2008 is a defining year in political history with the culmination of months of campaigning, rhetoric and staging by the three final contenders for the next President of the United States: John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But which candidates truly mastered the art of portrayal? Their official campaign merchandise is a telling visual portrait of how they wish to be represented.
Beginning with McCain, he expresses his strong military background and personal heritage through his logo and with merchandise including a nautical lapel pin and Irish buttons. McCain also appeals to coalitions and branches of the armed forces through a variety of apparel. Perhaps the most noticeable difference from the other candidates is that McCain chooses to employ few images of himself. Clinton and Obama both have artists’ renderings of themselves for posters. McCain only uses unaltered photographs of himself on merchandise.
Next up is Clinton with her surprising portrait with “rising sun” found in the accessories section of her official campaign Web site’s online store. According to the site, this original Hillary Clinton print, designed by Hollywood screenwriter Tony Puryear (”Eraser”), is an exclusive to Hillarystore.com. The posters (there are two versions) are “Union printed in USA using 100% wind power and vegetable-based inks.”
“Senator Clinton is a beautiful, strong and inspiring woman, and I wanted to make a poster that reflected that. Rather than putting a slogan on the poster, I chose to put her name, because she is surely the only leader at this level with whom we are all on a first-name basis, and to me, that reflects her personal warmth and connection with ordinary Americans.” – Tony Puryear
One can’t help but reference the resemblance to Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist party in China, and his popular depiction in front of a “rising sun.”
Clinton assumes first name recognition with most of her campaign design and merchandise, including her logo of “Hillary for President,” noting her cause, above a strip of the American flag. Her merchandise varies from simple yard signs to the more peculiar “Hillary Cares” piggy banks and goldtone glitter pins.
Finally, Obama, noted in the press for consistent campaign design and use of Gotham typeface, doesn’t shy away from the man in the mirror. His logo features an “O” (Did somebody say “O”prah?) or circle, a horizon, flag and his name and the year 2008. Obama is the only candidate to include the year ’08 in his logo. Perhaps the others are planning to run again.
Obama also features an “Artists for Obama” gallery where art and merchandise donated to the campaign by artists are for sale. Most striking is the limited edition Obama “CHANGE” portrait created by contemporary artist Shepard Fairey. Obama’s Web site says to stay tuned for additional prints in the days ahead.
Again, one can’t help but recognize some strange similarity to the popular depiction of communist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. I’m not saying Clinton or Obama should be compared to the likes of Mao or Che in character or governing style, but perhaps there’s a connection in the artistic depiction of power and authority that strikes the same chord.
After the election is over, the president is selected, and the years pass, it will be interesting to see what visual portrait of the 44th U.S. president history paints. For a look back on past presidents, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., holds the record in its permanent exhibition America’s Presidents. You may even find Hillary’s portrait around the corner.