At the end of the political trail, voters are wondering why the 2000 presidential election results were so split. One reason may be that neither Vice President Al Gore nor Governor George W. Bush stood out as “the man.” The question is why not? In the past, political slogans helped clarify candidates' visions for the country.
This effective political maneuver was ill utilized in this campaign and caused two popular political parties to meet mid way.
One of the best examples of slogan success is war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. He proclaimed the nation's desire for world peace in his run for president in 1952, but he kept his slogan clear. "I like Ike" was irresistible; Eisenhower won a sweeping victory. Buttons with the slogan are phenomenal collectors' items.
Part of the problem in both Bush and Gore's slogan campaigns has been that they have hop-scotched from slogan to slogan, trying to find a “fit.” That's just poor marketing.
Gore's slogans may have been meaningful, but they weren't that memorable. In the primaries, the refrain was "I want to fight for you." In the general election, he turned to "I'm for the people, not the powerful." Most recently, he chose, "Fighting for working families."
Bush's problem? His slogans did not roll off the tongue, not for him and not for voters. First there was the "compassionate conservatism." This was a multi-syllabic slogan that had Republicans tripping over their tongues and Democrats wondering about Texas' capital punishment track record.
It could have been worse for Bush, Jr., though. Bad slogans can have devastating side effects. In 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the Republican nominee, chose a slogan intended to show his ideological purity: "In your heart you know he's right." The Democrats countered with, "In your guts you know he's nuts." Goldwater lost 44 states.
To make up for lost time, Bush, Jr. moved quickly on to become a "reformer with results." He said that during his administration, there would be "no child left behind" and remarked that his goal was "renewing America's purpose." He has also spoken of "prosperity with a purpose.”
Recently, Bush unveiled "Real plans for real people," a popular advertising format used by the John Hancock Insurance Co. ("Real life, real answers,") and Winston cigarettes ("Real people, real taste"). The problem is that voters can't pin down a single catch phrase in the crucial voting moment, nor will they likely be cheering “Real plans for real people.” It just feels weird.
Perhaps the most obvious missing element in the campaign slogans of 2000 is poetry. Americans need something with a little rhyme or alliteration or succinct simplicity, something supporters can shout from the audience, pass on to neighbors or put on buttons. “Gore gives jobs” would have tied well to the work he and Clinton had done in providing thousands of new jobs for Americans. Then, he could have spoken of past Republican recessions. There were many options. Rhyming Gore with anything was probably not one of them.
Remember the success of slogans like "Give 'em hell, Harry" (Truman, 1948), "All the way with LBJ" (Johnson, 1964) and "Nixon's the One" (1968)? Few people probably do, but they were superior grandstand cheers. Former President Jimmy Carter's slogan of "A leader, for a change," easily put the peanut farmer on the map. Even President Clinton had it right when he coined "Putting People First" and also got crowds going with “We can do better!”
So why are presidential candidates like Gore and Bush creating such complicated slogans and flip-flopping from slogan to slogan? Maybe they just don't realize that voters still want something catchy to cheer, wear on buttons and take with them to the polls.