Department of strange rallying cries

Democrats and Republicans gathered for district conventions over the weekend, and after reading John Deeth’s helpful news roundup I headed over to The Iowa Republican blog to watch some clips from the third district GOP convention. Congressional candidate Jim Gibbons had supporters wearing "Burn the Boats" t-shirts, which he explained 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 state 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 third district campaign, which often start out with, “Congress needs Funk.”

Final note on Gibbons: Kathie Obradovich reports that he’ll be featured on a show for a new conservative television network later this year. That could become embarrassing if Zaun defeats Gibbons, the National Republican Campaign Committee’s favorite, in the June 8 primary or at a district convention to select the nominee.

  • we want the Funk

    …give up the Funk! Will Dave tear the roof off the sucka?

  • Guy Fawkes

    Of course, they also have a saying about Guy Fawkes.

    Guy Fawkes: the only man to ever enter Parliament with honest intentions.

    • good one

      But unfortunately, Congress is way more corrupt than the UK parliament.

      Mr. desmoinesdem thinks the Republicans watched the movie V for Vendetta too many times. I never saw that, but I guess it portrays Fawkes as the hero of the story.

      • You need to see that movie.

        It’s good. Oh, and "Land of the Blind".

        And also "Goodbye Bafana".  And have you all seen "Hunger" yet? Hmmm, ok, so maybe spending months on end in prison for political beliefs, and being tossed naked into a cell with nothing but a blanket has influenced my taste in cinema slightly.

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