Political slogans, this is what the Steiny Road Poet has been thinking about as she finished writing and delivering a talk based on her paper about whether Gertrude Stein was a medievalist, futurist or both for Lifting Belly High: A Conference on Women’s Poetry Since 1900 held at Duquesne University. The Poet’s paper is based on Stein’s so called children’s story To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. The Poet used this story in a Scene4 Magazine tribute on the occasion of Stein’s 134th birthday earlier this year.
So what does a story that Stein wrote for children have to do with political slogans? Nothing, if you think the American people when leaving home to vote November 4 will weigh all the facts and make an informed choice for president. Everything, if you believe American voters are swayed by the last best slogan heard before they enter the voting booth.
THE HIJACKING OF FEMINISM
At Duquesne, the Steiny Road Poet, who had never participated in an academic conference before, was surprised to hear many panelists and paper presenters publicly stating their views about the 2008 presidential election from the lectern. She gathers that these politically vocal academics felt empowered to make their views known because many of them are deeply immersed in curriculum that teaches women’s studies, popular culture, literature about diversity, disabilities, and gender. Of major concern in the sessions she attended was how the Republicans and Sarah Palin have hijacked the word feminism. For simplicity’s sake, the Poet defines feminism as the movements coming out of the struggle to get women the right to vote, to have economic and judicial independence, and to have control over one’s own body. Why any woman would want to deny these rights to herself and others makes no sense. Usually when logic breaks down and it cannot be assigned as an illness (e.g. insanity) because too many others are also exercising this behavior, the root cause is some form of organized religion.
BETTER TO BE RED THAN BLUE
What Gertrude Stein learned at Harvard from William James was how to communicate in a way that bypasses the logical side of the brain and goes straight into the head of her audience to hit the emotional center. She chose simple language, mostly Anglo Saxon words devoid of complicated roots and associations. She used rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, and surprising juxtapositions of details that produce a meditative, hypnotic, and harmonic effect on the audience, particularly when the work is read aloud. Think nursery rhyme or jump rope lyric. Here’s a sample of Stein from To Do. The Steiny Road Poet has embellished the text by putting Stein’s questions in capital letters to emphasize the dialectic Stein is trying to help the reader participate in. Stein didn’t believe in the question mark. She said the sentence itself took care of that.
“Isaac said that he was better, BUT WAS HE. Isaac said that he felt better BUT DID HE. Isaac said that children should be seen and not heard BUT SHOULD THEY. Isaac said that eighty was more than four BUT IS IT. Isaac said that ink is blacker than blue BUT IS IT. Isaac said that bridges are wetter than clouds BUT ARE THEY. Isaac said that water is wetter than dolls BUT IS IT, Isaac said that yes is quicker than no BUT IS IT. Isaac said that butter is whiter than snow BUT IS IT. Isaac said that leaves are red, BUT ARE THEY; Isaac said that he had read that he would be dead if he went away, and said what he said BUT WOULD HE. Isaac said that it was better to be red than blue BUT IS IT. Isaac said that a clock would stop if you said what what, BUT WOULD IT. Isaac said that he met a head and when he met a head he hit it, BUT DID HE. Isaac said that he changed what he said so that it came back to sit with it, BUT DID IT…”
What does this dialectic of Isaac and his alter ego suggest, especially the part about red and blue? Try this:
“McCain said that he was better, BUT WAS HE. McCain said that he felt better BUT DID HE. McCain said that children should be seen and not heard BUT SHOULD THEY. McCain said that eighty was more than four BUT IS IT. McCain said that ink is blacker than blue BUT IS IT. McCain said that bridges are wetter than clouds BUT ARE THEY. McCain said that water is wetter than dolls BUT IS IT, McCain said that yes is quicker than no BUT IS IT. McCain said that butter is whiter than snow BUT IS IT. McCain said that leaves are red, BUT ARE THEY; McCain said that he had read that he would be dead if he went away, and said what he said BUT WOULD HE. McCain said that it was better to be red than blue BUT IS IT. McCain said that a clock would stop if you said what what, BUT WOULD IT. McCain said that he met a head and when he met a head he hit it, BUT DID HE. McCain said that he changed what he said so that it came back to sit with it, BUT DID IT…”
DIGGING FOR EARWORMS
What occurs to the Steiny Road Poet is that the Democrats need to hire a Steinian linguist to create a nursery rhyme earworm that will hit the pleasure center of the average man or woman on the street. Forget facts and truth. Forget lies. Every (wo)man will vote her or his emotions. The theater of politics, like the theaters of war, needs a cry of rally, a jingle or lyric that repeats relentlessly in the head (this is the definition of earworm).
Since the Republicans are flipping everything the Democrats are saying and doing, in fear that American voters will choose Democrats in this election, the Democrats need to change the energy flow. Let the Republicans act recklessly by having nominated the oldest person to run for president and by accepting his choice for running mate, a greenhorn with no substantial experience that would make her suitable for leading the United States should they get elected and should McCain die in office. Democrats need to wake up and hire a writer who will give them a catchphrase something like “Renew the USA, go with Barack and Joe.” Yeah, yeah, this phrase isn’t quite there yet. Yeah, yeah, Stein is too long, when we need short.
TOOTHPASTE FOR THE SAVVY POLITICIAN
OK, if Stein doesn’t work for you, Dear Reader, consult the Republican strategist and fundraiser Steve Cone in his book released June 2008: Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History. Proceed immediately to Chapter 4 “You Can’t Put the Toothpaste Back in the Tube: Why the Candidate with the Best Slogan Wins the Race.” If you are in a hurry, check out what David Kiley writing for Business Week had to say about this book. The comparison of presidential slogans is illuminating:
Dwight Eisenhower boasted "I Like Ike," versus. "The Experienced Candidate" promoting Adlai Stevenson.
Lyndon Johnson crooned, "All the Way with LBJ," while Barry Goldwater smugly rejoined, "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right."
Franklin Roosevelt sang "Happy Days Are Here Again," while Al Smith plodded along with "Honest. Able. Fearless."
OK, how about: Vote Barack and Joe, vote to renew the USA or Vote Barack and Joe, a vote to renew the USA. Is the Steiny Road Poet trying to break into politics and become a wonk? No, she had to look up which political party was red, which was blue. So instead of thinking the Democrats, who are usually labeled as liberals, were pejoratively assigned the color of the communist party, she will now think blue means blue collar and the working class—schmoes like me. Thank you, Tim Russert, for that unexpected assignment of party colors—blue: Dems; red: Reps.
FROM THE BOOK OF GENESIS
But hey! I’m not hip and don’t plan to get any tattoos—I’m my brother’s keeper and don’t want any marks on me, not even indelible lip liner. Maybe the Dems have the earworms they need like: “Kiss me I’m voting for Obama,” “Hot Mama for Obama,” “Barack the boat,” “Barack to the Future,” “Obama-Rama,” or, the Poet’s favorite, “No more drama, vote for Obama.” Now the Poet will descend the soapbox and meditate on binaries, a word it seems that academics and political wonks alike (hey! are they a binary set or what?) are bandying about liberally as a post-modern term meaning everything is black or white.