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Social Liberalism: The Power of Slogans

The first post in my ongoing, periodical series about “social liberalism” generated a lively discussion (which was still continuing last time I checked).  I had originally planned a second post about the implications of the socially-perpetuated nature of liberalism on both the arguments (or lack thereof) and pundits that seem to dominate on the left side of the political spectrum.  I still think that’s a fascinating topic, and I plan to write more about that in the future.

For the time being, though, I’d rather call attention to this noteworthy post by Bookworm which I learned of as a result of this post by Neo-neocon.  Bookworm’s post is about the need for conservatives to focus largely on messaging which captures something that Malcolm Gladwell refers to as “the stickiness factor.”  Bookworm explains:

The Stickiness Factor?  That’s what it sounds like:  it’s a message that doesn’t just amuse or intrigue people for a mere minute.  Instead, it sticks with them and, even more importantly, makes them act.  During the Bush years, the Dems came up with a great one:  No War for Oil.  The fact that this slogan had little relationship to the facts, or that a ginormous number of people stuck it on the back of their gas-guzzling SUVs was irrelevant.  Those four words convinced too many Americans that the Republicans were fighting wars on behalf of Standard Oil.

She goes on to reflect on examples similar to the kinds of things I was reflecting on as I imagined some of my future posts on the socially-coercive power of contemporary liberalism:

The Progressive penchant for ignoring facts undoubtedly makes it easier for them to come up with the pithy slogans and posters that sweep through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and email chains before ending up on tens of thousands of bumper stickers that subliminally drill into every driver’s head. People could laugh when reading “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot,” never mind that George Bush was a highly educated, accomplished man with an academic record better than or equal to his opponents’.

Conservatives used to have pithy sayings (“Live free or die,” “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” “That government is best that governs least”), but we don’t seem to have come up with any clever ones lately.  As you may recall, during John McCain’s failed candidacy, his slogan — “Country First” — managed to leave supporters cold, while allowing opponents to mumble about racism.  I doubt that we’ll ever get another “I like Ike,” but we can certainly do better than Romney’s “Believe in America,” which sounds more like the beginning of a fairy tale than it does a rousing call to the ballot box.

And finally, there’s the Power of Context, which at its simplest level means that a message has to capture the zeitgeist.  People have to be primed and ready to receive the message.  In 2012, Americans, fed on decades of anti-capitalist education and entertainment, were more than ready to believe that Romney was a dog-abusing, woman-hating, religious nut who wanted to enslave poor people and blacks.  Thirty years ago, people would have laughed at this message.  Last year, there were too many people who thought it made a good deal of sense.

(Read the whole thing.)

Conservative thinkers may have some level of disdain for the demagogic nature of most political slogans, but one can’t deny their force or their effectiveness.   People on the left, for instance, love to make assertions about “social justice,” “sustainability,” and lately “gun violence” which rarely stand up to close scrutiny, but the mere application and repetition of the terms is usually enough to persuade a certain sector of the population that these must be serious ideas deserving of merit.

Bookworm argues that conservatives need to focus more on generating catchy and timely messages  and that doing so will help advance our ideas more effectively.  I think it’s a great point.  Conservatives are certainly capable of it:  the early Tea Party rallies were filled with all kinds of clever signs and slogans, but the creative force of that movement seems to have dispersed lately.   How can we reignite it?

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17 Comments

  1. Also, unlike social conservatives, social liberals are never asked to compromise, never asked to “set your agenda aside for the good of the party.”

    Comment by V the K — February 1, 2013 @ 7:59 am - February 1, 2013

  2. Yeah, that’s the ticket – slogans! Politics is all about slogans, and not your ideology or political ideas.

    Comment by oldjoe — February 1, 2013 @ 8:42 am - February 1, 2013

  3. The left has developed sloganeering to a fine art and in the process, they have learned the power of lying to the useful idiots. They prefer double-speak over truth.

    We could fight fire with fire, but to do that, we would have to out lie them. It is a game that requires us to ditch our ethics and out play them. But the minute we tried that, they would go into hyper-drive about us lying and pin our ears back with taunts from all over the MSM.

    The left hates the label “pro-life” because the inferred opposite is “pro-death.” So, they bring up abortion and force it on the right by painting us as favoring women being raped by their fathers have to carry and live with the horrible “memory” every time she looks at the child, blah, blah, blah.

    Sloganeering can work like a charm, but Madison Avenue experts don’t strike slogan gold very often.

    Obama captured countless mouth breathers with “hope and change” which fit the times and his whole messiah schtick. What slogan would Joe Biden use? Or Hillary Clintoon?

    “Putting America Back to Work” or “Restoring Prosperity” or “Bringing US Back with Energy” would all be candidates, but do they have “the stickiness factor”? Focus group time.

    Comment by heliotrope — February 1, 2013 @ 9:00 am - February 1, 2013

  4. I also think conservatives tend to recognize cheap sloganeering for what it is; whereas leftists like being able to chant dumb meaningless phrases like “balanced approach” and “equality for all” that don’t require thinking to the next level.

    Comment by V the K — February 1, 2013 @ 10:59 am - February 1, 2013

  5. V the K wrote: I also think conservatives tend to recognize cheap sloganeering for what it is; whereas leftists like being able to chant dumb meaningless phrases like “balanced approach” and “equality for all” that don’t require thinking to the next level.

    All of that is certainly true, and it’s part of the reason why Obama was able to win elections with some of the most vapid campaign keywords in history. But their vapidity was also part of their power: “Hope” “Change” “Yes we can” and “Forward” all had histories as slogans and keywords on the left for decades, but at the same time, they were so meaningless and bland that it was easy for voters to attach their own meanings to the term.

    Comment by Kurt — February 1, 2013 @ 11:35 am - February 1, 2013

  6. Kurt,

    Your point is well-taken. The reason slogans work for the left is not just because they work as a coded message to insiders is because the leaders of the left actually follow through when they get elected. Obama promised “Hope” and “Change” and leftists knew this meant his presidency would pursue radical left policies; and damned if he didn’t deliver.

    Whereas Republicans talk about “limited Government” and “fiscal responsibility,” but with George W. Bush in the presidency and Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress, we not only didn’t get either of those things, we got their exact opposites. And then in 2012, the GOP nominated a candidate whose history on those issues was perceived as shaky at best.

    Comment by V the K — February 1, 2013 @ 12:17 pm - February 1, 2013

  7. [...] blog of the day is Gay Patriot, with a post on social liberalism and the power of [...]

    Pingback by If All You See… » Pirate's Cove — February 1, 2013 @ 1:01 pm - February 1, 2013

  8. “It’s Morning in America” worked. Slogans needn’t be dishonest or empty in order to be effective, although both kinds can certainly achieve what their authors intend. It’s high time the GOP learned to manipulate the narrative (not necessarily a pejorative), something I’ve been arguing for years. If that means taking full advantage of our opponents’ negatives, so be it. If doing so is something you find abhorrent, politics ain’t your bag.

    Comment by Ignatius — February 1, 2013 @ 2:55 pm - February 1, 2013

  9. Best part about Slogans, they don’t have to be followed up on.
    So, girls, he’s just not that in to you.

    Comment by The_Livewire — February 1, 2013 @ 3:51 pm - February 1, 2013

  10. We could steal their slogans as soon as they come out with them. For example, War on Women, hammer home the Democrat war on women (Bob Menedez, Slick Willy), imagine what would have happened if McCain’s folks started chanting, “Yes we can!” and, “Hope and Change!” etc. They are insanely angry already, mockery would just engrage the sheep even more and make them more apt to make a mistake. (As a bonus, the uninformed sheep just might make a mistake and cast a vote for the wrong candidate.) Disarm them, then come out with our own message.

    Comment by Paul — February 1, 2013 @ 4:21 pm - February 1, 2013

  11. [...] Social Liberalism: The Power of Slogans – Gay Patriot [...]

    Pingback by Saturday Afternoon – Zombie Mode – Laundry Time , An Ol' Broad's Ramblings — February 2, 2013 @ 1:17 pm - February 2, 2013

  12. Sloganeering by conservatives is already being done and has been done for a long time – Hilarycare, Obamacare, death panels to name a few.
    I have often heard my liberal friends complain that the corporate media picks these “right wing memes” much to quickly suggesting that the media is in bed with republicans.

    So…my thinking is both sides already do this and it does nothing to help the actual debate.

    Comment by mike — February 3, 2013 @ 11:25 pm - February 3, 2013

  13. 12.Sloganeering by conservatives is already being done and has been done for a long time – Hilarycare, Obamacare, death panels to name a few.

    Not sure how these are slogans, but they seem accurate.

    Comment by The_Livewire — February 4, 2013 @ 7:57 am - February 4, 2013

  14. More lame “both sides do it” equivalence from the semi-literate concern troll.

    Comment by V the K — February 4, 2013 @ 8:12 am - February 4, 2013

  15. “Both sides do it” also being a lame, brainless slogan.

    Comment by V the K — February 6, 2013 @ 12:07 pm - February 6, 2013

  16. So…my thinking is both sides already do this and it does nothing to help the actual debate.

    Comment by mike — February 3, 2013 @ 11:25 pm – February 3, 2013

    And that is irrelevant, mike, because people like yourself voted based on Obama’s statements that Romney was a dog-abusing, woman-hating, religious nut who wanted to enslave poor people and blacks.

    Therefore, if Republicans WANT to attract voters like yourself, they need to speak in vapid slogans because that is clearly the only thing to which you respond.

    This is what conservatives need to realize. People like you, mike, are really not very intelligent and not interested in listening to facts. Instead, you just want someone who reinforces your hatreds and bigotries, and if they do that, no matter how asinine their behavior and ludicrous their statements, you will support and defend them.

    Republicans keep losing because we fail to appeal to the Kardashian voters like mike — people who really don’t care about the facts and who really don’t care to educate themselves.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — February 6, 2013 @ 2:05 pm - February 6, 2013

  17. Kurt, point taken. Mike should read Krugman’s latest, admitting that “hey, death panels really are what is going to happen.” (And always have happened, among pt, family, doctor, and yes, insurance. Now add gov’t to the panel.)

    Conservatives don’t have to out-slogan liberals, because it is indeed a race to the bottom. However, doing it well doesn’t hurt. “Taxed Enough Already” was pretty good. Oversimplified, perhaps, but not dishonest. Conservatives don’t need to win that battle, just cut into liberal dominance with well-placed expressions.

    Comment by Assistant Village Idiot — February 9, 2013 @ 12:45 pm - February 9, 2013

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