Here we are now in 2016, which is both a leap year and a U.S. Presidential election year. Interestingly, the only Presidential election not to happen during a leap year was the first, in 1789 (given that the Constitution was only ratified in 1788 and we Americans had never done this kind of thing before, the election was a 26-day affair, extending from December 15, 1788, to January 10, 1789). It is perhaps only coincidence that leap years and election years have since been aligned – but I think it is a crying shame that we have to be subjected to an extra day of bilious and bloviated campaign communications.
From the time of Washington through to the end of the 19th century, it was considered unseemly for Presidential candidates to campaign directly and actively on their own behalf. Abraham Lincoln, the greatest speechmaker in American political history, gave no campaign speeches during the 1860 and 1864 elections. It simply wasn’t done. There were no primaries then; candidates were chosen by Congressional delegates at political conventions and the party platform represented the key talking points differentiating one candidate from another.
The earliest campaign slogan may have been William Henry Harrison’s from 1840: Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too. Alliteration, rhyming, not a bad effort. Of course, slogans – or taglines – are one of the things we do here at Libretto. I’ve often thought that one of the best parts of our tagline brainstorming sessions is shooting down (lovingly, of course) other people’s ideas. So I thought it would be fun to treat some of the current candidates’ taglines to the same scrutiny.
In alphabetical order:
Jeb Bush: Jeb!
Jeb? What an odd-looking name. It looks like a typographic error, like it was supposed to be Jib! or Jab! On the other hand, it’s better than Bush!
Ben Carson: Heal + Inspire + Revive
The order seems off to me. Once you’ve healed and inspired someone, reviving them would seem unnecessary; they’re already up and gone. I would think you’d have to revive someone first, then heal them, and then inspire them. Also, the plus signs make it look like an equation but I have no idea what they add up to.
Chris Christie: Tell it Like it Is
I assume this means the candidate provides straight talk. Or maybe he wants other people to tell it like it is. After all, it doesn’t say, He Tells it Like it Is. So it’s all on me? I’m still wondering if I should be capitalizing the “i” in “it”.
Hillary Clinton: Hillary for America
I’m guessing the first draft was something like Hillary for Slovakia, and it got changed in review.
Ted Cruz: Reigniting the Promise of America
This begs the question: Does a promise get ignited? And if it does, and then goes out, can it be reignited? Or is it like one of those trick candles that can’t be blown out?
Carly Fiorina: New Possibilities. Real Leadership.
I think I’d like it better as Real Possibilities. New Leadership. Or maybe Real New Possible Leadership.
Mike Huckabee: From Hope to Higher Ground
True story: Libretto was once asked to create messaging and materials for a local college’s capital campaign, the theme of which was supposed to be Higher Ground. In our discovery, though, we found little enthusiasm for the theme among internal stakeholders. After all, where do you head to when the flood waters rise?
Marco Rubio: A New American Century
A new century began 15 years ago. A new century for America began in 1976. Add 15 to 1976 and you have 1991, which is a palindrome. That’s about all I can find that makes sense about this one.
Bernie Sanders: A Political Revolution Is Coming
I know one thing: Larry David didn’t come up with this boring tagline. Perhaps a better one would be Master of His Political Domain.
Donald Trump: Make America Great Again
I think this would be a grrrrrrrreat slogan for Tony the Tiger. It assumes, of course, that America was once great and no longer is. The past includes slavery and the attempted genocide of native inhabitants; the present includes healthcare for all and economic growth. I know not everyone sees it in those terms, which reminds me of the great quote by Woody Allen that perhaps is as relevant to this year’s election as when he first wrote these words: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”