At Christmastime, it's easy to forget that shopping isn't just a social duty. It's also a patriotic one.
Nine days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush made that point by asking Americans for their "continued participation and confidence in the economy." (Salon hypothesized he would do it as early as Sept. 12.) He repeated that request five years later, during preparations for the Iraq surge. Veterans and Memorial Days have always been about sales (and eating lots of meat, another treasured American practice).
So what better way to demonstrate your patriotic and religious bona fides than by Christmas shopping on presidential campaign websites? They're ideal for finding a last-minute, possibly belated gift for the family wonk. They can help you use your body as a political ad instead of just your car while old, half-ripped-off election bumper stickers just look sad, a T-shirt donated to Goodwill can help clothe future generations of vaguely politically conscious hipsters.
Of the fifteen official candidates for president, four Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Duncan Hunter, and Bill Richardson don't have full campaign stores on their sites. If you're a supporter of any of them despite their un-American anti-shopping platforms, you'll have to go to CafePress. Trendy types in the Richardson or Biden camps can get a Teenage Millionaire homage shirt proclaiming Bill or Joe to be their homeboys. Former student body presidents will appreciate Dodd and Biden supporters' facility with rhyming slogans: choose from "Dodd Squad" and "Dodd gets my nod," or "Go Joe" and "I'm sidin' with Biden." And Hunter supporters will have to be content with crowding as many flags as possible onto one item of clothing.
But back to the true patriots the candidates with stores. Among the Democrats, John Edwards has the most earnest store, with a few simple graphics emblazoned on classic shirts that aren't trying for cool. No 2004-era "John Edwards is hot" shirts to be found; just exhortations ranging from the bland ("John Edwards '08) to the blander ("Tomorrow begins today").
Mike Gravel's store is similarly plain and only lets you purchase packages. Dennis Kucinich sticks to easy fonts and slogans, too, but has a few items the other candidates missed, or avoided, for his supporters of the latte-sipping kind (non-denominational holiday cards, dog scarves) and of the memorabilia-and-gag-gift collecting kind (Kucinich-signed Palm Beach County voting machines circa election 2000, with real chads).
The Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stores look a lot alike. Both have shirts with slogans in script instead of blocktype you know, for women. (Obama's say "Women for Obama", but at least Clinton's just say "Hillary" and are part of the "Signature" collection.) Both have versions of the much-imitated milk campaign: Obama's say "got hope?" and Clinton's counter with, "got experience?" Clinton manages to brand practical, sensible items a ruler, a highlighter, an ice scraper (since, clearly, she wants her supporters to think of her while they're miserably cold and grumbling). And Obama looks out for the common man with a "Gear for Less" category.
Moving on to the Republicans, Tom Tancredo's store is the most sparse with just one shirt and one sticker, emblazoned with anti-amnesty slogans in a basic font. But now that he's dropped out of the race, Tancredo's basic gear may carry slightly more ironic cachet. Ron Paul wins for most literary; the first items on his store's site are books. Appropriately for the wealthiest candidate of the lot (worth up to $250 million), Mitt Romney sells money clips. Fred Thompson has golf balls and pro jerseys for sports buffs, but nothing for Law and Order fans. Rudy Giuliani has the widest selection of goods baseball bats, aprons, and, for anyone who wants to pull an Obama and drop the flag lapel pin while keeping it gaudy, rhinestone-encrusted Rudy buttons. But the best store belongs to Mike Huckabee. His issues page may sound more like the ramblings of a drunk uncle, but his store is organized smartly by slogan instead of product category. Pick your favorite, and follow the link to the product you want: "Chuck for Huck" (featuring a cartooned Chuck Norris, who doesn't endorse, but just tells you how it's going to be); "I Like Mike"; "a.Huck.i.bee"; and "I ¢¾ Huckabee" (no threat of a copyright suit from Fox Searchlight, so far, it seems).
A good, if basic selection there's no great design or thong underwear. Still, this Christmas, you can vote early, vote often, and vote with your dollar. May the best brand win.
Swati Pandey is assistant articles editor for the editorial pages. Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.