Believe Again

Yes, yes. We’ve all heard that the pen is mightier than the sword. Somehow it’s easy to forget, though, just how powerful those silly little words can be. The Republicans seem to know. They’ve sent out now ubiquitous catch-phrases—who doesn’t know to Support Our Troops?—to rally Americans to their causes without actually giving any cause to do so. These slogans are short, to the point, and entirely devoid of content. And still they have proven to be incredibly powerful. Remember when Colbert talked Geoffrey Nunberg, linguist and author of Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show, into the ground with only three carefully crafted phrases? (If not, search through the archive tapes for the show originally aired August 21, 2006. Comedy Central has clips: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Last night, I pointed out to my roommate DJ that a Democrat has finally smartened up and done the same. Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick, whose website browser icon is funnily DP—I wonder if his marketing team are aware of this—, has used similarly effective however empty campaign slogans. The weakest of his tag lines claims that Patrick is No Ordinary Leader. Now this is good, sure, but it’s not great. It tries to exploit the constant dissatisfaction that most of us harbor against whatever we currently have (be it our government, job, or any other part of life). More than that, it presumes that ordinary is bad and that unsual is good. Just to keep us in line, I’d like to point out—and I know that I’m using an unfair extreme–that Hitler was No Ordinary Leader. I’m not going to argue with you now, so take it at face value when I say that Hitler was bad. A good leader, sure; a bad man, certainly. But like I said, Patrick’s got better ones.

Next in order of efficacy, I think, comes his invitation to join him. Together We Can his posters say. My sister’s boyfriend Andrew finds this one particularly stirring. Last night he told me, “It evokes a partnership between me, the common man, and the candidate for the leadership embodied in the State’s chief magistrate,” or something. “Also, this guy went to some farmers out west somewhere and told them, ‘I’m not a farmer. I don’t know about this stuff. Tell me what I should do to help you.’ He’s really thinking out of the box,” he went on to tell me. My roommate DJ nearly drowned in his own tears (of laughter) upon hearing this.

Andrew proves my point. Perhaps now I should make it.

Together We Can is genius simply because it promises nothing. Patrick’s team were very careful never to use punctuation after any of their slogans on any of their signs. Of course not. They’re fragments. You can’t put a period after a fragment, after all. Doing so might point out raise the attention of a lazy reader. Then he’d realize that you haven’t said anything at all. To Andrew I asked, “Together we can what?” Patrick doesn’t tell us. Instead, he lets our imaginations run wild. That’s right, I am going to help run this State. I am important. Wrong. This slogan is so compelling because it calls on the reader to finish the sentence according to his personal whims and then pretend that it’ll happen, that he’s effected the change, and it spares him the hassle of doing any, real work. People love to feel like they’ve contributed something useful; on the other hand, they hate to exert themselves. This slogan let’s you think you can have your cake and eat it, too. (I’ve never understood that saying.)

But undoubtedly the best slogan I’ve heard so far, Patrick saved for until after he won the primary. Now it’s showing up on bumper stickers. Patrick asks us to Believe Again. I can’t begin to explain how impressed I was when I read this slogan. I wanted to run up and shake him and cry and clap my hands uncontrollably. It’s really quite amazing. This slogan reaches the largest audience possible. Being the most devoid of content, it has the greatest reach. Believe Again entices the voter to conjure up the most romantic, idealized form of government possible. But it doesn’t stop there, the implications are unstoppable. It’s an easy jump from government to general quality of life. Improving one naturally improves the other, right? No matter what you believe in, Patrick does, too—at least according to this slogan. And shouldn’t you support someone who holds such a coincident and intimate commitment to those things you hold so dear? It’s hard to argue against him, because you’d have to argue against yourself. Imagine a leader who would allow you to Believe Again.

To test my claims that these are, indeed, worthy of the Republicans, DJ asked quite blankly, “Are you suggesting we Cut and Run?”

To which I answered, “It’ll take No Ordinary Leader.”

To which he countered, “But don’t you Support Our Troops?”

But then I hit him full-force with, “Together We Can. I want to Believe Again.”

It was over. The conversation left both of us stunned.

DJ then noted that we should write for the Colbert Report, or, maybe I should write for the Colbert Report, or, possibly, just to them, to let them know that someone else figured out how to play the word game.

What’s worth mentioning is that Patrick’s slogans are even more sinister than the Republican’s because they aren’t immediately negative. (No Ordinary Leader comes closest to being overtly aggressive, but is pretty sissy when flanked by Cut and Run and Support Our Troops. Notice, however, that Support Our Troops also makes the people who say it feel like they’ve really accomplished something even though they’ve taken no physical action.) Patrick’s tag lines get stuck in your ear, and, while there, make you feel better about him and about yourself. How empowering! I really can’t get over just how brilliant they are.

Moral: If don’t want people to disagree with you, don’t say anything that they can disagree with.

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