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Posted at 05:38 PM ET, 05/07/2012

Romney vs. Obama — the merchandise


No grills. (Jae C. Hong - Associated Press)
I hear that this week is the start of the campaign.

I thought it had been going on for months. The official Obama kickoff in Ohio reminded me of the wedding night of two people who have been living together for years. Sure, it’s the technical beginning, but no one was fooled.

The ads are out. As ads go, the “Go” ad went.

More importantly, the merchandise is here.

Ah, campaign kitsch.

There is something strangely delightful about the merchandise of doomed campaigns. McGovern stickers. Adlai Stevenson posters. Santorum vests.

One of my longest-standing unrequited longings is for a Rick Santorum sweater vest. I want one the way Dante wanted Beatrice. Which is to say, I don’t have one yet, and I probably never will, but I’ve written a lot of very strange poetry about it.

It is not always the campaign with the best merchandise that prevails.

If it were, the race would be over already.

The Obama merchandise is so hip it is almost painful. Beyonce designed a T-shirt. You can get Barack Obama nail polish from Richard Blanch. Tory Burch has designed a tote bag with festive red O’s. Altuzarra made a T-shirt where clashing plaids from varying backgrounds and walks of life all come together to support Obama 2012.

Prabal Gurung designed — well, see for yourself. It has safety pins on it, and some things that from a distance appear to be beaded steering wheels.

If you prefer Biden, you can buy a coffee mug with his picture — “Cup of Joe,” as the site terms it. Or, you can buy the whole Biden Pack and get a foam beer holder that says “Cheers Champ.”

Biden is the gift that keeps on giving. The campaign even sells black tees that read, “Healthcare Reform: Still a BFD.” Which, er, okay, I guess.

This is the point when someone usually cries, “Hold on; enough,” but no, there‘s more.

If you didn’t like the Tory Burch tote, Derek Lam has made another one. Tracy Reese has a hip off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. Russell Simmons made a men’s polo.

It is no exaggeration to say that you could decorate an entire house in Obama merchandise. Do you need an Obama 2012 grill spatula? How about an Obama 2012 Golf Divot Tool (a name that implies the person who designed it was not quite certain what it did either)? A six-pack cooler? A golf towel? A soy candle?

If Mitt Romney had come up with any of these designs, we would flip.

“Are you kidding me?” we would be shouting. “How off-puttingly 1 percenty! Soy candles?”

There are Official Obama 2012 knit dog sweaters, for the love of pete.

Do you want a poster with quotations from the president about women, arranged in an intriguing typeface? No? Well, you can get one.

It is somewhere between the Golf Divot Tool and the Tory Burch designs that you begin to worry that this has slid from Campaign territory to Cult of Personality territory.

A dog bowl? Cuff links? Beanies? Yoga pants? Cat collars? (“I meow for Michelle.”) Tube socks? For crying out loud! Is this a presidential campaign or American Apparel?

There is no hip Romney merchandise. I can say this definitively. There used to be tie-dyed Magical Misery Tour products, but they don’t even have those any more. There is a bumper sticker you can get to indicate your support for mothers as an institution. But that is about as far as it goes. You cannot get anything to put on your dog. If you feel that your life is incomplete without Mitt Romney-themed grill equipment, you are stuck. They don’t even sell Oven Mitts or Catcher’s Mitts, which you’d think would be a no-brainer.

What does the Romney camp have? Well, the Romney campaign has onesies for babies. This is probably a wise area to concentrate in. Babies do not get to weigh in on their apparel, so you can swaddle them in almost anything, no matter how graphically unappealing the R is.

Obama has been called the Apple of campaigns. His campaign has embraced the identification — it sells four different iPhone cases.

Romney, judging by the merchandise, is more of a PC. He’s grey T-shirts and pullovers with zippers. His general aesthetic is best summed up as Zuckerberg Chic.

This is not a new trend. For the past several elections, the GOP presidential candidates have had objectively worse graphic design. I am not sure why this is. At this point, it seems to be almost a badge of honor. It’s the same Defiantly Square attitude best summarized in the Santorum sweater vest. Make it unflattering and make it large and set it in the default font! This is America, where we are more concerned with Believing In Things than with Looking Hip. Leave that to the French!

In the meantime, do you want an unflattering grey sweatshirt? Romney has one!

If you’re looking for contrast, here it is. Proudly square! Aggressively hip! The candidates themselves could take a page from their shops. Just try to buy a T-shirt and you can see pretty quickly what each is trying to sell.

By  |  05:38 PM ET, 05/07/2012

Tags:  Election

 
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