Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Have You Got to Lose?

Over the years, there have been many, many presidential campaign slogans.  Some of them memorable, some not so memorable.  Personally, I find the current slogan "What have you got to lose?" to be particularly offensive and insulting, on many levels.  But it did make me wonder if it's truly any worse than what we've had in the past.

So.. I did a search.

I've always thought that one of the catchiest slogans was William Henry Harrison's  "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too". Harrison won the battle of Tippecanoe, and Tyler was his running mate.   Turns out this was the first presidential campaign slogan, ever.  (source: The Miller Center - a nonpartisan affiliate of the U. of Virginia, specializing in presidential scholarship and political history.)   

In 1952, there was the slogan "I like Ike", for Dwight Eisenhower.  Another catchy slogan.  Although I've often wondered... how on earth is Ike a nickname for Dwight?  Turns out that it's not a nickname for Dwight, it's a nickname for Eisenhower, and Dwight and his four brothers were all called Ike at one time or another. Nope, I don't understand how Ike is a nickname for Eisenhower, either.  Nonetheless, the slogan is rather catchy.

Perhaps one of my favorite slogans came out during the 1896 election.  William McKinley's slogan of "Patriotism, Protection, and Prosperity" is rather inspirational, and has me feeling like I should stand up and face the flag.  Interestingly enough, part of the idea behind this slogan was that the US should stay out of world politics, and protect our interests at home.  And while McKinley won with this slogan, there was a complete reversal of this policy with the subsequent president, Theodore Roosevelt.  And, for better or worse, we've never looked back.

But of course not all slogans are inspirational or catchy.  I always found John Kerry's 2004 slogan "Let American be America Again", to be rather confusing.  Turns out that's actually the title of a 1935 poem that talks about the poor and downtrodden Americans who have never experienced the American dream.  Hmmm.  That's a whole different topic that I'll leave for another time.  8 years later, Kerry tweaked the phrase a bit, and said "It took President Obama to lead America like America again."  To me, that's a bit less confusing, but not much.

Some of the slogans over the years have been amusing.  In 1844, the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, chose "Who is James K. Polk?", in reference to the fact that his opponent was such an unknown.  Ironically enough, Polk won.  Eight years later, the Democrats nominated Franklin Pierce to run against the Whig candidate, and chose the slogan "We Polked you in 1844 and We Shall Pierce you in 1852!".

During the 1928 campaign, prohibition was a major issue.  Those in favor, were called 'drys', while opponents were called 'wets'.  This led to Al Smith's campaign slogan....
Let's all keep our comments to ourselves, on that one.

And then there are the slogans that are more blatantly negative statements about the opponent.  In 1884,  the candidates were Grover Cleveland, and James Blaine.  Cleveland's slogan was "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine."  Hmm..  not only negative, but long.  In that same year, when the news came out that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child, the  chant at Blaine rallies was  "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa?".  And when Cleveland won, his supporters added the line "Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha".  Sounds a little bit like 3rd grade, to me.

But that wasn't the only year for negative slogans. In response to Goldwater's 1964 slogan of  "In your heart you know he's right," the Johnson campaign came back with "In your guts you know he's nuts."  Oops.. 80 years later and we're still in  3rd grade.

As I look down the list of presidential campaign slogans over the last 175 years, I realize I'm seeing positive slogans about a candidate, positive slogans about a policy, and of course negative things about the opponent.  There was the Reagan slogan of "Are you better off than you were four years ago?".. but that's just a boiled down version of what we see every time an incumbent is running for re-election and opponents are trying to suggest that the incumbent wasn't any good.

But this year is different.  This year, we have a candidate with the slogan "What have you got to lose?"
That makes it sound like we've hit rock bottom.  That feels like it's aimed at the voters on a personal level, rather than being aimed at an opposing candidate.  When the candidate pulls out this slogan, he typically adds - "you're living in poverty, your schools are no good."  Now it's definitely personal.  And of course we all know that when the candidate asks what we have to lose, he is suggesting that since we currently have a Democrat for a president right now, we should switch to a Republican president.

But there's a huge piece missing here.  You see, the United States is a democracy, not a dictatorship.  That means that the President -- whoever it is -- is restricted and constrained by Congress.  In 2010, for the first time in ten years, we had a split Congress.  Instead of both the Senate and House having the same party holding the majority of the seats, the Senate majority and the House majority were different parties.  In 2015, Congress reverted back to the more-common situation of having both parts of Congress controlled by the same party.  But that party was NOT the same as the President's party.  Once I include that missing piece, it's no longer quite so 'obvious' that electing a Republican president will fix any problems I might have.  And I suppose that's not fair.  After all,  the candidate didn't say.. I will fix your problems.  He said.. What have you got to lose?

Forget statistics... as a voter, I'm an individual, not a statistic.  And whether I want to or not, I can't travel back in time, I can only move forward.  As I look at the troubling situations both here and abroad, and as I watch news reports from both this country and from other parts of the world, and I consider the future, I would say that I have a lot to lose.  We all do.

This doesn't necessarily mean that this candidate is bad... after all, it's just a slogan.  But it's a stupid slogan.  And it's insulting and offensive and demeaning to suggest that people have nothing to lose.

That's enough for now.  More than enough.
It's time for tea.

1 comment:

  1. Nice dance! And well said. Especially the part about tea!