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Saturday, April 17, 2004

The national mood in campaign buttons 

When we were in Virginia last week my mother passed along my father's collection of old campaign buttons. He wasn't a serious collector -- badges for elections before his childhood are clearly reproductions -- but the mounted panels are interesting nonetheless.

From one of the failed Republican campaigns against FDR: "We don't want Eleanor either!" I remember my father digging that out and wearing it with a smile in the fall of 1972 -- after all, Mrs. George McGovern goes by Eleanor.

It is a little hard to imagine a slogan targeting "Laura," but "We don't want Hillary either!" would have been extremely plausible, as is, perhaps "We don't want The-ray-za either!"

There are loads of buttons from the fifties, sixties and seventies, including a "rare" (and original) McGovern/Eagleton in '72 badge; "President Nixon. Now more than ever."; and a whole slew of "Ike" buttons. My favorite from the Eisenhower years is a huge red, white and blue "J'Aime Ike" badge. Can you imagine anybody today trying to win votes with such a slogan? "J'Aime Bush"? Unlikely. "J'Aime Kerry"? Likely, but counterproductive to put it on a badge.

You don't see a lot of campaign buttons any more -- only signs and bumper stickers. Why is this? I have the sense that we now consider it inappropriate to associate our political opinions with big parts of our lives. Sure, it is fine to advertise our beliefs anonymously to everybody else who happens to see our car in the mall parking lot, but it has been years since I have seen somebody wear a political button on their jacket in the supermarket (and I live in a college town), or on their lapel in the office. Is this depersonalization of our political views a bad sign for American democracy? Or is it a healthy accommodation, separating the political from the personal? I'm not sure I have an answer.

1 Comments:

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