DENVER, Colorado — In 1996 Tim Tindle felt a civic obligation to vote — just not for a candidate who might actually win. Instead of turning to Harry Browne or Ross Perot, however, the young man weighed the pros and cons of two somehow even less traditional choices: Bart Simpson and Dr. Seuss.
“What it really came down to was a toss up between Bart’s catchphrase, ‘Don’t have a cow, man,’ and ‘I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees,'” Tindle recalled, fingers interlocked atop his head as he watched wave after wave of Democratic convention-goers wash by. “I decided I was more about the trees, you know? Which is why it’s so crazy that years later I’m part of…this.”
Tindle, manager of Gallery One, a chic little fine art oasis in downtown Denver’s Writers Square, waves airily at a string of festive colored foil and mini-American flags attached to a large Dr. Seuss for President banner for context. A woman in a well-worn Hillary Clinton T-shirt leans in the door and announces Theodor Seuss Geisel has her vote. “See?” he laughs. “I was ahead of my time!”
Truthfully, the Seuss campaign is as much advertising as altruism: Seuss, having died in 1991, is ineligible for elected office and Gallery One, licensed to sell official releases from the Dr. Seuss Art Collection, overflows with Seuss paintings, prints and brass sculptures, most priced between several hundred and a few thousand dollars. Yet the campaign gimmick, which is rumored to have begun as something of a “What if?” joke around Seuss central, struck a real chord. Originally Tindle gave away Dr. Seuss for President buttons as a loss leader to entice potential art buyers in the door. After blowing through eight hundred in a matter of days, though, the gallery began charging two dollars a button. Demand has hardly abated.
“They’re asking three to five bucks for Obama buttons, so we’re definitely reasonable,” Tindle says only a teeny bit defensively moments before Kimberly Allen, a Denver writer and photographer, sweeps in desperate for a button. Tindle makes it so. The phone rings. It’s the New York Post. CSPAN has already stopped by. “This is puff piece central,” Tindle cracks with relish. “No offense.” None taken. I ask Allen why she is so passionate about electing the good doctor to the highest office in the land.
“His environmental policies?” Tindle prompts. “You know, The Lorax was environmentalist before environmentalism was cool! Americans need to be reminded about the danger of being a Once-ler!”
“That is important,” Allen allows. She puts a finger to pursed lips, closes her eyes and cocks her hip and head simultaneously at the same angle in a pose of deep rumination. “I’d have to go with something more universal like The Cat in the Hat. That book could save democracy.” She pauses and nods to herself as if to confirm the thought. “I really believe that. It teaches us that you can make yourself whoever you want to be. And if you can make yourself whoever you want to be, the rest of us can come together and make the country what we want it to be. We can make changes on a social level. Dr. Seuss was trying to tell us that.”
“The Cat in the Hat was a non-conformist, but he sure knew how to clean up a mess,” Tindle concedes, turning the conversation ever so subtly toward a sale. Allen declines, with regret, citing pocketbook concerns. Tindle points to a sign on the wall, the ace in the hole: The Cat in the Hat advertising the gallery’s generous layaway program. “You can’t buy these at Bed, Bath and Beyond,” he says.
Before exiting, Allen pulls a gnarled one-armed plastic Cat in the Hat keychain out of her purse, dangling it like a diehard fan credential — no bandwagon jumper, she — along with a postcard depicting a mock cover of the children’s book Goodnight, Moon reworked to read, Goodbye, Bush. She grimaces, as if a visual representation of the president’s name alone is akin to receiving a painful vaccination then taps her new button. “A real choice this time!” she enthuses shaking the Cat playfully.
Later, to refresh my memory, I turned to the Wikipedia entry on The Cat in the Hat which describes the book’s plot, thusly: “The Cat brings a cheerful, exotic and exuberant form of chaos to a household of two young children one rainy day while their mother is out.”
Vote for Democracy, or…latchkey anarchy?
FOR HIS POSTHUMOUS CAMPAIGN the Dr. Seuss Art Collection released a limited edition print of The Knotty Problem of Capitol Hill…Finding A Way to Raise Taxes Without Losing A Single Vote. Drawn from Dr. Seuss’s World War II-era editorial cartoons, the piece depicts Uncle Sam staring forlornly down at a room full of congressmen in stovepipe hats struggling with scales, compasses and excruciatingly long mathematical formulas to determine a way to confiscate the peoples’ hard-earned cash without seeming to be…confiscating the peoples’ hard-earned cash. Somebody give Uncle Sam some walking around (the world) money before he cries!
The plaque accompanying the piece reads, “As we find our Congress facing a similar situation, it is clear that Seuss’s keen observations are as relevant today as they were sixty-six years ago.” The substance of this argument has not been lost on the donkeys currently corralled in Denver, whose desire for massive expansion of the federal government is running into the same frustrating wall. A depiction of complex fiduciary subterfuge, in other words, resonates. Many heads atop necks sporting DNC credentials shook ruefully while examining the piece. Why can’t the government have whatever it wants? their faces implored, petitioning the silent wall.
The top tax rate in the United States when Seuss drew this cartoon, incidentally, was 79 percent. How high those commiserating with Seuss in spirit would like it to go went unspoken, but the $695 prints were flying off the shelf, albeit not as quickly as the $1700 Earth Friendly Lorax tree-free, chlorine-free, seriographs. For all the criticism of the nefarious Midwest Walmartopia and The Rich, at the end of the day diehard Democrats are just like the rest of us: A market served by the free-market, sold faux rebellion against the system if that’s what they’re buying.
Hence, giggles at the Watergate-era rewrite of Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! Seuss did (“You can go by foot. You can go by cow. Richard M. Nixon will you please go now!”) and knowing discussions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas as devastating parable against mass consumerism are coupled with hemming and hawing over whether to pick up a $1000 print derived from The Butter Battle Book, which Gallery One notes approvingly “ingeniously reduced the Cold War to “a satirical and senseless conflict between the Yooks and the Zooks over something as trivial as breakfast food.”
“Seuss said, ‘I’m not anti-military, I’m just anti-crazy’…” Tindle tells a wiry-haired man in sandals, who finishes the thought, “…which is awesome.”
“And true!” Tindle adds.
“Vote for Seuss,” sandals muses to himself, stroking his goatee.
“CAN YOU IMAGINE IF we could elect Dr. Seuss and he got a chance to re-write the Constitution?” a young DNC lady delegate boasting a pink Make Out Not War sticker says, perhaps not realizing the executive branch does not (yet) have the power of absolute constitutional revamping. “We might actually get a chance to start addressing the important issues and it would be full of cool rhymes.” A whimsical sentiment, a cute punch line for a journalist’s human interest story, yet controversial enough for the young lady to refuse to provide her name. “Can you just say something like, ‘Sources say…’?” she asks. “I don’t want to get in any trouble over there.”
Like when Dr. Seuss rises from the grave and demands a roll call vote? Talk about a tough crowd.