Posted on June 21, 2008
This orginally appeared in The Hill's Pundits Blog
In thinking about a match-up between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), I am trying to look into the future and guess which senator’s catch-phrase would stand up best under the scrutiny of history.
By catch-phrase, I don’t mean campaign slogan. I mean the phrase that a president has delivered, usually as a candidate, in a speech that becomes the theme of his presidency. It has to be short, usually two, three or four words.
Here are some examples:
The Great Society: Lyndon Johnson’s grand plan to reshape American society with government spending.
The Silent Majority: Nixon tipped his hand as to the partisan nature of his presidency when he said that he represented the non-hippie portion of America.
Whip Inflation Now: Gerald Ford’s WIN buttons were a perfect metaphor for a presidency that was buffeted harshly by the winds of history.
More Than Just Peanuts: This pretty much sums up the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Not much more than just peanuts.
Peace Through Strength: Ronald Reagan’s governing philosophy brought the Soviet Union to its knees.
Kinder, Gentler Nation: This was George Bush’s way of telling the American people that he was no Ronald Reagan.
It’s the Economy, Stupid: A subliminal message sent to the voters, that no matter what crap Bill Clinton will pull, the economy will still get better.
Compassionate Conservative: George W. Bush’s way of telling voters that he was a big-government conservative, which has alienated all the liberals who hate conservatives and many of the conservatives who hate big government. That helps to explain his low approval ratings.
So far, McCain’s catch-phrase is “Straight Talk.” Obama’s catch-phrase is “A More Perfect Union.”
“Straight talk” speaks to an American public that is tired of political double-talk. It conveys a reformist zeal, a desire to confront the real problems facing America, and the desire to be frank with the voters about the future.
“A More Perfect Union” is Obama’s way to say that he is the man who can make America more perfect. It conveys a desire to fundamentally change American society, to correct the wrongs of the past, and to offer a real break from our nation’s history. It reflects a revolutionary zeal.
The question that voters will answer is simple: How much change do they want? If they want a fundamental change in society, they will go with Obama. If they want a fundamental change in how Washington works, they will go with McCain.
It is reform versus revolution. Either way, we are going to get big change come November.