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Kirby: When campaign kitsch is truly useful

Published August 29, 2012 10:34 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You can tell when a presidential campaign has reached a turning point — that moment when the promotional kitsch becomes more sensible and useful than the candidates themselves.

It used to be that political aspirants and their supporters confined themselves to polite/pointless trinkets as a way of reminding voters they were just the ticket.

For example, somewhere in this wrecking yard of an office I have a Ronald Reagan ballpoint pen, a Jimmy Carter bumper sticker and an FDR button. I vaguely remember a "Timothy Leary for President" roach clip.

Lapel buttons, coffee mugs, shot glasses, key chains, flags — candidates have rarely missed a trick when it comes to getting the word out, the idea being that a trinket would help fix in your mind who to vote for when you entered a voting booth.

"Let's see, who do I want for president? Eenie, meenie, miney…wait, it's right here on my 'Bob Slobhammer for President' hat! Whew, that was a close one."

Note: It sounds like I made that up. I couldn't. A large percentage of American voters are just that simple. How else could we have gotten to where we are today?

Kitsch doesn't always work. My parents supported Lyndon Johnson in 1964. This despite the fact that an uncle so conservative that he would later get kicked out of two militias gave a plastic Barry Goldwater doll.

The Goldwater doll had zero effect on my parents' politics. They gave it to the dog, who couldn't vote but did seem to appreciate a good chew.

Human beings are much more impressionable. We'll learn to associate a candidate with a favorite activity — grooming yourself with a free Bob Dole comb, opening a beer with a Hubert Humphrey bottle opener and making mindless noise with a Richard Nixon clicker.

All of that stuff is well and good, but times have changed. It is possible now for a presidential candidate to advertise during the most personal moment of all: sex.

Pause: If you are easily offended by the subject of safe human physical intimacy, now would be a good time to go read something else.

There are campaign condoms, people. Check them out at http://www.sayitwithacondom.com if you don't believe me.

Nothing would reinforce a political preference quite like being in the middle of a romantic interlude and suddenly thinking, "This reminds me. I need to vote today."

I called the originator of the political condom, Benjamin Sherman. We talked about the efficacy of candidates campaigning with condoms instead of bumper stickers.

Sherman told me he's sold upwards of half a million political condoms, including Romney condoms ("Good for Any Position"), and Obama condoms ("Won't Break as Easily as His Promises").

I asked Sherman if any of the major political campaigns had purchased the condoms for handouts at rallies and conventions.

It was a fair question. You'd remember shaking hands with Sarah Palin if she thanked you for your support and affixed a condom ("When Abortion Is Not an Option") to your lapel instead of a button.

Sherman said he didn't know if any of the major candidates had ordered bulk quantities, but he did say his website is frequently visited by elected officials.

Sherman's campaign condoms aren't just a useless gimmick. They're FDA approved, which means that unlike the Ronald Reagan ballpoint pen I got, they'll actually work.

As potentially offensive as they might be to some, campaign condoms could just turn the trick for…ugh, this is hopeless.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.