Campaign Buttons

Campaign buttons collected by Jim Rixner, of Sioux City, are shown. Seems negative ads aren't a new phenomenon. 

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

MAPLETON, Iowa | Tired of the billion-dollar advertising blitzes turning your political mind to mush? Fatigued by even regional campaigns that spin opponents, casting them in negative light.

I laughed 19 days ago at Morningside College when Christie Vilsack used the phrase "pants on fire lie" in reference to a Steve King statement on national health-care.

King played a game of oneupmanship, closing the debate by saying if he crossed out every misnomer in a Vilsack ad, he'd be left with the text: "I'm Christie Vilsack and I approved this message."

Rim shot. Cue the laughter.

Ugh. I so hoped for more.

Perhaps I shouldn't have. Keith Robinson, founder of the Museum of American History in Mapleton, Iowa, says our cynical sides find  nourishment every four years amid this spate of negativity. On TV alone, I'm told, negative political spots outnumber positive ads by a 7-to-1 ratio.

Keep your friends close, enemies closer. Rather than tooting your own horn, use it to clobber your foe.

"Unfortunately negative campaigning is not something that has just come about in recent years," Robinson says.

Jim Rixner, a former city councilman in Sioux City, stopped by with a trio of negative buttons he grabbed from his collection. "Dole is not even a good Banana," ridiculed both Sen. Bob Dole and a fruit company that I would guess hadn't taken sides.

Then, there's the direct approach: "Stop Humphrey," or "Ronald Reagan Is A Union Busting S.O.B." 

Robinson, a retired high school government teacher, notes a campaign 72 years ago likely produced as many negative campaign buttons as we have TV ads today. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, sought a third term in 1940. He faced Wendell Wilkie, GOP standard-bearer.

"There were the typical 'vote for' buttons, but also hundreds of slogan buttons that were very popular," Robinson says.

FDR buttons showed these negative spins: "Better a Third Termer Than a Third Rater," and "If Wilkie's In The White House It's U.S. In Poorhouse."

Wilkie wallowed in mud with these buttons: "We Don't Want Eleanor Either," "Dictator? Not For Us," and "Dictators Don't Debate."

An curious campaign button leads to a back-story. "Rotten Eggs With Roosevelt, Omelettes With Wilkie" followed a incident when a spectator on the campaign trail heaved a rotten egg at Wilkie. It missed.

"Some reports say he (Wilkie) had more things thrown at him during the campaign than anyone in the previous generation of candidates," Robinson notes.

While FDR's 1940 camp showed its preoccupation with a horse's hind -- "A Horse's Tail Is Nice and Silky, Lift His Tail And You Will See Wilkie" --  that button pales when compared to an 1884 metal pig employed by the teams of President Grover Cleveland and challenger James Blain.

"Both campaigns produced a small metal pig that by looking through a hole by the pig's tail you would see a photo of the opposition candidate," Robinson says.

Can't imagine peeking through the rear of a porker and hearing the President utter, "I'm Grover Cleveland and I approved this pig."

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