May 10, 2004

"Can Do" contagion?

There is a theory that ideas are like infections. That very small building blocks of ideas, called "memes", spread in a similar way to viruses, by fitting into the idea structures that we already have embedded in us. So it doesn't mean that the ideas that spread are the most accurate, just that they happen to have the right shape to fit the form.

This theory has the virtue of explaining fashions and fads, as well as the memnonic qualities of poetry and music, and why English speaking orators at least tend to group things in threes.

My favourite example for demonstrating this sort of infection at a political level is the slogan "Jobs not GST", which I think did most of the damage to John Hewson in the 1993 election. (Hewson was running with a package called Fightback! which featured direct income tax cuts coupled with the indirect Goods and Services Tax, while Keating was running on jobs, jobs, jobs). I credit the invention of this phrase to Wayne Swan, but I have never been sure if that was the case. Can anyone fill me in?

"Jobs not GST" was almost perfect, except that as history has subsequently proven, it was a non-sequitur. Otherwise it had it all - cadence, alliteration, juxtaposition and compression. You could write it on a beer coaster yet it summed up perfectly what the election was supposed to be about.

Campbell Newman's "Can Do Campbell" is another one of those phrases. It's so good that it has apparently infected political campaigns on both sides of the Pacific. This link (courtesy of Michael Lee) demonstrates that either US Presidential Candidate John Kerry has been paying close attention to Australian elections, or that "Can Do" is a phrase on the way to being in plague proportions.

The question is, will the infection prove fatal to George W Bush as it did for Tim Quinn?

Posted by Graham at May 10, 2004 11:40 AM
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