Do we need "Snappy Slogans" like 'Defund the Police'?

Rushikesh Sude

Adi Raghavan

On December 3rd, President Obama, in an interview with Peter Hamby from 'Good Luck America', said that the minute a politician uses 'Snappy Slogans' like 'Defund the Police', they immediately lose a vast audience. While this is undoubtedly true for conservative states like Texas and Florida, its legitimacy is questionable for liberal states like Washington and New York. On average, more voters are supportive of the slogan. That being said, considering the USA as a whole, most would agree that President Obama's statement is not baseless.



This raises a different question: If they are possibly detrimental to their chances of being elected, should Politicians lend their support to such snappy slogans? How should they manoeuvre addressing the underlying motivation for a slogan without getting caught up in their hysteria?


Arguments for and against "Snappy Slogans"


Let's look at the most significant impact of 'Defund the Police' on the common citizens: it made them uncomfortable; Uncomfortable in a good way. People, who were earlier apathetic to police brutality, racial profiling, movements like 'Black Lives Matter', and the unnecessary police budgets, started to join the conversation. Sure, some of them might have been against defunding the police. Still, their arguments to the slogan have been solutions that progressive lawmakers have been vying for years: to Reform the Policing System, to Reallocate budgets towards community welfare, and to conduct sensitivity training and mandatory workshops on de-escalation for law enforcement. These voters, who were earlier apathetic to these issues, popularize centrist bills, which the Republicans opposed originally. This increased support for the bills and policies makes it more challenging for bad-faith acting lawmakers to oppose such bills as it would mean acting against their constituents' wishes.  

Over the last few years, the Overton Window (the range of policies accepted by the mainstream population) has shifted to the right to an unprecedented extent. News headlines, which were scandalous and career-ending just half a decade ago, now provoke little to no reaction. Snappy slogans like 'Defund the Police', by being on the far left of the ideological spectrum, help yank the Overton Window much more towards the centre. 

However, at the same time, politicians who support such movements do so at the risk of ruining their careers. While a representative like Jamaal Bowman, who contested in a relatively liberal district of New York, probably benefitted or was not substantially affected by supporting defunding the police, for most politicians, supporting such radical slogans is not worth the risk.

To better understand the politicians' dichotomy, imagine this hypothetical: Let's suppose that the two Democratic contenders from Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock, personally believed that police should be defunded. However, Georgia was a swing state in the 2020 presidential elections and the state that would decide whether or not there would continue to be a Republican majority in the Senate.

Early voting polls from early October put Ossoff and Warnock slightly ahead of the incumbent Republican senators. Suppose in October they voiced their opinions in support of 'Defund the Police'. In that case, some centrist voters, who were initially going to vote blue, might instead vote for the Republican incumbents, believing that the latter represent their views better. This may have led to the Republican Senators. They would have otherwise lost, to remain in the Senate, maintaining the Republican Majority Senate, which would have presented a myriad of roadblocks, preventing President Biden from introducing substantial policy changes, similar to President Obama's last two years in office.

Ergo, while a politician needs to voice their opinions, it might also work against their party on a larger scale.


Effectiveness of 'Defund the Police'

Now that we have discussed the potential of snappy slogans let's assess the impact of 'Defund the Police'. Several bills on reforming law enforcement may have been introduced on the floor of the House and the Senate, but most of these reforms, if not all, were not necessarily inspired by the slogan, 'Defund the Police'. Instead, they were a result of the unnecessary death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. The slogan did play its role, though, by helping quicken the process. It created a sense of urgency; Lawmakers realized that the demonstrations could only be mitigated in the long run by introducing adequate reforms to policing and law enforcement.

Further, as aforementioned, the movement caused many people from both sides of the spectrum to join the conversation, mainly supporting reforming law enforcement. This can be seen clearly through the enormous support amassed by the reforms introduced by the Democratic party, however sweeping and unprecedented they might be.

For decades now, politicians have been treating law enforcement like how Indian grandmothers treat 'Vicks Vaporub': a one-size-fits-all solution. From the war on drugs to combatting homelessness to dealing with mental health issues, politicians often dump all their problems on police officers. According to research conducted by RAND, "police leaders and practitioners have voiced frustration with being the default party that is expected to respond to many complex social problems..." The document further notes that practitioners believe that non-enforcement strategies, like welfare programs and community services, are often more effective than policing in solving many complex social problems. Such services unburden some load off law enforcement and help reduce poverty, thereby reducing the crime rate. Thus, it's clear that even Law Enforcement Officials have been waiting for policy changes akin to those recently proposed in Congress.


Assessing the Slogans used by Republicans

Although at first glance, the slogans used by the Rights could not be more different from slogans used by the left — such as 'Defund the Police — on further inspection, they are cut from the same cloth. The slogans used by the right, such as 'Build the Wall' and 'Lock Her Up', behave akin to and bring about similar results as 'Defund the Police', just on the other side of the spectrum.

'Build the Wall' helped politicians exploit the pre-existing insecurities that many southerners had about immigrants from Latin American countries. Although the slogan was extremely impractical, it helped the Republicans yank the Overton Window towards the right, which helped the public opinion of the Trump presidency (Although most people do not have positive opinions on the Trump Presidency, an absence of a slogan like 'Build the Wall' would have resulted in even worse opinions on the same). This helped them fortify their base, which in turn allowed them to move further towards the right.

The confidence with which politicians fire-hosed 'Lock Her Up' shaped their followers' opinions, who, based on unsubstantial evidence, believed Hillary Clinton to be guilty of sharing classified information with the Russians. This reinforced their belief in Donald Trump as the better presidential candidate, which only helped the Trump presidency.


After President Obama's slogan interview, various progressive lawmakers took to Twitter to voice their thoughts. Rep. Cori Bush tweeted, "With all due respect, Mr President—let's talk about losing people. We lost Michael Brown Jr. We lost Breonna Taylor. We are losing our loved ones to police violence." Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted, "Lives are at stake daily, so I'm out of patience with critiques of the language of activists."

Snappy Slogans often represent 'radical ideas'. However, these so called 'radical' slogans are what have started major socio-political movements. Using snappy slogans may work against politicians in the electoral ballots, but they advocate for issues that are the need of the hour.

Once upon a time, giving slaves their freedom made voters uncomfortable. A little more than a century ago, some politicians laughed at the idea of women having the right to vote. Just two decades ago, advocating for marriage equality would have marked the death of a politician's career. The politicians who supported those movements back then did so at the risk of jeopardizing their careers. However, today, Abraham Lincoln is famous for passing the emancipation proclamation. Susan B. Anthony and the suffragettes are lauded for their persistent efforts, and President Obama is in the history books for legalizing same-sex marriages. A snappy slogan can be the catalyst for change, and that starts by making the voters uncomfortable.

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