US campaign ads carry familiar echo

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

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.

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Media captionThe 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.

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Media captionThe 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!"