OPINION: The meaning behind campaign slogans

By Lorraine Connelly

It’s election season and time to examine the meta-meaning behind some campaign slogans. Who can forget the more memorable presidential slogans, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 aspirational, “It’s Morning Again in America,” and Barack Obama’s 2008 call and response, “Yes We Can!” Donald Trump’s 2016 “Make America Great Again,” was pilfered, of course, from a previous Reagan campaign (to riff on Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s infamous retort to Vice President Dan Quayle, “Mr. Trump, you’re no Ronald Reagan”). And well, Joe Biden’s alliterative Build Back Better didn’t roll off the tongue, and, frankly, fell flat.

Says linguistic anthropologist Adam Hodges, “At the most basic level, political slogans must provide easily repeatable taglines for campaigns. But for political slogans to truly do valuable political work, they need to resonate with a candidate’s larger campaign message.”

Which brings us to the slogans of Wallingford’s current mayoral race and our candidates’ principle campaign messages. Our current 38-year incumbent has used variations of his die-hard slogan, “Wallingford: Shine On!” or “Wallingford: Keep It Shining!” The operative word here is “keep,” a verb that means “to cause to continue in a specified condition, position, course, etc.” In other words, Stay the course. The modifier “shining” is telling too.

As a 34-year resident of Wallingford, I’d say our Town has seen more stellar days. I can’t help but compare Wallingford to the aging Norma Desmond of the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard.” She, too, had enjoyed better days.

Wallingford is a town facing pandemic languor, failing infrastructure, lagging technology, schools in desperate need of refurbishment, the list goes on. Economic development recently took another hit when the Planning and Zoning Commission voted down a proposal for a third Amazon facility. The former 180-acre Bristol Myers Squibb site remains abandoned since 2016. Community pool is a stagnant eyesore. Wallingford no longer shines but is sporting a rather big “shiner.” Maybe one of J. Carver’s choice 16 oz. rib eye steaks needs to be applied?

But let’s get back to the story of our aging actress, Miss Desmond. She is somewhat self-delusional and is trapped in an information silo whereby sycophantic enablers continue to shower her with forged fan letters. When a Hollywood producer delivers the stinging put down, “You were big,” she retorts, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

This is what resonates most about her story and our own story.  Wallingford’s pictures have gotten small.  The Town’s image is like a worn photograph that has deteriorated over time and changed its chemical properties. It bears that faint yellow tint appearing in black and white photos making them look brown and dingy.

Downtown Wallingford sports abandoned storefronts as well as a mishmash of retail establishments, including another CBD store, coming soon. Doolittle Park, which was once a premier spot for young mothers when I moved here with my girls in 1988, has been overrun by the futuristic “droogs” of Anthony Burgess’ haunting novel, “Clockwork Orange.” Mothers are now afraid to take their young children to the park. Police have responded to calls about suspicious activity at the park, as well as calls about criminal mischief and possession of illegal drugs there. The town’s Recreation Commission has discussed the possibility of installing surveillance cameras. This is not the Wallingford I raised my children in.

Now the Mayor’s challenger is a youthful fifth generation Wallingfordian who has moved back from Washington, D.C. to save his hometown from the malaise of nostalgia. His slogan? “For Our Future.”  Not to be a schoolmarm grammarian, but it does feel a little odd to start a slogan with the preposition “for,” but what is appealing is the directional – “Our Future.” It offers a collective destination with a promise of momentum, movement, motion, mojo.

Our challenger is a bit like the young Michael J. Fox in the role of Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” without the souped-up, time-traveling DeLorean.  His platform hopes to move the dial on the proverbial Main Street clock tower, long frozen in time. His plans include bringing Wallingford into the 21st century by investing in renewable energy resources, developing a robust online presence, and devising an economic development plan that includes incentivizing young families to move to town.

His campaign got a bit of an uptick last summer when he challenged the Mayor’s refusal to use allocated funds to update the animal shelter, but is that enough for an electoral victory? Time will tell. But the meta-meaning of messaging is important, do we want to stay as is, or do we want to move forward? Some may cling to the comfort of Abe Lincoln’s 1864 campaign slogan, “Don’t Swap Horses in the Middle of the Stream.” But in this horse race, a horse of a different color might bring some vibrancy to those faded pictures.It’s up to voters to decide.

Lorraine Connelly is a writer and Wallingford resident.




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