Does the left need better marketing?
Slogans have been used throughout history to capture a specific mission and drive awareness to an important cause. In very few words, these catchy and powerful phrases must be memorable and invoke emotion in order to empower a movement.
Over the past year, there has been an abundance of left-wing leaders and activists marketing their policies with strong phrases. These slogans no doubt sound great in protest chants, definitely fit well on posters, and work well for social media. But could these quippy one liners be causing more confusion and negative reaction than originally intended?
I hate to admit that what I thought “Defund the police” meant when I first heard the phrase chanted during the nationwide Black Lives Matter Protests was completely inaccurate. Prior to doing research on what the slogan actually signified, many people wondered if taking away funding would be the best solution for the huge problem in our country. Some may have even jumped to the conclusion that the slogan advocated for anarchy. Of course, what the tagline really intended was to reform the police and reallocate funding to communities so that high police budgets in the future could potentially be reduced. Albeit a lot less punchy, “Reform the police” or “Reallocate police funding” may have been less confusing.
Another common saying by the left is “I’m not socialist, I’m democratic socialist!”. It’s the unfortunate truth that the word socialism just completely triggers a lot of people in America such as the Baby Boomer generation and a lot of immigrants that fled their homes to escape communism. Certain people have just been hardwired for a better part of their lives to fear socialism above all other political ideology and will do anything in their voting power to prevent it. I’m not sure there is any other word to use and yes, socialism and communism have fundamental differences. But unfortunately attaching socialism to a politician or cause will only continue to invoke a negative response from a certain population.
We also hear “Tax the rich!” But what counts as rich? There is always going to be a class that makes more money than another class and of course, most people tend to want to continue to increase their wealth over time. The income level in which a higher percentage of taxation is debatable. For instance, most physicians have spent 7+ years for medical training and have hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical school debt to boot. And for doctors risking their lives fighting the coronavirus pandemic and working over 100 hours a week with no time off should probably be considered in a slightly different tax bracket than someone like Bill Gates. Perhaps the better slogan could be to “Tax the 1%” or “Tax the billionaires”?
Then there’s “Cancel Student Debt” which inevitably raises questions and debates over free college. Even a person like me with a ton of student debt is still slightly wary of the phrase. Student debt is spread out between public and private financial institutions and is what is funding colleges right now. However, since the government can always guarantee student loans, colleges just keep raising their prices knowing that there will always be funding from Uncle Sam. So far, President Biden is holding the interest rate at 0% which is a great start. It’s no doubt a complicated issue but the slogan itself definitely requires some reading between the lines.
The slogan “Black Lives Matter” was made for an extremely important cause but unfortunately has rubbed people the wrong way. The slogan was never saying Black lives matter more, or that all lives don’t matter; it was stating that black lives are in danger and change has been long overdue in America. But people take that one line and misinterpret it or (like some celebrities) take the line and twist it in the wrong way, not aware that they are devaluing the original phrase. "Black Lives Matter Too" or "Black Lives Also Matter" is a lot less powerful but probably would have been less controversial.
An older phrase that traditionally causes a negative reaction is “Pro-abortion”. Over time, “Pro-choice” took over as the political stance and this likely happened for a good reason. I would argue that no one truly wants anyone to be put in the position of choosing an abortion because of the potentially long lasting mental and possibly physical toll it can take on a patient. But stating that you want a woman to be able to have the choice to have an abortion is a lot less triggering.
Democrats put a lot of faith in people’s abilities to interpret context and “read between the lines”. And that’s very noble and a testament to how much trust lawmakers and activists have in their audience. Unfortunately, a lot of people out there just don’t do the research behind what these phrases mean and may be getting frightened off – such as those interested in crossing over to the left.
Worst of all, some conservatives tend to take these left-wing slogans and manipulate them as an argument for their own causes. And I wonder if the powerful phrases had not created some confusion, certain Republicans may not have had as much ammunition to drive the furor of their own base. Now on the right we have stances such as “Make America great again”, “Build the wall”, "Stop the Steal", and “Lock her up”. All of these tag-lines are pretty simple and arguably more difficult to misinterpret.
Maybe it really is much more important to elicit response than to make completely clear what one’s ideology is in just one chant or hashtag. This may just mean that educating the general public on all these stances becomes that much more critical.
But since we are all busier in today’s world, fewer people are going to be dissecting policy documents to decide how they will vote. So perhaps in the future, slightly different marketing could be a consideration, because a great slogan is just more vital than ever.