George Bush is looking for a few good slogans. His mission in Iraq accomplished, he stood the course till Aug. 31, the last time he used the phrase “stay the course” in public, according to White House press secretary, Tony Snow.
Faced with dwindling support for the war at home, throughout the world, and worst of all, in Iraq itself, not to mention fading Republican hopes for the midterm election, the president did what all good advertising executives do when their campaigns go south, he cut and ran.
Of course he can’t say that, not out in the open. So Snow explained to reporters that stay the course “left the wrong impression about what was going on.”
But the president didn’t drop the slogan because, sensitive as he is to the nuances of language, he didn’t want to leave the wrong impression. He dropped it because the course itself, cratered by roadside bombs, is no longer passable.
The president dropped “stay the course” before his staff could come up with a new slogan for the war. All they found for him was a word: flexibility. Hardly an October surprise.
But if ‘stay the course’ left the wrong impression, then flexibility is the perfect word to redefine our policy in Iraq, because it really means ‘abandon the course.’
The president will deny this, pointing to the Official Republican Dictionary, which clearly defines “flexibility” as “not a synonym for cut and run.” It’s more like, “snip, snip, amble slowly backwards a step or two while whistling nonchalantly, then look around to see if anybody is watching you,” which is not a slogan, just a way of describing a situation that seems to grow more hopeless every day.
The president will also insist that “flexibility” doesn’t mean “flip, flop.” True, flip-flops are flexible, but as footwear goes, they’re not very good for walking long, pock-marked roads, not to mention running away from small North Korean nuclear devices.
Abandoning “stay the course” leaves Republicans without a slogan to deploy. They can’t use “the buck stops here,” because that would leave the wrong impression, and besides, Speaker of the House Denny Hastert just used it in another context, and the president doesn’t want to get too close to Hastert right now, or to the Democratic president who actually popularized the phrase, Harry S. Truman. Truman got us into Korea, another war we didn’t win.
Advertisers know that slogans may influence consumer behavior, but buyers come back only if the product works. That doesn't mean the war in Iraq is like the New Coke. It means that slogans may sound good, but they also have a way of backfiring. Republicans got away with “tax and spend Democrats” until they themselves spent more than anyone thought possible. They got away with “flip, flop” until they began to change their minds about the war, not to mention the dangers of Instant Messaging. They got away with “cut and run” until they saw the political advantages of our British ally, Monty Python’s rallying cry, “Run away, run away.”
So the Republicans, many of them resigned to losing control of the House and Senate, will insist they’re not cutting and running, they’re just going into the midterm election without a slogan and hoping no one will notice. At least Richard Nixon campaigned on a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, and even if he didn’t really have one, he was, in his own words, “not a crook.” He could say that because the Republican Dictionary defines "crook" as "in reference to a Republican, not a crook."
But to be fair, the Democrats, not because they are polite, but because they seem perennially unprepared for the vagaries of either war or politics, searched their own thesaurus and failed to find a slogan to win our hearts and minds. If they do well at the polls, they’ll do so because the Republicans got tripped up, not by their words, but by their own misdeeds.