Changes in Platitudes

By Dana Milbank
Friday, December 28, 2007

LAWTON, Iowa, Dec. 27

Hillary Clinton has her own type of aircraft (a Hill-o-Copter), people who solicit donations (Hill Raisers), out-of-state volunteers (Hill Stars) a student group (Hill Blazers) and friends who campaign for her (Hill's Angels).

But after a rally here Thursday morning, she encountered something new: an actual hill, with ice on it. Her campaign bus -- some in the entourage dub it "Hill on Wheels" -- got stuck, and with things threatening to go to Hill in a handbasket (Uphill climb! Losing traction!) her Hill-bent aides worked to free her from the Hillacious metaphor.

The candidate rolled on to her next stop, again free to, as her campaign puts it, "give 'em Hill."

A week before the Iowa caucuses, the Clinton campaign has unleashed a barrage of slogans and cute phrases on the unsuspecting residents of this state: "Big Challenges, Real Solutions . . . Time to Pick a President . . . Ready for Change, Ready to Lead . . . Working for Change, Working for You . . . The Hillary I Know . . . Every County Counts . . . I've Switched to Hillary."

As the Post's Anne Kornblut has chronicled, Clinton has had a knack for the slogan at least since her it-takes-a-village days. But these days it sounds as if a mad, computerized sloganator has taken over her campaign headquarters. Apparently unable to choose which slogan to put on her campaign bus, the campaign went with three: "Countdown to Change," "Time to Pick a President" and "Big Challenges, Real Solutions." A similar catch-phrase overload on the Hill-o-Copter's exterior required the painters to use a font too small to be seen from afar.

The slogan proliferation is, in a sense, a microcosm of the Clinton campaign: a show of overwhelming firepower, massive and organized, with nothing left to chance, but also a bit scripted and contrived, with a tendency for its many messages to get muddled.

Candidates have used slogans to their advantage since Tippecanoe, of course, and each campaign has its share this time. John Edwards has stayed in the hunt in Iowa with his "Fighting for One America" line, and Barack Obama began with "The Audacity of Hope," segueing into, among others, "Hope and Change," "Stand for Change" and even "It's Obama Time." But Obama has been cautious about slogan proliferation, perhaps burned by his early effort to call his young supporters "Club B.O."

Clinton has no such restraint. "I'm in to win," she said in announcing her campaign, then kicked off a tour called "Let the Conversation Begin," soon to be followed by a "Four Corners Tour" and other efforts at "Making History." Meanwhile, her campaign went to work on branding her first name, starting up a "HillaryHub" campaign-news Web site with daily "Hubdates." Those preferring an audiovisual experience can subscribe to "Hillcasts."

Just as George W. Bush in 2000 used his "Reformer With Results" slogan to steal the reform label from John "Straight Talk" McCain, Clinton has been pilfering slogans from Obama, answering his "change" mantra with her own "Ready to Lead, Ready for Change." And several more slogans -- "Ready on Day One," "Organizing for Change," "New Beginning" -- have clearly been designed to answer his fresh-blood themes.

But this has caused catch-phrase cacophony. Supporters arriving for her rally at a school here in Lawton were handed brochures promising "Ready to Lead. Ready for Change" but also displaying the "Let the Conversation Begin" mantra. Handed a list of slogans, the woman introducing Clinton to the crowd, Connie Gronstal, was overwhelmed. "I have to look at my notes for this one," she said, before she let loose with "change isn't something you just demand or hope for" and "make history" and "this election is too important to put it in the hands of anyone else."

Clinton followed that with an arsenal of campaign phrases: "Stand your ground . . . We need a new beginning . . . You're picking a president . . . Stand up for me."

After the mishap on the icy hill and a visit with supporters at a restaurant, Clinton carried her bag of slogans to the next stop, a fire station in Denison, Iowa, where even reporters were directed to wear press passes proclaiming "Ready for change! Ready to lead!"

Gronstal again recited her list: "pick a president," "real solutions," "ready to lead from day one," "making change happen." A fruit farmer from Clinton's home state of New York was the next speaker, but he was apparently working from the same slogan list, for he, too, pointed out that Clinton was "ready to lead from day one." For good measure, he added "tested and proven," "hit the ground running her first day in office" and a recent addition: "this election is too important to put in the hands of just anyone."

Clinton, perhaps inspired by these slogans, contributed nearly a dozen more: Pick a president. Big challenges, real solutions. Stand my ground. A new beginning. Stand up for me. Make history. Put the American people first again. Seize the future. Make a difference for America and the world."

Had enough? As the Clinton campaign likes to say: "Hill, yeah."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company