How Important Are Campaign Slogans?








The national political conventions are a time when delegates wear silly hats and wave posters that carry the campaign slogans. But how important are the slogans this year?

I called the Kerry and Bush campaigns last week and spoke with workers in both press offices who were unsure whether there were official slogans. Kathy Roeder, a spokesperson for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, said that democrats have recently used the slogan, “Building a Stronger America,” although, she says, “There may be new material that reflects our team during and after the Democratic Convention.”


The Bush-Cheney campaign official slogan is, “Yes, America Can!” Early Bush commercials used the tag line, “President Bush. Steady leadership in times of change.”

Here is a collection of campaign slogans from past campaigns. I was curious about these, so I e-mailed several questions about slogans to presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is her edited response:


In certain campaigns, (slogans) can be crucial if they capture a mood of the country or a quality of the candidate or a promise to the electorate. It doesn’t often happen but when it does, the slogan provides a shorthand for the entire campaign.


Teddy Roosevelt’s promise of a “square deal” (Note: listen to speech) for business and labor alike in 1904 distinguished him from more conservative republicans and from the corporate scandals of his era. Then, when he ran as a third party candidate in 1916 and said he felt like a bull moose, the bull moose became the symbol of his energy and toughness.


In 1920, Harding’s “back to normalcy” captured the country’s desire to return to serenity after the war years and labor strikes of previous years. Hoover’s “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” captured the promise of prosperity in the Roaring ’20s, making it seem that continued republican rule would ensure these things. (Actually, Hoover never made the promise. The phrase came from Republican National Committee advertisements.)


FDR’s pledge of a “new deal” for the American people captured the tremendous desire for change and fairness after the stock market crash and depression.


JFK’s “Let’s get America moving again” referred not only to the sluggishness of the American economy at the time but the need to confront the Soviets more aggressively and the need to replace old, tired leaders.


LBJ’s “Great Society” suggested larger goals for America beyond prosperity, while Nixon’s “silent majority” spoke to an entire segment of population feeling left out by fierce divisive politics of 1960s.


In modern times, I think Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in 2000 was a very successful slogan, seeming to position him differently from uncaring conservatives yet planting himself in the conservative channel.


So far, I do not see that any of the attempts at slogans on either side this year have caught on or are likely to last in history. Bush can no longer use “compassionate conservative” without being called to account for (the) gap between his promises and his actions. Nor does fighting for “a stronger America” say anything distinctive.


While I yearn for the days when conventions captured the imagination of the entire country, I still think they are important as a means of soldifying the energy of the activists, creating a sense of teamwork, and introducing the candidates and their platforms to most of the electorate, who only begin to focus at this time.


My personal desire would be for more songs like the old days.


I can still sing the refrains to: “I Like Ike” … or “Get on a Raft with Taft” – a rather strange song given the fact that Taft weighed 300 pounds, so it might be dangerous to share a raft with him. In the old days, the attack songs were devastating.


A refrain against Van Buren ran:


Who rules us with an iron rod?
Who moves at Satan’s beck and nod?
Who heeds not man,
Who heeds not God?
Van Buren, Van Buren!

Think of how much fun such songs would be today!


Here’s an essay on campaign songs from PresidentElect.org


Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, then withdrew from the 2002 judging after facing plagiarism accusations.

Related Posts

No related posts.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.