A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in America a great slogan is far more powerful, especially when it drives us to do something, buy something, or believe in something. While creating images that are durable and memorable, slogans distill life’s complexity into simple shorthand.
“Be All That You Can Be” inspired young men and women to see the Army as a personal calling. Wheaties’ “Breakfast of Champions” motivated families to view breakfast as an Olympic event. United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” embraced customer satisfaction (before security “embraced” a ticketed passenger in a choke hold). “Just Do It” embodied a nation’s optimism in sneakers, just as “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” reinforced the nation’s desire to enjoy life without consequence.
Now Democrats in Washington have decided to get back in the game with a slogan of their own, “a better deal.” For a a party struggling for electoral success, there’s nothing fresh about what they’re proposing or genuine about what they’re saying.
Where is the call for America’s public schools to reclaim the mantle of being best in the world?
Where are the ideas for health care reform that don’t punish our families, or for children with college debt they can’t possibly repay? Where is the core message that ultimately we are not Republicans or Democrats first, but Americans?
The problem here is that the leaders behind it, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, with more than 65 years in office between them, are out-of-date in an out-of-touch town. Did they sleep through the 2016 election, a change election, where the status quo championed by Hillary Clinton was no match for “system is broken” mantra of the challenger?
The difference here is Pelosi and Schumer are not Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Harry Truman.
Teddy Roosevelt launched and popularized the “Square Deal”, urging Americans to rally behind him to ensure fair play under the rules, change the rules where they’re not fair, and give every American a true shot to be a part of it all. It was a deal based in humanity and practicality, and it led to landmark breakthroughs in consumer protection and food and drug safety. Teddy also left behind an unprecedented gift of preservation: 150 national forests and 18 natural wonders, from Yosemite to the Grand Canyon.
FDR did him one better with the “New Deal,” catapulting America from the depths of the Depression and 25 percent unemployment to the headiness of national recovery. Four million jobs created. Airports, roads, schools and hospitals built. FDR’s shot in the arm stoked national and local pride while infusing it all with a sense of urgency (“wage a war against the emergency as though we were invaded by a foreign foe.”)
And while less successful than the Roosevelts, “give ’em hell, Harry” Truman coined his own slogan, the “Fair Deal,” leveraging America’s newly minted prosperity to reduce government debt, create affordable housing, abolish poll taxes, and eliminate the national shame of public lynchings.
Which brings me to the man in charge, President Donald Trump, who’s looking for a win to justify his win. My counsel: forego selling a thousand more copies of your Art of the Deal in favor of compelling millions of Americans to buy in to something far more topical: the “Now Deal.” Madison Avenue could have a field day with this, promoting projects as a patriotic imperative — arguing that doing nothing is no longer acceptable and doing little no longer tolerable.
When a powerful slogan is wedded to a sense of mission and urgency, Americans will do what they do best: react.
Mission: Rebuild America’s infrastructure now.
Slogan: (a la Field of Dreams): “If We Build It, They (jobs, prosperity) Will Come”.
Mission: Reform tax policy now.
Slogan: “Tell the IRS We’ve Paid Enough.”
Mission: Get control of the debt now.
Slogan: “Our Children Won’t Have a Chance.”
Mission: Reform health care now.
Slogan: “The Country’s Health Depends on It.”
The Democrats need a message, the people need the truth and the nation needs a wake-up call.
To counter Hertz’ long-stated mantra “we put you in the driver’s seat,” Avis responded with an underdog’s bravado: “We Try Harder”.
The time has come for Democrats some bravado of their own, or the “better deal” slogan they’re peddling will be replaced by a more compelling one coined by the American people: “Deal them out.”
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.