Repo Men

June 19, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

“We will take America back.”

Rick Perry was here in New York Wednesday, and that was the rousing line he used to close his speech. It’s a frequent meme in Perry’s presidential campaign and on the right generally.

To talk about taking America back raises the question: whose country is this anyway? Since the late 19th century, the right wing has often put forth the idea that the US is their country and that it is being threatened if not actually destroyed by these other groups – more recently arrived, urban, ethnic, darker. In Sarah Palin’s famous phrase, these others are not “the real America.” (An earlier post on this is here.)

When Republicans are out of power – outvoted by these less real Americans – their rallying cry is, “Take back our country.” Our country, not theirs.

A comment on a recent post pointed out that “take back America” has also been used by the left, for example in the summer 2007 Take Back America Conference.I hadn’t remembered this conference, and I just didn’t recall the left as crying “take back” as regularly as does the right. Was I a victim of selective perception and confirmation bias?

Fortunately, Lexis-Nexis is less prone to these cognitive biases. To compare, I searched for the following phrases:*
Take back our country
Take our country back
Take back America
I used two time periods starting nearly two years before an election and ending on Nov. 6 after the election:
  • Republicans in power (leading up to the Democratic victory of 2008)
  • Democrats in power (leading up to the Republican victory of 2010)
Here’s the final tally
  • Republicans (2009-2010) 2645
  • Democrats (2007-2008) 1647
I also calculated the daily averages for calendar quarters.

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

Up until about six months before the election, there’s no difference. But at the top of the stretch turn, when the election comes into view, the Republicans swing into full take-back mode. In 2008, the Democrats had endured seven years of GOP/Bush rule, and by mid-2008, it was clear that things in the US were not going well under Bush. We might have expected the Democrats to pound the take-back theme. But they didn’t.**

But in 2010, with Obama in office for little more than a year, the Republicans were clamoring for their supporters to take America back, presumably from the Democratic usurpers.
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*I left out “Take America back” (sorry, Gov. Perry) because the citations were a mixed bag. Too many of them were “take America back to the 1930s” or similar phrases that had nothing to do with who the country rightly belonged to. These references occurred far less frequently than the other three phrases, but I wasn’t going to read through the several hundred of them in order to pick out the relevant ones – not for just one lousy blog post.

** True, the Democrats had won the Congressional election of 2006, but the “take-back” theme was not part of that election either. The comparable numbers for the last two periods on the graph are 1.4 and 0.9.

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