Department of strange rallying cries

Iowa Democrats and Republicans gathered for district conventions on Saturday. Jim Gibbons, the National Republican Campaign Committee's favorite in the seven-way IA-03 primary, had supporters wearing "Burn the Boats" t-shirts. He explained the symbolism toward the end of his speech to the delegates:

Gibbons talks about being a competitor, wanting to take down the champion and why this will be a tough race. Here is my rough transcript of the most intriguing part, beginning around the 3:30 mark:

If you look around this group right here, you'll see people who have never been a part of this process. They're new, they're young people, they've got those "Burn the Boats" shirts on. People ask, "What's that about?" Let me give you the explanation.

In the 1500s, the conqueror [Hernando] Cortés was going up against the Aztec army. He decided that to motivate his people, to get them fired up about the job that they had to do--they were outnumbered vastly--he made the decision: burn the boats. If we're successful, we'll go home in their boats.

That's the attitude of this campaign. That's what I'm about. I'm totally committed to beating Leonard Boswell. I have the resources, the will, the determination to beat him in November. I'm asking you to join me in this fight. We will win in November. I'm burning my boats, and I'm attacking the island, thank you and God bless.

Technically, Cortés scuttled (not burned) his ships in order to prevent another mutiny after one failed attempt. He wasn't motivating his troops by the prospect of winning and going home in Aztec boats; he was making them give up hope of returning from the new world. According to Wikipedia, the "popular misconception that Cortés burned the ships [...] may have come from a mistranslation of the version of the story written in Latin."

I get Gibbons' point: he's all in to win this race, having quit his job as a financial adviser when he decided to run for Congress. He's drawing an unspoken contrast with his chief Republican rival Brad Zaun, who has his Iowa Senate seat and a job in real estate to go back to if he loses to Boswell. Still, "burn the boats" seems weird for a campaign slogan, and I have to wonder whose idea it was to pick a greedy and brutal Spanish conquistador for a role model.

Speaking of strange historical inspiration, Josh Marshall is bewildered that "The Republican Governors Association is embracing the mantle of a 17th century radical who tried but failed to pull off a mass casualty terrorist attack to kill the King of England and all of Parliament." Michael Scherer reported for Time's Swampland blog,

The Republican Governors Association has embraced the symbolism of [Guy] Fawkes, launching a rather striking website,, with a video that showcases far more Hollywood savvy than one can usually expect from Republicans. Again, the Fawkes tale has been twisted a bit. This time, President Obama plays the roll of King James, the Democratic leadership is Parliament, and the Republican Party represents the aggrieved Catholic mass.

I've spent a few Guy Fawkes Days in the UK. The holiday is marked by fireworks and bonfires to celebrate the failure of Fawkes' plot. There's even a nursery rhyme, "Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot." Republicans may have embraced the wrong hero out of confusion. Or perhaps Steve Benen is right: "the Republican mainstream made a right turn at scary, and have arrived right at stark raving mad."

Any comments about campaign strategy or sloganeering are welcome in this thread. I love the official statements from tea party favorite Dave Funk's campaign in Iowa's third district. Those often start out with the words, "Congress needs Funk."

Tags: 2010 elections, Republican Party, Republican Governors Association, IA-03, House, Jim Gibbons, Leonard Boswell (all tags)



I love historical inaccuracies!

Its the basis of the GOP!  Like when their website claimed that Jackie Robinson was a "GOP Hero."

by Chuckie Corra 2010-04-26 02:19PM | 0 recs
Iowa's third district candidate Dave Funk

is still considering the campaign slogan Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk.

by hilltard 2010-04-26 02:33PM | 0 recs

"is a center-right state."

Not really. Nebraska yes. Oklahoma most definitively. Kansas unfortunately so but Iowa has been a hotbed of progressive populism for over a century.

Interesting that in his litany of complaints, gay marriage was the first he mentioned. 

by Charles Lemos 2010-04-27 12:32AM | 0 recs


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