The Obama campaign has its new slogan. And that slogan is: “Forward.”
Was “Reply-All” taken?
Maybe “Forward” makes sense, given that the theme of the reelection effort has been Vaguely Creepy E-mails You Don’t Want. (“David — Every night in the White House, I see Barack up late poring over briefings, reading your letters, and writing notes to people he's met. He's doing that for you — working hard every day to make sure we can finish what we all started together. This week, I need you to have his back.”)
Forward is also Berlusconi’s party, for whatever that’s worth (it sounds better in Italian, like most things.) It’s a basketball position Obama played briefly.
If your slogan is frequently prefaced by the phrase, “I hope I’m not being too . . .,” it might not be a great slogan.
If your slogan is just one or two notches above BCC, it might not be a great slogan.
I suppose most other directional terms are off the table. “Onward? Upward?” Too Christian Soldier. “Backward” is right out. “Rightward?” Seems unlikely. “Leftward?” What, and play into the Romney campaign’s projections? “Toward The Center” doesn’t even make sense in context.
On average, President Obama’s slogans are pretty good. This is to say that his last slogan was extraordinary and this one is abjectly terrible.
But American politics is littered, as Andrew Kaczynski points out, with the refuse of bad slogans. As long as we’ve had slogans, they’ve been bad. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”? No wonder William Henry Harrison died a few weeks into office. It wasn’t pneumonia. It was embarrassment.
“We Polked You In ‘44, We Shall Pierce You In ‘52.” I wish I were making this up, but it’s still mildly better than “Forward.”
“Let Well Enough Alone,” McKinley’s second-term slogan, was a bit brusque and to the point, but it’s still about as good as “Forward.”
“I Still Like Ike” acknowledged the second-term problem and still managed to be endearing.
What’s in a slogan? A campaign by any other name would smell as much like skunk cabbage.
“Hope” was inspiring. “Yes We Can” at least wasn’t an order. “Change we can believe in” was vague, but it got the job done.
“Forward” is the store-brand version of the political slogan. At best, it’s a slightly politer “Let Well Enough Alone.” At worst, it’s simply generic. You find it in the platitudes aisle in vague red-white-and-blue packaging, next to “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right.” Forward says, “Hey, you know what, I’d like to be president again! Let’s find a generic word that means that.”
Romney’s version of the time-honored genre isn’t much better: “Believe in America?”
The worst slogans are not bad slogans like “Who But Hoover” and “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” or even “Restoring America’s Honor.” They’re the ones so retreaded as to be functionally interchangeable. You can’t tell which campaign they belong to. They consist of overworked cliches staggering up the sheer faces of rugged platitudes as eagles fly overhead chanting patriotic slogans. You cannot tell whose they are for the life of you. They are, as a consequence, totally unmemorable, almost a self-parody.
As the Simpsons put it, “We must go forward, not backward; upward, not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom!”