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White House hopes Obama's latest slogan catches on

October 25, 2011|By Peter Nicholas, Washington Bureau
(Susan Walsh / Associated…)

Reporting from Los Angeles — Another month, another White House catchphrase.

“Pass this bill” looks to have been retired by White House message-makers.

The heyday for President Obama’s three-word exhortation came in September, after he put forward his $447-billion jobs plan. Speech after speech, Obama commanded lawmakers to “pass this bill.’’ Day after day, Congress refused.

With the impasse in its seventh week, the White House is trying a different approach, encapsulated in a new three-word slogan that is part plea, part battle cry.

“We can’t wait.’’

Whether it will rally the country is unclear. But if the past is any guide, it’s destined to have a short shelf life.

Early in his term, Obama talked about building a “new foundation’’ for the nation’s economy. It was to be his version of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.’’ It never caught on. Indeed, Jimmy Carter -- whose one-term presidency no Democrat wants to emulate -- had trotted out the phrase 30 years before.

Then Obama placed a big bet on the forward-leaning “Win the future.’’ That too failed to gain traction for his agenda. Nor was it original. Newt Gingrich came out with a book in 2005 called “Winning the Future.’’

As the slogans come and go, does the public stop listening at some point?

Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist who specializes in political language, said: "None of his phrases are worth keeping for long periods. None of them rise to ‘Yes, we can’ in emotional impact.’’

What does he make of Team Obama’s latest offering? Luntz believes it may have some staying power.

“ ‘We can’t wait,’ ’’ he said, “works because it communicates a sense of urgency to a country ... desperate for economic recovery. It’s short, declarative and says what everyone is thinking.’’

Luntz didn’t have much use for “Pass this bill,’’ though.

That one, he said, “didn’t work because it was process-oriented rather than results-oriented. It also came across as hectoring, which Americans don’t like in their politicians.’’

How about “Win the future”?

It “means nothing to anyone who is simply concerned with surviving the day,’’ Luntz said. “It’s a mushy platitude that America liked in 2008, but has come to resent in 2011.’’

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