Archie Bland: The bumper sticker approach to politics can work

FreeView from the editors at i

Related Topics

Joe Biden's line was one of the better ones to emerge from the US election campaign so far. If you were trying to sum up Barack Obama's four years in office, he said, you could do it in a bumper sticker: "Bin Laden is dead. General Motors is alive".

Well, it's a little more complicated than that. But there's no questioning the vice president's populist instincts. That message is bound to be at the heart of the Democratic campaign over the next six months. It's pretty obvious politics.

But in that political calculus, there's a possible landmine for the Obama campaign. This week, one year after bin Laden's death in Abbottabad, Mr Obama took a swing at Mitt Romney on exactly this topic, using a dog-eared quote of Mr Romney's from 2007 to suggest that his rival wouldn't have approved the raid in question.

Scrambling to brush off what could be a tricky slight if it sticks – might as well say that you'd have given bin Laden bed and breakfast in the White House as have the US electorate think you didn't want him dead – Mr Romney dismissively argued that "even Jimmy Carter" would have ordered the raid. And, he added, it was a shame to see Obama using an event "that unified our country to once again divide us".

All's fair in politics, I guess, so it's hard to take a moral position against this sort of argument in isolation. As a piece of logic, though, it absolutely stinks. Leave aside that its proponents are members of the party that has made its greatest gains by politicising national security. The point is, if it's at all important, of course it's a matter of politics. If you think it's a significant thing to have done, it would be bonkers not to include it as a factor in your choice of president.

The weirdness of this argument – this was good, so you can't take the credit for it! – is elided by the way that 'politics' is so universally viewed as a dirty word. If you 'play politics' with something, you exploit it for the sake of your ambition. To me, it's manifestly absurd for anyone trying to be president to have a go at anyone else for being cynical in their pursuit of power, but if they can get away with it, good luck to them.

The reason I mind isn't so much that it's a piece of politics itself: it's because it's actually a little dangerous. Follow this argument to its logical, and not very distant, conclusion, and you'll find that any governmental achievement that's actually popular is disallowed as a part of your record.

Joe Biden's bumper sticker might not be terribly sophisticated. But it can't be excluded from the debate. After all, in the end, doing stuff that's popular occasionally means you're also doing stuff that's right.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit