Trending Now

Y! Big Story: Bumper-sticker politics

Trending Now

View gallery

.

Retiring a slogan (Justin Sullivan:Getty Images)


Stand Your Ground. Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Show Your Papers (Please).

Reducing a complex concept into a slogan is an uncertain art, but one that people have tinkered with for centuries. The word "slogan" itself hails from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm—a battle cry, one that the Scottish Highlanders whooped as they stormed into the fray, how a liege would declare his allegiance to his lord, and, in the United States, most memorialized in that call to arms "Remember the Alamo."

These days, instead of military chiefs, the consultants and companies do their "Mad Men" mojo on complex laws and political concepts, with the media perpetuating slogan shorthand to explain legal defense in the Trayvon Martin case, a military policy's postmortem at the Pentagon's first gay pride celebration, and the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona. And in case you couldn't keep up before, our meme-obsessed flightiness has sped up the slogan life cycle, which in turn increases the demand for more.

Are we sheep for falling for bumper-sticker politics? Might this an inevitable—and even time-honored—approach to sift out arcane matters for a demanding citizenry? How does sloganeering work, and does it?

From alliteration to freedom: Political campaign slogans go back at least to the 1800s, when "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" made a catchy tune for Whig Party candidate William Henry Harrison (a hero in the 1812 Battle of Tippecanoe) and veep John Tyler—catchy enough for Harrison to beat President Martin Van Buren to become No. 9. A couple of centuries later, Barack Obama borrowed the United Farm Workers cry, "Yes We Can," for his 2008 campaign.

Reducing policies to slogans may be a tad more challenging, but that, too, has a long history. In 1844, senator William Allen boiled down a border territory dispute between the United States and the U.K., which controlled British Canada, to "Fifty-four/Forty or Fight!"; President James Polk later adopted the slogan. "Alliteration took the place of any reflection," says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist and a frequent contributor to NPR's "Fresh Air." (Polk later compromised and set the boundary at 49 degrees north.)

View gallery

.

Supreme Court

Modern-day slogans of individual rights and freedom: Poetic repetition has given way to more outright repetition ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell"), patriotic appeals, life-or-death dichotomies, and just plain toughness. "Stand Your Ground," for instance, "projects manliness, independence, and courage," points out UC Berkeley linguist Robin Lakoff. Compare that with George W. Bush's phrase "Cut and Run," which implied that naysayers to the Iraqi conflict were cowards with no backbone. A stand, on the other hand, means "I'm not going give up an inch," Lakoff explains. The phrase also hedges on "the notion of rights—'I have a right to stand my ground; it's very hard to counter." Even the word "ground" has a ring of Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century American notion of an almost divine decree to expand westward and set up homesteads.

The Supreme Court's Arizona ruling focused critics and proponents alike on "Show Your Papers Please" (or just plain "Papers Please"), which allows police to ask for proof of citizenship. While straightforward, the slogan could conjure up the days of Nazi Germany or Communist China, when identity papers symbolized a citizenry helpless against tyranny. It also could resonate in a crabby anti-big-government climate, with its stifling rules. "Bureaucracy is what we hate, because it's complicated," Lakoff says. "Notice how many of these phrases are good ol' English Saxon. We hate the Latin or Greek—like the word 'bureaucracy.'"

View gallery

.

Death Tax (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mass mind control or reinforcing the party?: The belief that words can change minds goes back to George Orwell, whose fiction introduced the idea of group-think. Orwell aside, is being swayed by a slogan a dereliction in citizen duties, or is it the reality of too many competing ideas? "The idea of the informed electorate—it's not going to happen. [Most] people don't have the time and interest," Nunberg says, quoting pioneering journalist Walter Lippman, "The facts far exceed our curiosity."

To penetrate, an emotional appeal is essential, says research scientist and Syntience robopsychologist Andrea Kuszewski. "The more someone is personally and emotionally invested in an idea, the more it will resonate with them, and the more likely they are to adopt it as a belief." An effective slogan doesn't just sum up an idea in two bullet points but makes it easy for people to use that slogan as a cheat sheet when they talk about the issues with others.

Often, however, slogans merely end up reinforcing a group's beliefs. "You drum up the emotional impact and give them a solid 'take-home point' that they can use to identify with the other members of the group."

The limits of "Mad Men" politics: In 1984, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale evoked the little old lady from Wendy's and demanded of rival Gary Hart's platforms, "Where's the Beef?" Borrowing from advertising, Nunberg tells Yahoo!, means one less focus group for politicians. "The work has been done for them in a series of 30-second commercials."

Then again, he cautions, "People make more of a fuss about these things then they ought to." In the "Right to Die" controversy, when asked if they supported physician-assisted suicide versus helping patients end their lives, people shifted 15% in favor when the word "suicide" was omitted. On the other hand, spinning estate tax as death tax barely shifted opinion either way on the topic.

View gallery

.

Another way to say Stand Your Ground?

Democrats vs. Republican: Not all slogans are controversial: "Stand Your Ground" has competing phrases like "Make My Day" and "Right to Kill," but "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" pretty much described the 1993 military policy. Whatever the political spin, progressives and conservatives might agree on thing—conservatives are much better at verbal shape-shifting. GOP pollster Frank Luntz has famously built a career on phrase makeovers: oil drilling to energy exploration, global warming to climate change, estate tax to death taxes, and his 2009 memo on fighting health-care reform. His consulting website points out an increasingly judgmental electorate:

We have become a hyper-attentive nation that is quick to judge. The words and visuals you use are more important than ever in determining whether you win or lose at the ballot box, the checkout line, and the court of public opinion.... Remember: "It's not what you say. It's what people hear." (Luntz Global)

Occupy Wall Street is one of those rare successes, an assertive phrase with militant (or call-to-action) overtones declaring war with a perceived enemy. Usually, however, Lakoff says, conservatives know how to appeal to emotion in unambiguous language. "A liberal trying to make up 'Stand Your Ground,' it would come out: 'Maybe if it's not too much trouble, if you have to do something, but if you had a gun—I mean, but you really shouldn't have a gun...'" Continued on next bumper sticker.

View gallery

.

Occupy Wall Street (Spencer Platt:Getty Images)

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • Executive actions ready to go as Trump prepares to take office

      By Ayesha Rascoe and Julia Edwards Ainsley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama's policies. Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Aides said Trump would not wait to wield one of the most powerful tools of his office, the presidential pen, to sign several executive actions that can be implemented without the input of Congress.

      Reuters
    • Animal Shelter Offers $11,200 Reward After Rottweiler Is Found With Ears, Nose and Tail Cut Off

      "Baron is doing remarkably well considering his injuries," a veterinarian reported.

      Inside Edition
    • Cancer Patient Who Did 'Juju on That Beat' During Chemo in Viral Video Dies

      Ana-Alecia Ayala, who made headlines in October for dancing up a storm during chemotherapy treatments, has died after a year-long battle against cancer.

      Inside Edition
    • Everything We Think We Know About the Upcoming Ford Bronco and Ranger

      Ford promises a new small pickup truck and a return of the legendary Bronco name. Here's what to expect.

      Road & Track
    • Foreclosed mall once valued at $190M is auctioned for $100

      TARENTUM, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania mall that was foreclosed on after its owners failed to repay $143 million has been auctioned off for $100.

      Associated Press
    • Documents: Woman knew for months she'd been stolen at birth

      An 18-year-old who was kidnapped as an infant discovered months ago that she had been raised by her abductor under an assumed name, court documents show.

      Associated Press
    • Giant Florida Gator Is Not For Tourists, Nature Preserve Staff Warn

      Officials for the county's natural resources division said, although, they appreciate the attention the nature reserve has been getting, they are also worried about the safety of visitors and wildlife.

      International Business Times
    • Ex-president George H.W. Bush moved to intensive care; wife hospitalized

      Bush, who at 92 is the nation's oldest living ex-president, has been at Houston Methodist Hospital since Saturday after experiencing shortness of breath, family spokesman Jim McGrath said on Wednesday. Since then, Bush experienced an "acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia" and was sedated for the unspecified procedure, his office said.

      Reuters
    • Deadly snow avalanche hits hotel in earthquake-stricken central Italy (15 photos)

      Rescue workers were met with an eerie silence Thursday when they reached a four-star spa hotel struck by an avalanche in a mountainous earthquake-stricken region of central Italy. At least 30 people were missing, including at least two children, authorities said. Guests at the three-story Hotel Rigopiano in the central Abruzzo region alerted emergency workers of the disaster on Wednesday, following a series of quakes in the region. “Help, we’re dying of cold,” one couple wrote rescuers, according to the ANSA news agency. Another man, identified by news reports as Fabio Salzetta, sent a SMS message saying he had escaped with a maintenance worker, but that others were trapped inside. Corriere della Sera quoted the text message as saying: “Some walls were knocked down.” And: “I’m outside with a maintenance worker but you can’t see anything of the hotel, there’s only a wall of snow in front of me.” When rescuers on skis arrived in the early morning hours of Thursday, they found just two people alive, according to news reports. Civil protection authorities said that 30 people were missing. The ANSA news agency quoted a rescuer as saying that there were fatalities, but details weren’t immediately available. Just one body was reported removed from the hotel by late morning Thursday. (AP) See more news-related photo galleries and follow us on Yahoo News Photo Tumblr .

      Yahoo News Photo Staff
    • The internet roasts a photo of Donald Trump writing his inauguration speech

      When times get tough, at least you can still meme. President-elect Donald Trump is slated to deliver his inauguration address on Friday, so he teased his Twitter followers with a little behind-the-scenes photo of himself writing a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. SEE ALSO: Don's Johns: Port-a-potties get censored for Trump’s inauguration Writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago. Looking forward to Friday. #Inauguration pic.twitter.com/S701FdTCQu — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2017 The staged photo and Trump's cold, dead gaze sent the internet straight into "meme mode alpha," where it was pointed out that Trump was actually holding Sharpie marker, which may or may not actually be closed. @realDonaldTrump that is a blank piece of paper and you're holding a closed sharpie pic.twitter.com/ekCcH8eTXe — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 @cajunmonkey439 @realDonaldTrump It is *obviously* a sharpie. pic.twitter.com/gdD2AUhBKX — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 .@realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/8CSroNshBR — XpeK (@peKofX) January 18, 2017 Surprised that you didn't just use this photo as your epic, bigly speech pic.twitter.com/SezwzToFg4 — Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) January 18, 2017 good job @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/Ioj869Tfy3 — uhhh (@_uhhhhhhh) January 18, 2017 pic.twitter.com/pAKcXAEAkD — Sam Grittner (@SamGrittner) January 18, 2017 @realDonaldTrump #NotMyPresident #TheResistance #conflict #Putin #Inauguration In house security cam Mar a Lago pic.twitter.com/diwnpjAS3F — Beo Bachter (@kaysintBB) January 18, 2017 Early draft of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. #TrumpSpeech #MyFirstWordsAsPresident #MAGA pic.twitter.com/qgo1glv5cG — Tom ❄️ (@TommieWho) January 18, 2017 Exclusive sneak peek at Trump's inauguration speech! pic.twitter.com/6W6ex0Ks3z — Kara Calavera (@KaraCalavera) January 18, 2017 Trump's Inaugural address leaked... pic.twitter.com/J8soJQ4Ira — Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) January 18, 2017 Exclusive: #Trump's Inauguration speech leaked! #TrumpInaugural #trumpgrammar pic.twitter.com/XzrXXpnjxD — Gerry Stergiopoulos (@GerryGreek) January 18, 2017 According to CNN, Trump did write his inauguration speech himself. BONUS: NBD, just a massive alligator out for a stroll

      Mashable
    • When presidential inaugurations go very, very wrong

      As Constitution Daily counts down to Inauguration Day, we look back at three presidential ceremonies from the 1800s that ended very badly.

      National Constitution Center
    • A Family's Fight: Mom and Her 1-Year-Old Daughter Battling Cancer Together

      She wasn't expecting her own diagnosis, much less her daughter's.

      Inside Edition
    • Durant dazzles against former Oklahoma City team once more

      OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Russell Westbrook promised to pay back Zaza Pachulia for a hard foul.

      Associated Press
    • Fatal Autopilot crash wasn’t Tesla’s fault, investigators decide

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed its six-month-old investigation into the fatal crash of a Tesla Model S , which was being driven by the Autopilot system when it collided with a truck last May. The NHTSA will not seek a recall of Tesla's vehicles, and the report said that the agency's examination "did not identify any defects in the design or performance of the Automatic Emergency Braking or Autopilot systems." The crash occurred on a highway in Florida on May 7th last year. The Tesla was being driven a few miles per hour over the speed limit in the left lane of a two-way highway, when a truck with a trailer turned across both lanes towards an exit. The Tesla's radar and cameras failed to pick up the trailer, and the Tesla drove directly into the side of it, killing the driver. Since the accident, Tesla has updated its semi-autonomous Autopilot feature to force drivers to be more hands-on, and treat it like a driving aid rather than an actual Autopilot. Despite the name, Tesla says that Autopilot is still a beta feature that requires drivers to monitor the road just like normal.New Tesla cars also have an updated version of the Autopilot with more sensors, which should prevent a similar accident from happening again. Despite the one fatal crash, Autopilot is statistically safer than human drivers. According to Tesla, Autopiloted vehicles have driven over 200 million miles by this point, with just one fatality. The average for human-driven vehicles is one fatality every 94 million miles, although the numbers are probably skewed a little, as a Tesla is safer than the average car in a crash, and the majority of Autopiloted miles will be driven on divided highways, which are safer than regular roads.

      BGR News
    • Virginia man convicted of 2006 slaying of family is executed

      JARRATT, Va. (AP) — A man convicted of killing a family of four, slashing their throats and setting their home ablaze after they left their front door open while preparing for a New Year's Day party in 2006, was executed Wednesday.

      Associated Press
    • Roethlisberger hoping to play up to Brady's "gold standard"

      Ben Roethlisberger intended for the moment to be private. The camera following him to midfield and the microphone tucked inside Tom Brady's shoulder pads ended up making that impossible. Their brief exchange ...

      Associated Press
    • Deadly fire destroys high-rise building in Tehran, Iran (21 photos)

      A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters and injuring some 75 people, state media reported. The disaster struck the Plasco building, an iconic structure in central Tehran just north of the capital’s sprawling bazaar. Iran’s state-run Press TV announced the firefighters’ deaths, without giving a source for the information. Local Iranian state television said 30 civilians were injured in the disaster, while the state-run IRNA news agency said 45 firefighters had been injured. Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours before the collapse. Police tried to keep out shopkeepers and others wanting to rush back in to collect their valuables. However, witnesses said some people had slipped through and gone back in. The building came down in a matter of seconds, shown live on state television, which had begun an interview with a journalist at the scene. A side of the building came down first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze. A thick plume of brown smoke rose over the site after the collapse. Onlookers wailed in grief. (AP) See more news-related photo galleries and follow us on Yahoo News Photo Tumblr .  

      Yahoo News Photo Staff
    • Virginia inmate executed despite arguments against drug 'cocktail'

      A Virginia inmate was executed on Wednesday for murdering two young sisters during a 2006 killing spree, after the Supreme Court denied a stay request where he argued the use of compounded lethal drugs violated his constitutional rights.     Ricky Gray, 39, died by lethal injection at 9:42 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center, Virginia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said in an emailed statement. Gray's lawyers filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying that the three-drug combination could cause Gray unnecessary suffering and thereby violate constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.

      Reuters
    • Donald Trump Is Already Tweeting Us Into War with North Korea

      The next president has managed to put himself on a collision course with Pyongyang. Can he cut a deal to stop it?

      Foreign Policy Magazine
    • One Big Reason Not to Buy Nintendo Switch

      The Nintendo Switch is a pretty versatile gaming machine, but don't count on it replacing your home streaming box anytime soon. According to several reports, Nintendo's $299 portable/home console hybrid won't have any significant entertainment features when it releases on March 3, meaning you'll have to get your Netflix and Hulu fix elsewhere. Business Insider spoke to Nintendo's Kit Ellis, who said that the Switch "won't have many multimedia features at launch." While this doesn't rule out the possibility of popular streaming apps coming to the platform later this year, it seems like you'll be strictly playing games on the Switch on release date (and besides the stunning new Zelda title, there aren't many notable launch games).

      Tech Media Network (Tom's Guide)