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President Obama: A man of many slogans

at 12:15 PM ET, 07/10/2012

Did you know that President Obama’s official reelection campaign slogan is “Forward”?
President Obama delivers remarks in Parma, Ohio. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

You can be forgiven if you didn’t. After all, Obama’s campaign and the White House have offered a series of slogans over the course of the last two year as the incumbent has tried to sell his policies and position himself politcally for his reelection race this fall.

But the man who was so defined by two slogans in his 2008 campaign — “Hope” and “Change We Can Believe In” — has yet to really strike slogan gold this time around.

Here’s a sampling of the ones we’ve seen so far. (Did we miss any? )

* “Forward” — official slogan

* “Greater Together” — youth vote initiative

* “Betting on America” — his new bus tour

* “We Don’t Quit” — speech theme

* “Winning the Future” — from 2011 State of the Union address

* “We Can’t Wait” — theme tied to executive orders/GOP obstruction

* “An America/Economy Built to Last” — from 2012 State of the Union

* “A Fair Shot” — speech theme

So what gives? Why all the sloganeering from a man who seemed to have such a gift for one clear campaign theme in 2008?

In essence, a slogan is only as good as — or maybe slightly better than — the thing it’s aiming to sell.

Obama had great slogans in 2008, but they worked because he ran a great campaign in a great environment that was complemented by the great slogans. Without a strong performance, “Hope” might have seemed to be a silly, overly, well, hopeful, slogan. (Indeed, the campaign initially balked at using its other slogan, “Change We Can Believe In,” according to then-campaign manager David Plouffe’s book on the 2008 race. And is that phrase really that different from any other of the myriad slogans you’ve seen politicians use in recent years?)

As Friday’s jobs report shows, Obama’s slogans have been suffering from the product they are selling. Not only has there been bad economic news of late, but Obama is now forced to sell a record rather than an aspiration or an idea; such is the burden of an incumbent.

Citing that jobs report, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney took aim at Obama’s slogan on Friday.

“I know he’s been planning on going across the country and celebrating what he calls ‘Forward,’” Romney said at a press conference in New Hampshire. “Well, ‘Forward’ doesn’t look a lot like forward to the millions and millions of families that are struggling today in this great country.”

But are Obama’s panoply of slogans really all that unusual? It’s not unusual for a campaign to employ all sorts of different themes and slogans for policy proposals and certain bus tours, etc. And Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), notably, made use of lots of different slogans during his 2004 presidential campaign.

Where Obama’s slogans seem to differ from thoise used in past campaigns is that they are all big-idea, broad themes and seem to be phrases that could easily be transferred to the top of the campaign’s fundraising mailers and on banners behind the candidate at rallies.

For now it’s about trying out different things and seeing what works for Obama. And by the end of the campaign, if Obama is successful, there’s probably only one slogan that will stick out. And maybe “Forward” will seem like a genius pick by then.

 
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