September 11, 2012
Obama's SloganBy Lee Cary
Forward, the Obama campaign's collectivist campaign slogan, targets undecided voters.
Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), variously described as a French philosopher, legal scholar/law professor, lay theologian and Christian anarchist, wrote the widely-acclaimed book, "Propaganda: The Formation Of Men's Attitudes," first published in 1962.
Ellul gained first-hand knowledge of propaganda during World War II when, after being fired from teaching positions in French universities by the Vichy government, he became a leader in the Resistance. His efforts to save Jews earned him the title of Righteous among the Nations from Yad Vashem in 2001. His book is recognized as a groundbreaking examination of propaganda combining the sociological and psychological disciplines.
Here's Ellul's definition of propaganda:
In describing the role of symbols in propaganda, Ellul defined the slogan as a type of symbol.
Forward is collectivist's language -- a summons to the masses to undertake some heroic advancement in support of a shared goal -- or presumably so. A sane person doesn't say "Forward" to just one person; nor does a battlefield commander order a single soldier to "Charge." Forward is spoken by the one to the many.
But the Obama campaign's use of Forward may have another, more focused, purpose: to attract Ellul's "marginal man".
Two months short of the November election, the marginal voters are what Ellul also called the "Undecided" -- "those people whose opinions are vague, who form the great mass of citizens, and who constitute the most fertile public for the propagandist." (p. 48)
Forward, a word often repeated by speakers at the Democratic National Convention, is the header under which the Obama campaign memes align. The Democrat call is to go Forward, not backward, as we continue to: fight for the reproductive rights of women; struggle for the growth and prosperity of the Middle Class being cheated by the under-taxed Rich; promote fairness in the distribution of America's wealth; grant college loans to poor students; protect Medicare (note there was less mention of ObamaCare) from Republican attacks; stand-up with Main Street against Wall Street -- and so on.
And, because backward is the opposite of Forward, the Obama campaign ridicules the opposition -- yet another Saul Alinsky tactic -- by comparing Romney and the Republican Convention to the culture of the 1950's, going backward in time. Ellul understood why this happens; because a slogan based on out-dated traditions fails to inspire.
Consequently, we'll continue to hear the exaggerated claims for implied, near-term energy benefits from wind and solar power, as well as hints of innovative technologies on the horizon -- Forward.
The most redundant and destructive propaganda meme now in play in the Obama campaign is class warfare, based on class envy. Romney's money is in the Cayman Islands -- Michelle remembers Obama's car with a hole in the floorboard -- Obama saved the auto industry -- Romney wanted to let the auto industry die -- Obama saved the unions -- Romney wants to off-shore more jobs -- Obama has created millions of jobs -- Romney laid-off workers -- Romney wants to cut educational programs for poor kids -- Obama wants to have a competent teacher in every classroom. With Romney we go backward. With Obama we go Forward.
Don't think it doesn't work.
Propaganda is effective because, as Ellul wrote,
Class warfare is one such "stereotype" and "established tendency." It's been fed and nurtured by progressives in America for a very long time. It has a special pull on those who feel like victims.
Forward. It's an order, not an appeal. A command, not a call. It has been, throughout history, the language of the dictator.
In the list of presidential campaign slogans in American history, Forward is the shortest and most imperative. Compare it to Grover Cleveland's chant "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine." And Eisenhower's "I like Ike."
Obama's Forward is not aimed at his true believers who --- with cult-like adoration -- shed tears when he speaks, whatever he says. Nor will it have any play with those who've decided that his election defeat is critical to the future of the nation.
Obama's Forward targets the "marginal man," the "Undecided" voter, offering its collectivist connotations -- because we're all in this together. So let's all go Forward.
This implied togetherness of Forward stands in sharp contrast to Obama's class warfare meme, in all its various expressions. But lest we assume that the "marginal man" will discern any inconsistencies, Ellul dispelled that notion.
Consider this inconsistency: Billionaire Warren Buffett -- whose company owes taxes going back ten years -- is warmly welcomed at the White House as an Obama supporter. Meanwhile, Obama criticizes the Rich for not paying their "fair share" of taxes, and slams Romney for allegedly having an off-shore bank account. And what about this one: General Electric's CEO Jeffrey Immelt chairs Obama's Job Council while GE exports thousands of jobs overseas.
There is no demand from any quarter for consistency because, as Ellul wrote, "the skillful propagandist will seek to obtain action without demanding consistency".
So the call of the Obama campaign goes out to his loyal followers and to the undecided alike - Forward. Don't look backward. Don't even look too closely at what's ahead going Forward.
Just march, and feel the emotion of motion moving Forward.
Particularly those of you with no clue as to what direction the nation ought to be moving.
Graphic hat tip: Anita Dunn
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