Today’s blog is really a pet theory of mine regarding Presidents and their campaign slogans. So, let’s begin with the commonly argued assumption that the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. He (or she) directs U.S. foreign policy and leads one of the two major political parties. The president is also the head of state, acts as the highest living symbol of our nation, and is tasked with guiding the economy, managing the legislative process, and acting as Commander-in-Chief of the military. But the president’s most influential function isn’t written into the Constitution, the President of the United States is also the unofficial leader of the free world, and within that context, clarity inside of and from the Oval Office is absolutely critical.
Merriam Webster defines “Clarity” as “the quality of being coherent and intelligible, freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.” And clarity in politics means communicating policies in a manner that makes them easy for the average voter to understand. Expressed in the obverse, political messaging isn’t about influencing a particular constituency, rather effective political messaging focuses on the average citizen’s ability to grasp the message intellectually and emotionally.
Unlike the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who have vision statements that communicate, guide and unite both employees and investors in their common purpose, e.g.., “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”—Nike, or “As a global company that serves millions of consumers at 52,000 restaurants across more than 150 countries and territories, we aim to make the world better by acting responsibly with respect to food, planet and people.”—Kentucky Fried Chicken, or “Offering all women and men worldwide the best of cosmetics innovation in terms of quality, efficacy, and safety.”—L’Oréal, a president must impart his vision while limiting word usage to what fits on a bumper sticker.
The average vision statement in corporate America is 35 words, but a presidential hopeful doesn’t have the luxury of a ‘wordy’ statement to inform and galvanize voters as do corporate taglines such as, “Just Do It!, “Finger Lickin’ Good, and “Because You’re Worth It.”
Instead of a vision statement a presidential hopeful must make a pithy statement communicating the efficacy of his or her policies, while leaving voters with a positive and lasting impression in a phrase. And just like the slogans and taglines in the commercial world, campaign slogans have impact long after an election is over. Which leads one to ask, how much broad guidance do campaign slogans offer the over 2,000,000 federal employees who make decisions daily about everything in our lives from repairing roads to enforcing our nation’s laws to vaccine mandates?
A president cannot possibly give direction to all his cabinet secretaries and other decision-making bureaucrats on every issue that comes down the pike; these bureaucrats must make decisions predicated on what they believe to be the president’s governing philosophy. So, I thought we might take a moment and examine the presidential campaign slogans and taglines of the last four administrations through the lens of the current Ukraine crisis.
- George W. Bush—Compassionate Conservatism – Reformer with Results
- Barrack Obama—Hope and Change – Change We Can Believe In
- Donald Trump—Make America Great Again – America First
- Joe Biden—Build Back Better – Equity.
To be clear, the Ukraine crisis didn’t begin with the Biden administration, it began on December 31st, 1999, when then President Boris Yeltsin resigned and appointed Vladimir Putin as acting president. Shortly after his first election Mr. Putin announced to the world, “The collapse of the Soviet Empire was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20thcentury.”
Surely such a statement from a man who controls one of the two largest nuclear arsenals on the planet deserves attention. Besides, there’s an old maxim about authoritarian governments, “When tyrants speak, it’s wise to listen to them,” and Putin has been telegraphing his punches for 20 plus years.
Consider, during the Bush administration, Putin took Georgia with no response other than sanctions from Dubya – during the Obama administration he took Crimea with nary a word from the Chosen One, and now during the Biden administration he’s in the process of taking Ukraine begging the question, why did he choose to keep his armies at home during the Trump administration?
There’s another famous quote I believe is most appropriate in answering that question; “There are two things I don’t believe in, coincidence and leprechauns”—Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now any comments as to why Putin invaded neighboring nations during three of the last four administrations but not during the Trump administration are purely speculative. However, doesn’t it make sense that for the last 20 years Russian ministers, members of the Presidium and other bureaucrats understood Putin’s lament and made decisions predicated on those eventualities?
And doesn’t it also make sense in our own country when making decisions about transportation, the military or energy that American cabinet heads would keep the various administrations’ governing philosophies in the back of their minds as well?
So, allow me ask, what did “Compassionate Conservative” mean and how would it guide a bureaucrat; or how does “Hope and Change” offer guidance to anyone other than millennials (Obama’s target voting block) who interpreted it to mean anything they wanted it to? And what about “Build Back Better,” c’mon, tell the truth, did any of us even know what it meant prior to Joe Manchin refusing to vote for the massive spending bill with that name? And what about the word “Equity” a term Biden used 17 times in his first executive order without every telling us exactly what it meant – how does that guide decision making?
But “Make America Great Again” and “America First” are clear and concise with little room for interpretation; in other words, both mean America’s interest come first. I realize those slogans aren’t policy, but they are guideposts for bureaucrats, and even more importantly, they also give tyrants such as Putin, Kim and Xi a glimpse into the philosophy, intentions and priorities of the president.
Quote of the day: “There is no distinctly Native American criminal class…save Congress.”—Mark Twain