I heard New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on a talk show not long ago, reflecting on the presidential clash between President Obama and Mitt Romney, wondering whatever became of the bumper stickers that used to be so prominent in presidential campaigns.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered the same thing: what has happened to the art of catchy campaigns slogans, buttons and bumper stickers?
Before Mr. Obama latched on to "Romnesia'' as a condition affecting Mitt Romney, which is the inability to remember past positions, the slogans have been awfully bland and uninspiring by both camps. Obama championed the flat sounding "Forward,'' while Mr. Romney invoked the equally uninspiring "Committ to Mitt," and "We Can't afford four more years."
Only recently, the Romney campaign has stumbled upon a snappy phrase more to their liking: "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose,'' a popular catchphrase from the NBC American sports drama television series "Friday Night Lights,"; though the show's writer and director Peter Berg took issue with Team Romney for co-opting that phrase into their campaign without permission.
Matthew A. Baum, who is the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications and professor of public policy and government at Harvard University, has noticed the same trend regarding the lack of political slogans in this election cycle. "It seems to be'' Baum wrote in an email, "that slogans haven't played a particularly big role this year. That doesn't mean there aren't important pieces of symbolic language. The most obvious one is the "47%" trope that Romney handed gift wrapped to Obama. Obama has sought to use this to cast Romney as an out of touch elitist who doesn't care about the middle class or share their values. On the other side, "You didn't build that" became an important bit of symbolic language for the Romney campaign in its efforts to paint Obama as unsympathetic to small business.''
According to Baum, then, the "symbolic language" and "symbolic rhetoric" played out in the media (particularly on social media), pack more of a punch, especially to the slice of undecided voters and low information voters who are not accessing the candidates in any great detail.
"All that said'', Baum writes, "I think it is interesting that there really aren't any compelling campaign slogans this year (no "Hope and Change," no "Bridge to the 21st Century", no "Thousand Points of Light", etc.).''
To get a sense of the sequence of political slogans and catchphrases through the years, I've compiled a list of some of the more entertaining slogans advanced during presidential campaigns.
• Bibles will be burned, property rights destroyed, and the marriage institution abolished''
-1800-Federalist Party of John Adams attack on Thomas Jefferson because of his sympathy with the French Revolution.
- 1808: Charles Pinckney and the Federalist attack on Thomas Jefferson's unpopular embargo against trade with Great Britain.
• "A rich man's war, but a poor man's fight''
1864: -George B. McClellan and the Democratic Party's opposition to the draft and the continuation of the war.
• "His Fraudulency''; and "Rutherfraud B. Hayes''
-1876: Samuel J. Tilden and the Democratic Party's attack on Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, whose supporters were accused of election fraud.
• "Rum, Romanism and Tammany''
-1928: Herbert Hoover and the Republican Party's attack on Al Smith's Catholicism, his refusal to support Prohibition, along with his association with Tammany Hall.
• "Destruction, Delay, Deceit, Despair''
-1932: FDR and Democratic Party's attack of the Republicans.
• "Ben Hogan for President, If We're Going to Have a Golfer,/ Let's Have a Good One.''
-1952: Adlai E. Stevenson and the Democratic Party's popular bumper sticker critical of Dwight Eisenhower's frequent golf outings.
• "Au H2O =1964"
-Popular 1964 Barry Goldwater bumper sticker.
• "Welcome Doctor Strangewater''
-1964: LBJ and the Democratic Party's attack on Goldwater; in a sarcastic reference to the motion picture, "Doctor Strangelove.''
• "Jack was nimble, Jack was quick / But Bobby simply makes me sick''
-1968: Hubert Humphrey and the Democratic Party's anti-Robert Kennedy posters during the primaries.
• "Nobody for President''
-1980: Popular bumper sticker seen around the country.
• If Jimmy Carter Wins, We Lose''
-1980: Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party's attack on Jimmy Carter.
• "Reagan -- Eat My Grits''
-1980: Anti-Reagan slogan found circulating at the Democratic Party Convention.
• "Import peanuts, export Carter''
-Anti-Carter delegates from New York circulate this slogan at the Republican Party Convention.
• "ABC Movement-Anybody But Carter''
-1980: A dump Carter slogan at the Democratic Convention.
• "JACKSON for President-Follow the Rainbow''
-Campaign Button during Jesse Jackson Sr.'s 1984 run for President.
• "It's the Economy Stupid''
-In an effort to deflect media attention surrounding reports of Bill Clinton's marital infidelity; Clinton's campaign manager James Carville posted this slogan in their campaign headquarters. Clinton staffers, in turn, invoked the statement during press interviews and it quickly became a popular sound bite.
• "Clinton/Gore -- Out in Four''
-Bob Dole and the Republican Party's 1996 attack button against Bill Clinton for a second term.
• "Show Bush the Door in 04''
-Anti George W. Bush campaign button (2004)
• "Bush Cheney '04 - Leave No Billionaire Behind''
-Anti-George W. Bush campaign button (2004)
This post first appeared on The Morning Delivery.