Reviewing “Presidential Media” (Portraits, Campaign Slogans & Signs, Etc.)

Purely for fun, I decided to take a quick look at all the other uniform aspects of a Presidential campaign and legacy. Here are some quick thoughts about each…

Presidential Portraits

Posted below are some of my fave presidential portraits, regardless of how I feel about the men in them.

Most Presidential portraits follow Washington’s example of standing at a desk with one arm outstretched or resting on it. John Quincy Adams was the first to be captured sitting down at the desk, and that then became the second most common pose. There are a handful like LBJ’s, where the full body isn’t in frame and you’re looking right into their face. Most are set indoors, so the few which are outside, like LBJ and Reagan, are notable. Polk is the only one standing up at a desk without an arm outstretched or laying his hand on it. Taylor is the only one to not wear a suit, instead he opted for his military uniform. And JFK is the only one with his arms folded or looking down. The interesting thing about Teddy’s is that he had his original portrait destroyed for not being manly enough, and commissioned a new one.

I think if I were President, I’d wear a beautiful blue dress to match my eyes, with a white sash for peace and a crown of red roses in my hair. I’d be outside in a vegetable garden, holding a large red or white water pitcher to feed my plants, like Aquarius. I’d like to have a caption too: “She tended the gardens, so the flowers could grow.” 

Incidentally, if Hillary had been elected, I was hoping she’d seize the moment and embrace her unique characteristic of femininity in the portrait. (IE wear a dress, not a pant-suit.) I feel as thought that would be a more powerful gesture than simply another pantsuit. It’s smarter to ignore your sex during the election rather than campaign on it. But for the portrait, after all that’s over and no one can hold you back anymore, I think it’d really be badass to own that femininity in a portrait immortalized for future generations.

These are, in my opinion, the most interesting of the Presidential Portraits. If I had to choose an absolute favorite, it’d be LBJ just for how intimately close it is. You can look into his face and almost feel as though you knew the man.

First Lady Portraits

These are some of my favorite first lady portraits. They are far less rigid than the President’s for many reasons, not the least of which because dresses are more varied and beautiful than plain black suits. None of the women seemed that interested in following Martha Washington’s example where most Presidents faithfully emulated Washington’s pose. Finally, the backgrounds are much more colorful and varied.

There don’t seem to be as many formal rules with the women’s portraits as the men. The aspect ratios are all different. Some of the first ladies don’t seem to have had portraits (or I couldn’t find them) and since some Presidents were unmarried (Buchanan) or widowed (Jefferson) there aren’t official portraits to correspond with every President.

Edith Roosevelt has a weird iris frame none of the others do.

Eleanor Roosevelt has a bizarre bottom half where there’s three of her sewing or something.

And then there’s good ol’ Hillary with her trademarked pant-suit–the first and only woman not wearing a dress for her portrait. What’s also interesting about Hillary’s portrait is that she has a hand on a desk AND a hand on a chair, mirroring both Washington and his wife’s poses. I’ll bet any amount of money that this was a very deliberate choice on her part, to signify she was more than the traditional first lady.

I think my personal faves have to be Frances Cleveland for that awesome white on white, Nancy Reagan because that ded dress and relaxed look on her face is very profound to me, Grace Coolidge for the wonderful framing with the dog and White House, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis because…on a shallow note…she was the most glamorous and beautiful first lady we ever had.

It’s an under-appreciated job, but the First Lady is responsible for running a lot of the social events of the White house, and since Eleanor Roosevelt set the bar so high, nowadays they’re expected to champion personal pet projects as well. Two well known examples: Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign (which hasn’t aged well) and Michelle Obama with childhood obesity. Some first ladies are noteworthy (and heavily criticized) for the amount of influence they had over their husband’s decisions. Hillary Clinton remains a very divisive figure, and that started when some felt she went too far in asserting her own authority as first lady. Ellen Wilson is also somewhat reviled for taking over a lot of the day to day decision making after her husband had a stroke in office. She doesn’t seem to get flak for it, but Rosalyn Carter’s opinions were very highly regarded with her husband and he sought her approval often.

Campaign Slogans

We’ll start by looking at the memorable ones, usually taught in schools. In the case of Obama’s I think his will be discussed in schools in the future:

  • Tippecanoe and Tyler too (William Harrison)
  • He kept us out of war (Woodrow Wilson 1916)
  • 54-40 or Fight! (James Polk)
  • Are You Better Off Now Than you were 4 years ago? (Ronald Reagan 1980)
  • Yes We Can! (Barack Obama 2008)

There are some campaign slogans where the opposing candidate was attacked directly:

  • Vote Taft now, you can vote Bryan anytime (William Taft, about how Bryan already ran twice before)
  • Mama wheres my pa? (James Blaine, mocking Cleveland’s bastard kid)
  • In your guts you know he’s nuts (LBJ, which parodied Goldwater’s own slogan of “In your heart, you know he’s right”)
  • Remember Hoover! (FDR, 1936)
  • Obama isn’t working (Mitt Romney)

Some slogans have been repeated across different candidates/elections:

  • Don’t Trade Horses Midstream (Abe Lincoln 1964 and FDR 1940)
  • I like Ike/I still like Ike (Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956)
  • Make America Great Again (Ronald Reagan 1980 and Donald Trump 2016)
  • President of the People/People’s President (Zachary Taylor 1848 and Gary Johnson 2012)
  • ___________ for America (Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and John Kasich)

These are some pretty good ones I don’t think get enough recognition:

  • Shall the People Rule? (William Jennings Bryan 1908)
  • Come Home, America! (George McGovern)
  • Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Fremont” (John Fremont)
  • Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge (Calvin Coolidge)
  • Happy Days Are Here Again (FDR 1932)

Finally, some notably bad slogans:

  • Some People Talk Change, Others Cause It (Hubert Humphrey)
  • We Polked you in ’44, We shall Pierce you in ’52 (Franklin Pierce)
  • Who is James K. Polk? (Henry Clay)
  • Defeat the New Deal and Its Reckless Spending (Alf Landon)
  • Let America be America again (John Kerry)

With the bad ones, you can see why I don’t think they were too effective. Either they’re a mouthful, they focus on the opponent in a neutral way which wouldn’t convince the people they’re bad, they attack a popular program, or they’re just awkward. A good slogan should be catchy, inarguable, and convey some positive feeling about the candidate. While it’s true that negative slogans are a thing as well, they tend to fail more than they succeed. The exceptions are with Taft, LBJ, Reagan and now Trump. But even then, the slogans alone had little impact, they just provided a catchy or convincing rallying cry for what people already thought.

There is this one other slogan…it’s not good but it’s not bad either. The premise is ridiculously implausible but it’s catchy enough to where I’ve remembered it 4 years after hearing it:

  • Beer Cost a Nickel & Space Travel Free! (Michael Levinson)

Here are a few I came up with if I were to ever run for President:

Conserve the Constitution, Liberate Labor
^Trying to subconsciously appeal to both conservatives and liberals in the language while communicating my goals.

A Future Worth Fighting For
^Surprised no candidate has said that yet. Catchy, short, sweet and to the point.

I Believe in America
^Again, short sweet and patriotic. A popular quote from The Godfather. The idea of a humble immigrant finding paradise in the American system.

Peace, Prosperity, Progress
^Sort of a knockoff of McKinley’s “Patriotism, Protection, and Prosperity” but with better P-word values.

Basic Solution—Basic Income
^Still the best solution to income inequality and the coming automation/jobs crisis.

Some Random Campaign Signs/Buttons

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