Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Vote 4 Me!

What is the origin of the political phrasing: "[Name of politician] for [name of state or country]"? I was thinking about this when looking at the banner at the top of Ron Silliman's blog entry yesterday: not "Pennacchio for U.S. Senate," for instance, but "Pennacchio for Pennsylvania." (I imagine in this case Pennacchio is taking advantage of the fact that "Penn" is part of his name.)

The first time I remember seeing this locution was "Dean for America," and I remember thinking it was really weird at the time. (Actually, living in Hyde Park, I still see those words looking at me from every other bumper.) Was Howard Dean running for the position of "America"? Was there an implied ellipsis: "Howard Dean [is best] for America"? Or was Dean "for" America in the same way that you might be "for" the Cubs or the White Sox?

After that, though, it seemed like everyone was adopting the "for..." Barack Obama's website, if I recall, was obamaforillinois.com. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign site is called, um, "Rod for Illinois."

So is this a new phenomenon? I don't remember "Dukakis for America" or "Arnold for California" or anything of that ilk. And is it a largely Democratic phenomenon? A random troll of political sites doesn't turn up any Republicans using this formula.

A note on the actual content of Ron's post: What Ron calls the ideological incoherence of Democratic tickets this year seems, perversely, to be an effect of a national campaign effort that is more centralized than any time in recent memory, with the national party deciding well in advance of primary season who can win--based almost entirely on biography and name recognition rather than on ideology--and then sinking huge resources into getting that person on the ballot in the general election. The best example around here is "Fighting Dem" Tammy Duckworth, an Asian American officer who lost both legs in Iraq and who (with a lot of national funding) edged out a more established (and possibly more progressive) local candidate who had come with striking distance of victory two years before in a heavily Republican district. National concerns (the desire to reclaim credibility on Iraq and the military) and Duckworth's compelling story clearly trumped the grassroots here.

This isn't to say that Duckworth isn't a great candidate, and she has a good shot at winning a seat formerly held by Rep. Henry Hyde--in another parallel, Hyde has long been the House version of Santorum in the vehemence of his opposition to abortion (most prominently through the infamous Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid from funding abortions). But it's hard to say what the ultimate result of this centralizing strategy will be: we're watching a large, diverse, decentralized party that loses trying to make itself more like the small, disciplined, centralized party that wins.

5 comments:

Michelle said...

I liked the slogan "Dean for America". I interpreted it as someone who was fighting for a greater cause, who was not motivated by selfish reasons, who was generous and self-sacrificing and willing to give it his all. (Whereas, when I saw the bumper sticker "John Kerry"--and perhaps this was colored by Dean's slogan--I automatically thought, "John Kerry for himself.")

Tim said...

I was never crazy about any of the Kerry bumper-sticker designs. The "Kerry-Edwards" sticker in particular was an exercise in mixed messages. "Kerry-Edwards" was printed in a relatively delicate font, with upper- and lower-case letters--a clear contrast to the swaggering, crude block letters of "BUSH CHENEY." But then there was the fine print, in all caps--"A STRONGER AMERICA"--designed, I imagine, to dispel any hint of typographic wussiness.

Michelle said...

I never paid attention to the type before, but now that you mention it, you're right. I didn't like the "Kerry-Edwards" stickers because I thought the sticker was a bit of a monster--too long and unwieldy. Who wants a bumper sticker that takes up half of the bumper on your car?

powerpolitics said...

The first time I remember seeing "Somebody for State/Country" is the Dean cmapaign. I agree with Michelle that semantically, "Obama for Illinois" sounds like Obama (or whomever) is running to improve and better Illinois, not simply for a Senate seat for himself as an individual.

I think that Dean or whomever came up with it is brilliant because it really says more about your idea of public service.

Since I've only seen progressives running under the "Person for State" banner, I'd guess that it's a hat tip to the good Governor, and the organization he founded, Democracy for America. Doesn't hurt to model yourself on that meme especially if you are looking for the politically powerful group's endorsement in any hot primaries.

Secondly, I heard this complaint about Kerry's lettering/fonts being graphically wimpy quite frequently in the field during election cycle from non-hacks. I guess if one suscribes to the idea that image is everything, Kerry should have hired a new graphics designer..

Tim said...

Actually, I think Kerry's graphic designers got it right on, i.e. they nailed the mixed message of the Kerry campaign with great precision. The delicate, even "wimpy" "Kerry/Edwards" font signaled the campaign's desire to appeal to the traditional (sensitive, latte-swilling, tree-hugging, women-and-minorities) liberal constituency. Message: "I am a sensitive and intelligent man, and so (contrary to appearances) is John Edwards." But they also thought they needed to win over the centrist (war-embracing, terror-fearing, gun-loving) vote by promising a "STRONGER AMERICA." Message: "I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, and so (contrary to appearances) will John Edwards."