NEW YORK – Ever notice that when President Bush makes a major policy speech, there's often a snappy slogan papered in the background behind him?
"Made in the U.S.A." "No Child Left Behind." To anyone who watches, reads or surfs the news, these phrases should be familiar.
The backdrops serve to repeat the message Bush wants to deliver. For example, "Jobs Growth Opportunity" was the wallpaper at a recent speech on the economy, and the words "Access, Affordability, Quality" floated behind Bush as he spoke about health care.
Many politicians employ this strategy, but Bush uses it more frequently – to the delight of some and the consternation of others.
GOP strategist Paul Pelletier, a former assistant to the first President Bush, says the current president is just keeping up with the Information Age.
"I think Bush does use backdrops more than previous presidents, and that's because his communications department is far more focused and sophisticated," he said. "You only get a 10-second clip on the news – you need to pack it all in."
Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus agreed that the backdrops help reinforce the president's core message, especially in a media-saturated society.
"With cable news now on 24/7, the average viewer/voter is a little more sophisticated," Jacobus said. "They're used to something that's a little more precise."
On the other side of the fence, Democratic strategist Scott Segal speculated that Bush's handlers might be using the backdrops to conceal a lack of a lucid message.
"When the verbal message is less than clear, it helps to have it written out over and over again behind you," he said.
Others speculated that the tactic is evidence that Bush is aiming to reach the Average Joe audience at the expense of a more elite crowd.
"The picture it gives of the voter is of someone who can only take a sound bite, who can't wrestle with complexities," said University of Iowa rhetoric professor Fred Antczak. "To some extent that's probably accurate, and to some extent it might be an underestimation. Some people will be won over with the slogan, others will think he's talking down to them, others will think he's stupid."
While opinions about Bush's backgrounds are bound to vary, Pelletier said the slogans actually reflect the administration's understanding of what it takes to communicate a clear statement to the public.
"All good speeches boil down to one or two points," he said. "Karl Rove [Bush's chief political adviser] understands that people need to see and hear messages at the same time."
But whatever the audience gets from the phrases posted behind Bush, some people find the slogans too simplistic to represent complex issues such as health care and the economy.
The messages "gloss over the amount of conflict about a stance," said Antczak.
"At least in a speech, you should do an honest job of saying the other side has good reasons for disagreeing," he said. "Bush's intention is to pretend there's no other side."
However, some in politics see this as a laughable theory. The notion that the president should devote precious speech time to making the other side's case is "ridiculous," said Jacobus.
"Democrats certainly take the opportunity to take the other side," she said.
In the end, Pelletier said the background text is just another way for the president to reinforce his main points in an age when the American public has become accustomed to being bombarded with media.
"Using the written word sends the message instantly. That's the way people want to receive information these days," he said. "TV and ads have made us this way."
Bush's slogans are also part of his broader attempt to show where he stands, according to Pelletier.
"Bush believes in what he is doing, as opposed to Clinton, who was politically expedient," he said. "Bush has a clear message."