Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Four legs good, two legs bad

In the novel "Animal Farm," George Orwell's pigs chanted the slogan "Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad" as they organized the overthrow of human control over the farm. A new chant has appeared that would please Orwell's organizing pigs.

Any time increasing tax rates is proposed for those at the top of the scale, the chant goes out into the land: "Class warfare, class warfare, class warfare."

Slogans often mean success in electoral politics. They allow voters to think complex problems can be reduced to a memorable phrase.

"Fifty-four forty or fight" and "Remember the Maine" were great slogans designed to inflame the listener rather than to inform the citizenry, and resulted in establishment of the border between the U.S. and Canada, and the Spanish American War.

Slogans can define a presidential candidate, for better or worse. For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt was probably delighted to be called, "a traitor to his class." It made it clear that he really cared about the poor.

On the other hand, Democrats in Delaware loved it when Republican congressional candidate Christine O'Donnell in defining herself said, " I am not a witch."

One politico in Florida effectively confused voters by defining his opponent as "a certified heterosexual."

Those who lived through the trauma of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and civil-rights leader Martin Luther King in the 1960s were not amused last year by Nevada Republican Sharron Angle's campaign rhetoric about a "Second Amendment solution."

Slogans reduce complex issues to easy platitudes, leaving voters confused and conflicted. Witness the debate over health care reform. Members of the sandwich generation, simultaneously burdened with the needs of themselves, their children and their elderly parents, tell pollsters they are not opposed to affordable guaranteed health care. At the same time, they say they are opposed to what is sloganeered as "Obamacare" and "socialized medicine."

If we want more than chants and slogans in our politics, more than yelling "Class warfare, class warfare," we will have to pay more attention to the details as we move through campaign seasons.

We will have to accept ambiguity and nuance. We will have to be people who keep ourselves informed.

We have serious problems and we need serious solutions way more than silly, divisive chants and slogans.

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