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Try these 2012 campaign shortcuts

May 27, 2012 - By Mark Shields, Associated Press

Please accept the following as a small token of appreciation from your semi-faithful correspondent, who knows how busy life can get, what with graduations, Memorial Day and everything. We read all the campaign press releases and candidate statements so that you won't have to.

I will happily put the bumper sticker on my car of any presidential candidate who says, with a modicum of humility: "This is probably the second or third most important election of this century." I just stop listening after any politician tells voters (because his name is on the ballot) that "this is the most important election of your lifetime."

President Obama's campaign staff is having trouble coming up with a slogan for 2012.

They have tried, and apparently rejected, "Winning the Future" and "An America Built to Last," and are now trying simply "Forward."

A good slogan can in fact define a campaign. In 1884, Gen. Edward S. Bragg seconded Grover Cleveland's nomination and championed Cleveland's candidacy with the simple statement, "We love him most for the enemies he has made!"

Hugh Carey, though outspent, won the New York governorship in 1974 against a deep-pocketed but inexperienced opponent with the catchphrase, "This year, before they tell you what they're going to do, make them show you what they've done."

In 1952, with Americans fighting in a stalemated Asian land war, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's pledge, "I'll go to Korea," carried the day.

Richard Nixon's political comeback was secured in 1968 at least in part because of his campaign slogan, "This time, vote like your whole world depended upon it."

I will be surprised if this October President Obama's crowds of supporters or TV commercials will be chanting "Forward."

It would have been a really tough job to be either a campaign strategist or a speechwriter for President George Washington. Why, you ask? Because Gen. Washington is the only presidential candidate in history to run an entire campaign without blaming every problem -- from the latest outbreak of ringworm to an epidemic of double-parking -- on the administration of his predecessor.

I refuse to consider voting for any congressional candidate who either wears tasseled loafers or campaigns by endlessly telling everyone who will listen just how much he loathes Washington, D.C., Capitol Hill and a majority of the congressional colleagues with whom he would serve.

My reasoning is simple: I wouldn't hire someone to baby-sit -- even if she or he had a graduate degree in juvenile psychology and was Phi Beta Kappa, clean-living, disciplined and well-mannered -- if that baby-sitting applicant candidly confided how much she or he personally disliked children.

How good a member of Congress could anyone be who blindly hates Congress and everybody in it?

Answer: not very.

Our two major parties are captives of historical caricatures or stereotypes. Because Democrats were the party of immigrants, the lower class and those at the social margins, that party took pride in nominating presidential candidates who had graduated from Ivy League schools, knew which salad fork to use and who could speak in complete sentences.

Examples include Franklin Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Republicans were seen as the party of the well-to-do, the socially acceptable and the native-born. To overcome that perception, the GOP preferred nominees who were not to the manor born but who came from humble origins. Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Bob Dole rebutted the image of Republicans as the well-born and privileged.

Which brings us to the case of Mitt Romney, who was not born in a log cabin and whose mother did not work the late shift to keep him in shoes.

With his tin ear ("I'm unemployed, too"; My wife "Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs"), he risks reinforcing the negative stereotype of Republicans as the party of the out-of-touch rich.

The challenge will be for Mitt to demonstrate an authentic connection with ordinary Americans.

Editor's note: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields is a former Marine who appears regularly on "Newshour" on PBS.

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