Political success depends on reaching out to the masses. What better way is there to be in the public eye than to feature on buttons one of the most commonplace, everyday objects

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Political success depends on reaching out to the masses. What better way is there to be in the public eye than to feature on buttons – one of the most commonplace, everyday objects? So a century back our political leaders had the brilliant idea of using buttons for their election campaigns. George Washington gets the credit for wearing the first political button in 1789 which read ‘G.W. Long Live the President’ replicating the expression ‘Long live the king’. All his supporters also wore the same clothing button made of brass on his first inauguration. Another landmark in the history of political buttons came when for the first time in 1860 the tintype and ferrotype photo process was used to put Abraham Lincoln’s picture on political buttons during his presidential campaign. It was because of these buttons that people who lived away from the capital could see what the presidential candidate looked like. These buttons were worn around the neck with help of a ribbon. McKinley vs. Bryan campaign in 1896 marked the first use of the campaign buttons as we know them today – metallic with printed picture and slogan and pin at the back.

Political buttons used through the history of American democracy hold a lot of historical significance today – they have become antique. Enthusiasts all over the country collect these buttons. There are several local and national collector-clubs that regularly organize conventions and shows of political buttons. The value of antique political buttons depends on the rarity of the item and the fame of the presidents. One can also find books that provide information like the rarity and prices of political buttons.

Campaign buttons are still used during presidential elections. But these days the use of buttons to express views on political issues has become more common. Buttons have been used to articulate opinions on various issues like women’s liberation, prohibition, political scandals and war.

Man has time and again come up with different forms of expression - pictures, words and fashion being the important ones. The use of buttons sort of combines all three. The political buttons that we use today will become the memorabilia of tomorrow. One could say that political buttons capture the essence of our times.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004---The political bumper sticker is back -- and with a vengeance


In 1992, Bill Clinton was dubbed the comeback kid.



In 2004, the comeback kid is likely the political bumper sticker, which actually has enticed people, after years of shunning such expression, to wear their political hearts, well, on their bumpers.

Before the mad, mad, mad world of this campaign season winds to a conclusion on Nov. 2 -- and therefore many of the bumper-stuck phrases get unceremoniously scraped off -- we thought we'd take you on a tour of this year's bumperian wordplay.

First, much like the current state of political discourse in the U.S. of A., a lot of presidential campaign stickers this season are like attack dogs. They're sometimes the equivalent of fightin' words.

In these here parts, plenty of cars are sporting anti-Bush stickers -- perhaps almost as many as those that display official Kerry/Edwards bumper ornaments or positive ones.

Some of the most popular, from an informal gandering around town, appear to be:

"Anybody but Bush"

"Redefeat Bush"

"Bush on Mars 2004"

"Beat the shrub"

"Outsource Bush"

On the flip side (and no, we weren't referring to John Kerry), spotting anti-Kerry stickers in Seattle is like sighting a sasquatch climbing the Space Needle -- it just ain't happening. But, travel a few miles beyond the city's borders and you might see:

"Kerry for president -- of France"

"I'm voting for John Kerry for president," next to a photo of Saddam Hussein

"Kerry's scary"

"Flush the Johns Nov. 2"

Mostly, fans of the president are sticking to the straight stuff, particularly the red-and-blue Bush/Cheney sticker, and the very popular, oval-shaped "W in '04."

Few stores stock bumper stickers at all anymore, and even in those that do, it's hard to find snarky, anti-Kerry ones.

Many people get the stickers straight from political party headquarters, but the Washington State Republican Party isn't handing out Kerry disses.

It has given away about 100,000 pro-Bush stickers statewide this season, including "Veterans for Bush."

"On our end, it's more focused on the positive end of the campaign, rather than trying to go negative on the others," says Suzanne Tomlin, communications director.

Not so at the Washington State Democrats' offices in Pioneer Square, where quite a variety of bumper stickers, including bashers, usually for a donation of $1 or less, are offered.

Some of the popular ones include "Feeling Bushwhacked?" and "Help stamp out mad cowboy disease -- vote Democrat."

The party has even come up with a few of its own (all printed at union shops in Washington, of course), including "Bush lied," which it gets requests for from across the country.

"It's material that people can't get anywhere else. There are a lot of people who love this stuff," says Paul Berendt, chair of the Washington State Democrats. "Passions are much higher this year. There's no doubt about that."

The mother hen of bumper stickers (and buttons, T-shirts and other political knickknacks) is Bertha McDaniel, 74, who Berendt says, "has made it her mission in life to get a bumper strip on every Democrat's car in Washington."

Besides the political parties, the other big source of bumper stickers is specialty Web sites.

Terry Cato, whose Albany, Ore., business is www.bumpertalk.com, says he sends out 600 political bumper stickers a day, which make up 50 percent of his business right now. He said he's sold tens of thousands of politically themed stickers since July. Mirroring our polarized country, the sales are a 50-50 split between political camps.

Cato's most popular sellers on the Republican side of the fence include a sticker with photos of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan that says, "My heroes have always been cowboys," and "Another Vietnam veteran against Kerry."

He said the Kerry supporters split their purchases almost evenly between pro-Kerry and anti-Bush choices. One of the most popular is "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot."

Besides the puns and witticisms, there are plenty of sexual-anatomical references this year, mostly revolving around the president's last name and the vice president's first name. It won't surprise you that we can't reproduce them here, but we bet your minds are a-twittering now.

Other stickers aren't very partisan, such as the lesser-of-two-evils-themed "Kerry sucks less."

But others go beyond partisan to extreme, unsupportable slogans, such as one given out by some Kentucky Republicans this year -- "Kerry Is Osama bin Laden's Man/Bush Is My Man."

Larry Bird, curator of the political campaign collection at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, says rough-and-tumble bumper stickers are a reflection of how tight the presidential race is this year.

The stickers are making a comeback after going out of fashion -- along with the pin-backed button -- in the past 20 years, Bird says.

Campaigns used to emphasize these paraphernalia to create solidarity and appealing visuals. Now, there's much more focus on spending money on TV ads, he says.

The resurgence of bumper stickers in 2004 shows some good old-fashioned populism.

"It's a people's medium," he says. "It really is your message."


There are some bumper stickers out there with low snark factor ("Win one for the Gipper," with pictures of Bush and Reagan; and "NASCAR Dad for John Kerry"). But the most memorable ones are less polite:


  • "It ain't over til your brother counts the votes"

  • "Fire the Liar"

  • "No CARBs: Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Bush"

  • "Bush '04 Four More Wars"

  • "W: Let's not elect him in 2004, either"


  • "Kerry Edwards: Not just another porn star"

  • "It takes a Kerry to burn a village"

  • "John Kerry: Three paper cuts and he's out of there" (next to a purple heart)

  • "John Kerry sees two Americas. America sees two John Kerrys"

  • "Better Bushed than Kerried"

P-I reporter Kristin Dizon can be reached at 206-448-8118 or kristindizon@seattlepi.com.
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