No malarkey? Biden's old-school slogan gets mocked and praised in Iowa

December 2, 2019 0 By NIKESHOE

CARROLL, Iowa – “NO MALARKEY!” screams the campaign slogan on Joe Biden’s bus chugging through 18 Iowa counties this week. At stops along the way, aides hand out stickers and posters to voters featuring the rallying cry.

But when one high schooler attending the former vice president’s event in Council Bluffs was asked if she knew what malarkey means, she squinted up at the massive bus with a puzzled look.

“Malarkey?” Cece West asked. “I’ve never heard of it before.”

West’s response highlights a potential problem with a term that Biden has put at the center of his candidacy in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. And some of the complaints about it are an extension of how Biden skeptics feel about the candidate himself.

They don’t love or hate the slogan. Some of them said it’s kind of funny; others, kind of corny. While some voters welcomed the slogan as a throwback to a calmer era, others said it will only alienate younger voters.

But many said, bottom line, they don’t quite get it.

The Biden campaign acknowledges “malarkey” isn’t the most recognizable term (the definition is printed on the bus itself). But the hope is that it would tap into the traits they say voters like most about Biden — his authenticity and candor. The campaign decided on the theme at a time when he’s locked in a three-way tie for second place in the state and looking to gain momentum.

“It’s aptly named — the reason we named it ‘No Malarkey’ is because the other guys all lie,” Biden told one Iowa crowd. “So we want to make sure there is a contrast, what we’re talking about here.”

But some Iowans offered up their own loose translation for malarkey, along the lines of: “How old is this guy?”

“I’m afraid he’s going to be disregarded as, “Ok, boomer,” Jill Potham says, shaking her head at the tour’s name. Potham favors Pete Buttigieg at the moment but said she’s keeping an open mind, which is why she turned out to see Biden in Denison.

“He does seem genuine. [But] it’s an older word. Not necessarily in touch with younger people,” said Isaac Lawrence, 19, even as he backed Biden. “It’s the first time I’ve heard it in awhile.”

The last time? “English class.”

Some voters theorized that perhaps it was part of a master marketing plan.

“We have these arguments all the time at work: is it a pound sign or is it a hashtag?” said Donna Evans of Carroll, referring to hashtags used on Twitter. “Maybe malarkey is just like that, a revamping of an old term.”

Biden has a long history with malarkey. He invoked it most famously during his 2012 debate against Paul Ryan. “That’s a bunch of stuff,” he said dismissively of Ryan’s criticism of the Obama administration. “We Irish call it malarkey.” In 2015, the Washington Post, citing the Sunlight Foundation, reported that Biden had used the word in public more than any member of Congress since then 19th Century.

Biden was mocked all weekend on social media for the slogan, with detractors saying it highlighted his disconnect with voters. But Biden’s campaign has long worn Twitterverse naysayers as a badge of honor, saying his voters — and the majority of Democratic voters — aren’t hanging out on social media.

“Older people know what it means,” said Marjorie Ingram, an Iowa precinct captain for Biden. “And older people vote.”

“He’s saying ‘no bullshit,’” says 34-year-old Bear Unruh of Carroll, Iowa. “That’s what we need. All of that political bullshit needs to be cut out. I believe Joe can do that.”

Biden hit on that theme, in so many words, stressing honesty and home-grown values during his tour through rural Iowa. He told potential caucus-goers that “character is on the ballot” and argued that Trump’s trade war and agricultural policies have “ruined our character.” At several stops, Biden said his mother would have washed his mouth out with soap had he spoke like Trump does, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Christie Vilsack, Iowa’s former first lady who, along with her husband, Tom, have actively campaigned for Biden since endorsing him last week, stressed the same values in several stops on Sunday.

“I want to get up every morning and be able to look my grandchildren in the eye because my president has character … and should be admired for representing the values that we share as Americans,” she said.

Biden is in the midst of an eight-day tour through the state, focusing on winning rural votes at a time when Buttigieg is leading in the polls and building crowds.

Biden on Sunday said he timed the bus tour for two months before the caucuses for a reason.

“The time to peak in Iowa is right about now, that’s why we planned all along to spend an awful lot of time after Thanksgiving, in Iowa,” Biden told reporters. “I’ve told you from the beginning you know, you kind of doubted me … I’m running to win.”

If Biden wins Iowa, or even ends up in the top three, it won’t be from a swell of enthusiasm. This much is not in dispute, among even those who find him downright lovable.

Both Vilsacks appealed to crowds by holding up Biden’s character traits and pointed to the fact that he’s leading in battleground state polls.

“I hope that those of you out there who are thinking about the important decision that we have ahead of us will think about more than whom you like, or who best aligns with your political thinking,” Christie Vilsack told one crowd. “I hope you’ll think about the people who won’t or can’t participate in the caucuses, but who will vote in the general election. I hope if you think about the people in the middle, because those are the people who will decide the 2020 election.”

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