Back in the old days when elections were brass-knuckled affairs. Art looks back on the advertising ”swag” of the 1968 presidential election and Richard Nixon.
Art Chantry:Back in 1968, during the election fiasco that produced the presidency of Richard Nixon, I was in junior high school (about 14/15 years old). One of my earliest political epiphanies was watching the thug cops beat up Dan Rather on the floor of the democratic convention while the same thug cops pounded he skulls of the dumb kids in the streets. even Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley were trying to physically beat eat other up in the commentary booth in the tv studio. It was like watching the apocalypse unfold to my young mind. It REALLY shook me up. To this day, i can’t think about that moment without starting to tear up – sort of like most normal people do when they think of the assassinations of mlk and rfk – it really felt like the last straw – ‘the end.’ that was my political awakening.
But, I also remember that horrid election cycle as the last great hurrah of campaign swag. Political campaigns were traditionally accompanied by enormous amounts of silly crap advertising YOUR candidate – things like posters and buttons and banners and tshirts and hats and on and on and on. In the 1960′s, advertising paraphernalia (aka ‘swag’) rally hit a peak, both in quality and in sheer volume – particularly in the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign.
Richard Nixon had SO MUCH MONEY backing his efforts (them rich people really now how to do graft. just look at today’s politics) that the masterminds behind Nixon didn’t know how to spend it all. So, they went all out and funneled that cash into their ad agency coffers through buying vast amounts of crap – frisbees, psych posters, little tiny license plates, pens and pencils, dishes, vases, figurines, bubble gum cigars, etc. etc. etc. it was really crazy.
My best friend and I spent a lot of time collecting (stealing) campaign stuff that year. We “liberated” yard signs and stuff (we wall papered the inside of a building behind my house with stolen campaign yard signs. it looked really cool.) We rode the bus downtown and actually went sort of ‘trick or treating’ at all the campaign offices, plundering their swag tables of everything we could steal. I had hundreds of different buttons (Nixon now!) and bumperstickers overflowing our pockets and carrying bags. It got to the point where they recognized us, so we outside until the newbies were stuck at the front desk at lunchtime and we’d go into our ‘distract and grab’ routine.
We had so many bumperstickers that we actually went out and attacked campaign billboards with them and used the stickers to alter words and change meanings. for instance, one candidate running locally was a guy named “FRED H. DORE”. we used bumperstickers to obliterate the second ‘leg’ of the ‘R” to change his name to “FRED H. DOPE!” dang, we were clever, huh?
This little piece of nixon jewelry( the first image) is a dangler that used to hang on a piece of costume jewelry – a plastic pearl bracelet – you know, for the ladies! It’s about the size of a fifty cent piece (remember those?) the cheap bracelet fell apart fast, but I saved this pendant and later hooked it onto the back end of my cotter-pin roach clip when I was little older. I carried this thing in my pocket hooked to my roach clip for something like 5 years in the 1970′s (i smoked pot for a few years there. at one point it was a $25 misdemeanor fine in washington state – it was virtually legal!) My roach clip always was good for a stoned laff or two.
Since that Nixon campaign, the money funneled into campaigns through graft has gone in different directions. The immense power of television to spoon feed thoughts into our empty heads became the prominent way to trick people into thinking the way you want them to think. now, virtually all the money used to buy politicians get pumped into the tv stations to buy air time – and back into the rich fatcat’s pockets who gave the money in the first place. It’s a beautiful perfect circle of cash flow. Gawd bless america!
Since those glory days, a steady downhill slope after this glorious 1968 Nixon spending spree. Bit by bit all this good crap has disappeared from american political life. We think it’s still there, but it’s not. Campaign swag has been reduced to a teenie sticker or two. Ever try to get a yard sign during a campaign these days? Good luck with that. No fun.