US campaign ads carry familiar echo

Undated combination photo of 2012 images of US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney

It must be working. Mitt Romney's campaign has been using the slogan "Obama isn't working" on and off since the middle of last year.

But now they seem to have adopted it as their main message: on a banner behind the presumed Republican candidate when he speaks, in campaign emails and in TV ads.

And, of course, it comes complete with an iconic image of a dole queue that stretches back into both the middle distance and into political history.

Given that politics is also littered with shock horror accusations of plagiarism, it was wise of the Romney campaign to admit that this was a "tribute" to the Saatchi brothers' 1979 poster for Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party "Labour isn't working".

Even the photo of the long trail of the disconsolate and out-of-work is, as far as I can see, exactly the same image, with the words "unemployment office" in a different font and the picture changed from colour to black-and-white.

The Romney campaign has paid tribute to Margaret Thatcher's 1979 slogan

This means, of course, that the presidential hopeful is using a line of out-of-work British folk to make his point.

Well, not quite. As the BBC discovered some time ago the queue was made up of a handful of volunteers from the Hendon Young Conservatives, Photoshopped (or the 70s equivalent) to appear to look like a lengthy row of people.

It seems a little slack not to get some young Republicans to perform the same trick and I would love to know what any one in the original line-up makes of all this.

Marxist connotations

The poster won an advertising industry "best political ad of the century", so perhaps Mr Romney hopes he can win a similar award for this century.

But there is one problem. "Labour isn't working" is a moderately amusing pun.

Labour, you see, has two meanings. The British political party, and labour, the dictionary definition: "workers, especially manual workers, considered collectively".

As well as raising a smile, it rubbed in the point that the Labour Party wasn't even working for the people it claimed to represent.

Then you have the Romney version. Obama - the president's name - isn't working.

And Obama, meaning, er, no, that's the problem. It doesn't mean anything else. The ad is a single entendre and so lacks the punch of the original.

That is why some are claiming the double meaning is in the whole sentence and that it is a racist stereotype.

This interpretation has been widely mocked by those who say some people will invent racism in anything.

The Obama campaign unveils Forward as the theme for the president's bid for re-election.

British influences and sinister signs are also being seen in President Obama's slogan, "Forward".

Some see it as a direct lift from the Labour Party's 2005 campaign, "Forward, not back", which struck me as rather weedy at the time.

It certainly didn't really make people sit up and take notice.

I immediately thought of the Italian Socialist newspaper, Avanti!, once edited by Benito Mussolini, which became a favourite slogan of the futurists and fascists.

Others have noticed - not a coincidence - what they see as a real confection. They think President Obama is drawing on a long communist history of use of the simple word, particularly as a newspaper title.

Others have seen echoes of the US Progressive movement or the Israeli opposition.

It could just be that if a politician wants a single word to describe the direction they want to take their country, "forward" has more resonance than "sideways" or "diagonally".

But my favourite suggestion is that it is a direct lift from The Simpsons and the aliens on the show Kang and Kodos, who proclaim: "We must go forward, not backward, upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom!"

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Though he is better about flip-flopping than others [especially Romney], Ron Paul is not without his inconsistencies. He is a Libertarian who thinks religious regulations are fine [a true Libertarian will want them out of the bedroom as well as law enforcement]. Finally a totally privatized Libertarian nation would be good for the rich, but nobody else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    83.d_m - "On the hand, maybe people have listened to Ron Paul and decided that his good ideas are vastly outweighed by his bad ideas, and it's nothing to do with stopping a runaway train. It's too bad to because his good ideas are really good"

    Indeed, shame about those really, really bad ones.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    82 Arden Forester

    On the hand, maybe people have listened to Ron Paul and decided that his good ideas are vastly outweighed by his bad ideas, and it's nothing to do with stopping a runaway train. It's too bad to because his good ideas are really good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Mitt Romney has some kind of "austerity works" message which is fairly meaningless as the US is still printing, borrowing and picking cash off trees. Obama is not going to roll back the state. Only Ron Paul has seen the light and that is to get the Federal Government out of things that don't belong to it. But he won't be president, because nobodody wants to stop the runaway train just yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    50 "Just tell us who won - ... - this has nothing to do with the UK"

    There was very extensive coverage of the French elections - for the same reason there will be of the US. If as is entirely possible their economies tank they take us with them. This affects all of us profoundly and has for decades - for example the City apes the worst of Wall St. Your ignorance is not bliss

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    "Sen.Harry Reid is also a Mormon, but noone in the media seems to care because he's a Democrat&a liberal"

    He's also not running for President or a member of a party which in recent years has placed a massive premium on an extremely narrow definition of Christian fundamentalism. To the point that many Republicans will refuse to vote for him

    So your point is completely meaningless

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    71 LucyJ

    Chief Justice Roberts is from Indiana.

  • Comment number 78.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Romney is a discredited mediocrity and a no-hoper. The figures on growth etc. are turning just in time for Obama. It is fortunate for Romney that most americans still have a romanticised view of Thatcherite economics. He'd better pray they do not wise up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I guess the Labour party here will be supporting Romney, if the party in power when all the financial mess was created can be re-elected in the US it has to offer them some hope here.
    p.s Thatchers slogan , biggest con in Uk political history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    ref #68

    romney as a business turnaround specialist help create many jobs and that is abetter resume for understanding the ecnomy than a law proffessor and a community organizer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    It's not Obama's creation. He merely used the system. If I want my son to be future US president, I'll try my best to send him to HY, knowing very well that he'll be "one of "them", not "us"; knowing very well that HY does not groom/create talent but provides opportunities to mix up with "right" kind of people to "succeed".
    Even if I want to change, I must know & obey it at least initially!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    #63 powermeerkat

    I enjoyed "All the liberal people". In the interests of political balance I'm sure you can reccomend something lampooning the GOP.

  • Comment number 72.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.


    That is the problem

    No matter whether America elects Dems or Repubs
    we get the same people regardless

    Its like Bilderberg personified

    People like me, I voted for Obama, thinking he the one
    who would do the right thing

    I was wrong

    His picks for Supreme Court just confirms it

    The Midwest- a huge chunk of the country-
    is not represented in Supreme Court

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    @ LucyJ (67), Since Reagan, ALL the presidents are from either Yale or Harvard. All other SC justices, except one, are from Harvard/Yale (HY). That trend is a recent one. It's a dangerous too. Now you can read the book- "the price of admission" by Daniel Golden to know why many, if not majority in Bush or Obama's cabinet are from HY and what price the country pays in terms of lost talents!

  • Comment number 69.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Any claim that a person has business experience & that's why s/he knows how to solve current financial mess is just nonsense, another lie.That "business experience" only help to maximize profit for the business.It has nothing to do with job creation or solving economic problems of a nation.
    If that person knew it (ways to maximize profit), s/he would have done that already irrespective of job #!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Jay: Check where today's Presidents, Supreme Court justices, CEOs come from

    Obama picked two ladies from Harvard for Supreme Court

    Supreme Court has people from Coasts
    but no one from Midwest

    I was extremely disappointed in Obama's picks
    cause' neither represent America-
    they represent Harvard elitists

    Obama is just like Bush
    when it comes to political connections

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.


    19 pmk
    Wake Island?

    Well, it's actually an atol.

    But USAF appreciates you awareness. And 2400meter runway.
    [not that US Army's ungrateful]

    P.S. Don't forget our boys at Kwajalein! :-)


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