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The War on [Insert Noun]: The Uses and Misuses of Martial Rhetoric

In case you weren’t convinced that we’ve reached the campaign’s silly season, the War on Dogs has arrived to erase all doubt. It started with Democrats poking fun at Mitt Romney’s dog-on-car incident. The Daily Caller retaliated earlier this week with a post “uncovering” the “shocking” “news” that Barack Obama once ate dog meat as a child (an event he had mentioned in his memoir). The battle moved to a new front when Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom alluded on Twitter to Obama’s dog-eating. And thus began the War on Dogs, just the latest of the innumerable wars waged this election cycle. We decided to look back at rhetorical wars of the past, from Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty to Rick Santorum’s war on pornography. 

War on Poverty. President Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union address declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” As part of his Great Society programs, the War on Poverty—as it was unofficially known—sought to address the high poverty rate in America, which was near 19 percent at the time. Johnson laid out his proposals to the joint session of Congress using martial rhetoric to describe the efforts needed to combat poverty.

War on Hunger. In a 1966 special message to Congress, Johnson proposed that “the United States lead the world in a war against hunger.” Johnson’s message detailed a program designed to provide food and foreign aid to other countries and also improve food domestic food production.

War on Drugs. The much maligned “War on Drugs” was coined by Richard Nixon in June, 1971 to apply to his creation of a national anti-drug policy. Identifying drugs as “Public Enemy Number 1,” he created the DEA to coordinate the enforcement efforts of other agencies in eradicating illegal drug use. 

War on Cancer. Though not described as a war in the legislation itself, the 1971 National Cancer Act sought to combat the disease by developing more effective treatments and increasing funding for research. Soon after its implementation it became known as the first strike in the “War on Cancer.

War on Terror. The term was first used by Ronald Reagan’s administration, but is most closely identified, of course, with George W. Bush, who invoked the term in a televised speech on September 20, 2001.

War on Christmas. The current incarnation of the War on Christmas is best recognized by Fox News anchors Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and John Gibson—author of The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse than You Thought—who rail against the lack of Christmas-specific holiday cheer. But the feeling that Christmas is a marginalized holiday by mainstream liberal politically-correct society dates back further: Conservative pundit Peter Brimelow formed a group in the late 90s that targeted prominent businesses that used the nondenominational “happy holidays.”

War on Obesity. As First Lady, Michelle Obama has spearheaded a War on Childhood Obesity. Unlike most wars, the War on Obesity allows the First Lady to dance with school children all around the country.

War on Women. The War on Women seems to be the flagship war of the 2012 presidential election, as Democrats contend that a number of GOP-sponsored measures are aimed at taking away women's rights and control of their own bodies. In response, the GOP has argued the War on Women is really the Democrat’s fault. 

War on Religion. The phrase “Obama's War on Religion” was first used this election cycle in one of Rick Perry's campaign ads, but became more popular this past January, when a furor arose over what many conservatives deemed to be an attack on religious freedom: Obama’s policy of covering contraceptives in a new health care law.

War on Pornography. Republican primary candidate Rick Santorum called for a ban on pornography last month, labeling it a “pandemic of harm.” Though Santorum never used the term “war on pornography,” that’s what many media outlets dubbed his crusade.

Nick Robins-Early, Perry Stein, and Eric Wen are interns at The New Republic.