Americans, Cuddle Your President!

There’s an interesting article in today’s Hospodárské noviny (Cuddle Your President), by Nad’a Klevisová, reporting in wonder about one aspect of American democracy that apparently has not yet percolated through to the Czech version: political knick-knacks and souvenirs. It begins:

Let’s imagine that presidential elections come around again and Václav Klaus once again stands as a candidate. So his supporters flood into the stores to buy him in miniature, in a suit with a proper tie, and with buttons where his solar plexus is located. Ridiculous? Not in America.

Klevisová zeroes in especially on the American firm whose name she gives as Politické dárky (but it really must be something like “Political Gifts”), as catholic in the political preferences it panders to as only an American firm hankering after the maximum possible turnover can be. Seemingly only al-Qaeda sympathizers are left out when it comes to the political stances Political Gifts will help you express: “Proud to be Democrat.” “Proud to be Liberal.” “Proud to be Republican.” “Veterans [or else “American Jews”] for Kerry.” The exact same two groups for Bush. (And who knows how many others? “Rednecks” are surely included in there somewhere.) And Political Gifts will put your slogan on a button, decorative magnet, key ring, mousepad, or t-shirt.

That enterprising company is but the most cutting-edge manifestation of what is a long tradition attached to American political campaigns, what Klevisová terms “that big circus in the American style.” Another one is of course eBay, where she found 8,000 separate objects having to do with one or the other of this year’s presidential candidates already listed for sale. But she’s mainly interested in delving back into the history of that tradition for the benefit of her Czech readers; eBay helps get her on her way with its helpful listings of the most-sold commemorative objects from past elections. In 2000 that happened to be what she calls Politikarty – “Politicards”? – namely a pack of 54 playing-cards featuring “hysterically funny politician caricatures.” (By the way, our friends at Political Gifts were responsible for these, too.) And it won’t surprise you to learn that “Politicards” for 2004 are already on the market.

But going way back, Klevisová finds that among the first political souvenirs were . . . actual locks of the candidate’s hair! It seems that Abraham Lincoln and even George Washington gratified requests from political fans for hair samples – and, wouldn’t you know?, some of these are now commanding high prices on eBay (e.g. Lincoln: $227). I don’t think much of that goes on these days (although some hair from JFK is also up for auction on eBay); the political souvenir that we would still recognize today that goes furthest back is of course the button, all the way to the one printed “G.W. – Long Live the President!” produce for George Washington’s inaugural. (Klevisová doesn’t tell us whether for his first or his second.) But buttons did not have actual pictures of the candidate on them until Abraham Lincoln’s day.

In all, an interesting look at what may well be a quintessentially American phenomenon. (I mean, anyone know of any Jacques Chirac dolls, for example? – or Jean-Marie Le Pen dolls, other than those used as voodoo pin-cushions?) With a couple appealing illustrations of objects from the past.
By the way, what’s been going on lately in the Czech Republic is that 34-year-old Stanislav Gross was named the country’s prime minister at the beginning of this month. Sure, he’s the youngest head of any European government by far, but probably of more import is that he also heads the CSSD (Social Democrat Party) at the center of the same party-coalition that made up the government that fell last month. That coalition collectively has a nominal one-vote majority in Parliament but is very unpopular in the opinion polls. The opposition knows that any election would turn out in its favor, so Stanislav Gross may not occupy this precocious position for too much longer.

Yet in the meantime he has named a certain Pavel Pribyl to run his prime minister’s office – the same Pavel Pribyl who was apparently in command of police forces which brutally broke up public demonstrations back in the revolutionary year of 1989, including the big one by students on Narodní trída on the 17th of November that basically got the Velvet Revolution going. Yet today Gross denies that Pribyl was involved in these things, although, as this article in Právo notes, Pribyl has never denied his involvement or even his command function.

Of course, that last link is to an article in Czech. I only want to pose briefly these latest Czech happenings to you, not only to pass along this sort of quick word, but also to contrast this sort of substantive current news, covered in all the Czech papers, with the quirky article in HN looking at American political campaign collectibles from a Czech viewpoint to which I devoted the bulk of previous space in this weblog entry. Basically, I judged that my audience would prefer to hear about the latter over the former, that it wouldn’t really pay to get too deep into the latest political shenanigans around the Czech Republic’s new ultra-young premier in terms of providing EuroSavant readers with the information resp. entertainment that they look for here.(And to my readers in Prague I especially apologize – you surely know what’s going on there already.) I ordinarily try not to get too deep into describing a specific country’s political happenings unless there’s a larger lesson that can be drawn out of that discussion. Especially the CR (even though I lived in its charming capital city for a while myself); after all, that’s half of the country that was described a few decades ago by Britain’s Neville Chamberlain as “a faraway place of which we know nothing.”

Yet there is a larger lesson to be drawn here, an interesting one, too: Do the Czechs go rather too far in letting bygones be bygones over their 40-year Communist history? After all, that’s the one Eastern European country (and member of NATO and the EU, too!) that still has on its political scene an unreconstructed, unrepentant Communist Party, which also wields impressive political power these days. If the details on the Pribyl situation were a bit clearer (but, as we noted above with the Právo link, they became rather more cloudy today) that could well be an essay worth attempting. As things stand now, though, I merely offer to my readers this question of criteria as to what I choose to write about in this space and what I do not, as grist for any feedback they would care to send.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.