Staying the Course" was immediately branded as "Cut and Run", and forced to carry all that label's emotional baggage of being "Unpatriotic in a time of war!"
This was a "language trap". It was an effective "bear-trap", that snared all Naysayers; which was what Karl Rove intended when he dreamt up the strategy, in the first place:
US Elections: What Happened?
November 11, 2004
by Huck Gutman
Thus, the war on terrorism itself had to be sold to Americans. To do that, Republicans reversed one of the boldest pronouncements made by an American President. In his first inaugural address in 1932, President Franklin D Roosevelt proclaimed, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," thus offering a American nation in the midst of economic depression an optimism that is nowhere in evidence today. Quite the contrary. The plan of Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist, was to create a deep well of fear in Americans, and to get them to vote on the basis of that fear. When the WTC was attacked and demolished, Rove saw that it might be possible to convince Americans that no American, no community, would any longer be safe. Irrational and evil men from abroad could attack at any moment. No single school or shopping center was safe. People who had sworn to destroy Americans were liable to rise up anywhere, wreaking destruction and havoc on even the most serene or innocent American neighborhood.
Bush’s campaign strategy centered on showing that the incumbent President was a leader who could be trusted to command the USA in time of war, and to unmask Kerry as someone less than trustworthy or capable.
"Stay the Course" or "Cut and Run" (America was asked, which side are you on?)
They were 2 sides of a very effective Coin. It was that "emotional currency" that the GOP so effectively spent, that got George W. back into the White House (that, and the Horse-Mid-Stream image).
With these 2 simple phrases, each pivoting right into the other, it took hardly any effort at all. It was so easy in fact, that even Middle America (and Right-wing Radio) could carry the Administration's water, without hardly thinking about it.
SO Why did these Slogans work so well? Well according to to this Media Framing expert, it was because they were such "emotionally charged" images:
Staying the Course Right Over a Cliff
By George Lakoff
October 27, 2006
"Stay the course" is a particularly powerful metaphor because it can activate so many of our emotions. Because physical actions require movement, we commonly understand action as motion. Because achieving goals so often requires going to a particular place - to the refrigerator to get a cold beer, say - we think of goals as reaching destinations.
Another widespread - and powerful - metaphor is that moral action involves staying on a prescribed path, and straying from the path is immoral. In modern conservative discourse, "character" is seen through the metaphor of moral strength, being unbending in the face of immoral forces. "Backbone," we call it.
In the context of a metaphorical war against evil, "stay the course" evoked all these emotion-laden metaphors. The phrase enabled the president to act the way he'd been acting - and to demonstrate that it was his strong character that enabled him to stay on the moral path.
To not stay the course evokes the same metaphors, but says you are not steadfast, not morally strong. In addition, it means not getting to your destination - that is, not achieving your original purpose. In other words, you are lacking in character and strength; you are unable to "complete the mission" and "achieve the goal."
Taken together those 2 slogans, "Stay the Course" or "Cut and Run" also provided the launching pad to the GOP's most sophisticated Debating point (which is at about 7th Grade level, I'd say):
"We got to Fight them over there, so we don't have to Fight them over here!"
(BTW, I'm still wondered which "them" WERE they are talking about? Sunni, Shia, Insurgents, AQ in Iraq, AQ in Afghanistan, or AQ in Pakistan? Or maybe "them" is little more than the amorphous "evil-doers", the "bad guys", ie. whichever "bogeyman" that is convenient at the moment, we'll let you know... stay tuned! )
Whoever "them" were (was? are?), I guess, it really didn't matter. Those "word pictures" just struck the right chord with America, at the time! And appealed to an enough of that patriotic streak in America that it sealed the deal for Bush's re-election. (No further in-depth analysis was required!)
Though I would humbly suggest that there are indeed many, many ways to "cross a Stream". And some even allow for more than one horse!
Once the GOP no longer needed that old Horse Metaphor anymore (even though we're still stuck mid-stream!) look how they put that "old steed out to pasture" ... It was back to an old "reliable" media source George Stephanopoulos, who was only all too ready to help put that "Old Meme" to rest:
Bush: "We’ve Never Been Stay The Course"
In any event, what should Dems learn from this sad, consequential period of history? Here are a few take-away points: (imho)
- Simple is good (think 5th grade level).
- the simpler the Argument the better.
- Mental Imagery is good, especially when it can be tied to strong emotions.
- Tie your slogans into other themes which have worked in the past, by people you respect.
- Above all else, your slogans must be easy to remember, easy to repeat, easy to explain.
The best slogans, require no explanation -- they just work!
Please bare with me, as I finally close this Diary out, and try my hand at applying these Effective Sloganeering Principles. (I suggest all Progressive Dems practice such message crafting.)
1st find a venerated hero of progressive ideas:
"I call upon all of you to join us in a journey to the new frontier."
"The road ahead for America is perilous."
"the central issue in this campaign, the willingness of the American people to accept the great challenges which now confront them, and to rise to those challenges with effort and dedication."
"The history of the Democratic Party is founded in progress in this century, from the beginning until today, but the story of the Republican Party is a different story. ... There is only the same Republican Party which for a half century has opposed every major piece of social legislation passed by the Congress and approved by Democratic administrations."
"I think in many ways that the brightest days of this country can be ahead. In the election of 1860, Lincoln said, 'This Nation cannot exist half slave and half free.' I don't think the world can exist indefinitely half slave and half free. I think it is going to move by the end of this century in the direction of freedom or in the direction of slavery. I think it is up to us to determine which way it will go. I think it is up to the American people."
John F. Kennedy, September 14th, 1960
2nd, pull out a few Simple easy to remember mental images, that summarize those great Democratic Themes of the past:
The road to the future is up to us!
That road can lead to prosperous and better days for all Americans ...
Or that road can retreat to the past where only the privileged few are heard.
Those are OK ... but still kind of wordy and hard remember!
So 3rd "Boil it Down", to simple emotional concepts:
The Road to the Future is up to us!
Will we choose New Opportunities for all Americans?
Or same old tired noise from the right?
My fellow Americans, believers in Democracy: We sit on the edge of history, the Decisions we make now, will Determine the Future Journey that the entire world will end up taking!
Will we choose the failed roads of "Chaos and Fear" still embraced by the GOP?
Or will we choose those "roads less traveled", those Democratic Roads, that will one day lead to a world built on "Creativity and Hope"?
America it's up to you. America please choose wisely, this time!
( "Emotionally" much better, but still needs some work ... eh? It's just quite not at the 5th Grade Level yet ... oh well back to the drawing board.)
Maybe it's time we all got to work, on our messaging skills?
It's about that time ... time for change ...
the change that we, as Americans, and we as the world, so desperately need.
(you can be sure the GOP is honing their new messages for the next go round.)
BTW, Thanks for listening!