We can learn a lot about the presidential campaign by comparing what the candidates are selling — not in terms of policies but in terms of memorabilia.
This is a consequence both of Obama’s incumbency (he’s been selling presidential souvenirs for four years) and of the unrivaled popularity of the Obama brand.
Both candidates have plenty of apparel, mugs, yard signs, buttons, and bumper stickers. And there aren’t significant differences in what the campaigns charge for similar items. Most T-shirts, for example, sell for $30 at both stores.
Then there are the novelty items. Among the most interesting items at Obama’s store are an organic Obama cotton T-shirt ($30), an Obama 2012 Grill Spatula ($40), and an Obama Martini Glass set ($30). Not surprisingly, Romney isn’t peddling martini glasses, but he does have iPhone cases ($40) — six varieties, in fact.
Obama has spent much of his first term pandering to narrow constituencies, and that approach to politicking is reflected at the Obama store. T-shirts can be customized by state (“Coloradans for Obama,” etc.). And virtually every demographic group has its own set of items. There are “¡Obama!” T-shirts, “Women for Obama” travel kits, and even “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Obama” Party Packs. There are items for military vets, nurses, environmentalists, homosexuals (including a “My Two Dads Support Obama” baby onesie), and much more.
Pet lovers and owners seem to be a particular Obama target. The Obama store has 12 items related to animals. Some feature the First Dog, Bo (“I Bark for Barack”), and there’s even an “I meow for Michelle” cat collar.
Romney doesn’t customize much. The only group he’s singled out is the one with which he has supposedly been unable to connect: women. There are seven items devoted to women, including a “Moms Drive the Economy” bumper sticker and several Ann Romney items.
The Obama Store includes an entire section with items by top fashion designers (from Vera Wang to Russell Simmons) called “runway to win.” The Romney store, it won’t surprise you, doesn’t feature any fashion designers.
Many of Obama’s allies regularly portray anyone who believes Obama was not born in America as not just ignorant but also racist. Yet, the campaign doesn’t mind making money off the birther conspiracy. The first items one finds at the website are mugs, pins, and bumper stickers, each with a photo of Obama’s birth certificate, a photo of a smiling Obama and “Made in the USA” in block lettering.
“There’s really no way to make the conspiracy about President Obama’s birth certificate completely go away, so we might as well laugh about it, and make sure as many people as possible are in on the joke,” a description of the items explains.
The Obama campaign has four items touting Obamacare. One T-shirt says “Health Reform Still a BFD,” referring to Joe Biden’s famous response to his boss on the day the House passed Obamacare.
There are also “I Like Obamacare” T-shirts and buttons. This is interesting because some liberal pundits have suggested the term “Obamacare” is disrespectful to the point of being racist. If that’s true, then what does it say about the Obama campaign that it is trying to make money off the term?
Paul Ryan has been Romney’s running mate for only a month. Which explains why his name or likeness appear on just a few items. His name of course appears on the Romney-Ryan logo featured on many items. And he is alluded to in several items that promote “America’s Comeback Team.”
Joe Biden gets a lot more attention. At the Obama store, he appears on many items — alone, with Obama, and with his wife, Jill. There’s the “Cup of Joe” coffee mug with a photo of Biden’s smiling mug and the “Joe Biden Pack,” which includes a button, can holder, and mug (only $30!) a description of which explains that it’s been included “by popular demand.”
In 2008, it was rumored that the Obama campaign chose to display the words “Obama” and “Biden” vertically in the official logo because, at a glance and when presented horizontally, “Obama-Biden” looked a little too much like “Osama bin Laden.” Back then, the last thing the campaign wanted was to stress the relatively unknown candidate’s Muslim roots or his lack of foreign policy experience.
Four years later, much has changed. The vertical presentation of “Obama” and “Biden” still predominates, but the campaign has added a horizontal version.
It makes sense. Obama is now all too well known to most Americans. And this time around the campaign would probably like nothing more than for voters to associate “Obama-Biden” with “Osama bin Laden,” whose assassination is Obama’s greatest first-term accomplishment.
Many of Romney’s items include the campaign’s official slogan, “Believe in America,” and numerous variations on the theme of “Government didn’t build my business. I did.” Obama’s “Forward” campaign slogan is displayed on a few items, as are slogans such as “Great Together Obama” and “Our Health, Our Vote.”
Until Labor Day weekend, the Obama campaign was still hawking 2008 memorabilia, including a T-shirt that said “November 4, 2008: Change Can Happen.” Those items have since then been removed, the final vestiges of a candidate, and a campaign, from a very different time and place.