Clinton needs new slogan

Bill Clinton had “it’s the economy, stupid.” George W. Bush had “compassionate conservatism.” Barack Obama had “change you can believe in.” Donald Trump has “make America great again.”

Hillary Clinton has ...

The Democratic nominee does have 40 bullet-point programs on everything from child care to mental health to the Middle East. But she has no memorable rallying cry to capture her candidacy and rationale to be president.

To test that, simply ask a bunch of Clinton supporters to summarize in a sentence or two what her candidacy is about. You usually get multiple paragraphs in response.

This is more a political than a substantive issue. Slogans are no substitute for governing policies. Trump’s perverse platitudes (“pay for the wall”) are Exhibit A.

Still, a catchphrase can be a powerful and moving expression of a candidate’s authentic ambitions. Clinton’s lack of one says something about her struggle to excite voters about her vision for the future – which is usually what’s at stake in a presidential election that doesn’t involve an incumbent. Trump champions the past with a promise to make America what it was. Clinton proposes to seize the future and make America greater.

She often talks about change, but usually by focusing on a list of programs rather than broad priorities or overarching meaning. She does have a not-Trump campaign slogan – “Stronger Together” – but most voters don’t identify with it or draw inspiration from its language.

She will have an opportunity to inspire tonight during the first of three presidential debates. That kind of forum, however, usually focuses more on policy specifics than campaign themes.

Some Democrats hope she’ll take a lesson from her husband’s 1992 general election campaign, when the habitually prolix Bill Clinton grew hoarse and had to condense his stump speech. That made him more effective, the theory goes. Maybe Hillary Clinton, too, could make more impact with a few well-chosen words.