From the Desk of Hal Elliot Wert: Posters Galore, Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again!

The following is by Hal Elliott Wert, author of George McGovern and the Democratic Insurgents (Nebraska, 2015). Wert is a professor emeritus of history at the Kansas City Art Institute. 

Posters Galore, Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again!

You have likely not been able to get Step in Time to Sticker Time or the emoji’s completely out of your head but are now walking around wondering why everything is being crowded out by the Baby Shark Song: Doo, Doo, Doo, Doo, Doo, Doo, Doo.  

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I promise we will get to Bernie, but first, three posters from the ’68 campaign have surfaced… Two are black light posters that would have been welcome additions to George McGovern and the Democratic Insurgents. Black lights were a standard feature of the Counterculture in the 60s but few were campaign posters.

The McCarthy poster is of special interest as the art sale and exhibition took place only eleven days after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy when the campaign was still reeling as the Senator and his army of young campaign workers were struggling over how to move forward.

It is hard to know if this RFK poster was used in the campaign or is a memorial salute.

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Another terrific sticker emerged. Hope you have a sense of humor. Here it is:

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One more digression, let’s trip on down to the great state of Texas and dip into the 2018 race for the U.S. Senate seat. State races have in the past, on occasion, produced some very handsome posters but in 2018, Texas proved it was as big as all outdoors, the eyes of Texas were upon us. Democrats thought 2018 was the reckoning. The day had at last arrived when Texas would turn blue. Ted Cruz proved otherwise. In Cruz’s 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination, the outsider right wing guerrilla artist, SABO, created a hard hitting fun poster of Cruz as a ripped gang-banger in MS-13 style tattoos. The Winston Churchill number on Cruz’s right arm is a nice touch. On social media, SABO touted his manifesto: “My aim as an artist is to be dirty, ground level, and mean as any liberal out there, more so if I can. Use their tactics, their methods, appeal to their audience, the young, urban, street urchins with a message they never hear in a style they own. My name is SABO, I’m an UNSAVORYAGENT.” Believe him, he is.

Cruz embraced the image and sold posters, tee-shirts and buttons on his website but a deeper look at SABO revealed racist tweets and the campaign pushed the delete button. But images have a life of their own and many Cruz supporters in Texas flouted the poster and tee-shirt in the 2018 campaign.

Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the Democrat challenger to Cruz, skateboarded into the campaign and into the hearts of the Austin art community. Posters bloomed under the prairie moon, deep in the heart of Texas. The cowboys cry “Ka-yippie Aye!” Deep in the heart of Texas. Beto personified the young, kool, hip progressive—open collar white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, slim fit jeans and chukka boots.

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Critics both left and right, ripped on candidate Robert Francis O’Rourke’s nickname “Beto,” a common Mexican stand-in for Roberto, supposedly given to him by his parents as a child.  But surely Beto is aware of the Urban Dictionary definition. “If ur a beto u got stuff in ur pants!” Okay…a double entendre? What?

Benefit concerts and events for O’Rourke proliferated as is usual for Democratic candidates in pursuit of young voters. The following six posters heralding such get togethers are but a sampling. Outside money and outside celebs poured into the Lone Star State, as did a string of celeb endorsements creating some intriguing posters in the effort to push Beto to victory. The list includes: Kelly Roland, LeBron James, Beyoncé, Travis Scott and Lin-Manuel Miranda to name a few.

Willie was all in for Beto as he had been for Kinky “the Singing Cowboy” Freidman’s 2006 campaign for governor. Renowned Austin artist, Guy Juke, created the Kinky image in a number of various sized posters around this bully design.

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Candidates portrayed as super heroes are de rigueur since Obama’s run in 2008 and here O’Rourke is featured in a Roy Lichtenstein comic pop art style: POW, BANG!

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Robert Wilson of Nakatomi created this 18′ x 20′ poster of O’Rourke offering it on their website for a penny plus shipping. Darn, you could only get two. Wilson’s cutting edge image was a hit.

I’ve a weakness for letterpress and this poster design from Free the Resistance has a letterpress look and a retro feel of a 1950s Hatch Show Print classic.

Beto’s fresh, boyish qualities had great appeal. Here was a candidate that encapsulated the dreams of the social justice warriors. “Beto Days Ahead.”

The above poster in a Southwest design is a handsome addition to the Beto campaign’s voluminous outpouring of posters that clearly bested Ted Cruz’s both in design quality and  variety. But Cruz inevitably stumbled into poster gold with Sabo’s attention getting rendering of Ted as an MS-13 gang banger. I hope this trip into the sagebrush of Texas, I guess that’s getting into the weeds, provided an opportunity for you to eyeball a number of posters that you would have otherwise missed. Finally, as promised, it’s time for a peek at the Bernie bonanza.

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This 2016 dream ticket of the Left, Sanders and Warren, may portend the 2020 Democrat nominees. The poster cuts to the chase: “The Class War is Here” followed by a Woody Guthrie invocation, “What Side R U On?” Woody’s song lyrics appear once more on this poster.

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Bernie repeatedly pushed his 2016 candidacy as a revolution and that is likely why the super delegates, other than the judgment that the would surely lose, blocked his nomination. Back again, he continues down the same road but this time with a core of supporters determined not to be thwarted by “the establishment.”

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In the posters that follow, Sanders’ supporters portray their candidate in a number of different guises. The Berniacs reveal their political aspirations and the very different direction they wish to take the country. Like the flood of Obama posters in 2008, the posters’ styles, the messages they carry, and the image and design quality vary widely, truly an eclectic lot.  Most, however, are quite enjoyable. Let’s just call them “the many faces of Bernie Sanders.”

A thoughtful, contemplative, sincere Bernie is a theme regularly repeated in the five following posters.

Bernie, as the forward looking leader, is also a common poster theme.

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Fiery, revolutionary Bernie is a recurring image.

An immovable, stubborn, peeved but determined Bernie is simply fed up with the establishment choices.

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“Enough is enough.” Bernie moves from peeved to pissed. We aren’t goin’ take it anymore!

Milton Glaser’s famous poster insert in Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album in 1967 has been appropriated dozens of times by different celebs, so it is no surprise that Glaser’s signature hair shows up in the following two Bernie posters. Perhaps it’s time for the musical “Hair” to hit the road again singing “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”

A gentle Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers-like portrayal of Bernie seemed to appeal to young voters. Supporters showed their affection with the endearment “Birdie” Sanders. Cartoon Bernie was popular as well.

Posters proliferated in Oregon in advance of the May 17 primary as Sanders’ supporters made a huge effort to stop Hillary. Well, in Oregon they did, as Bernie polled 56.24% of the vote. But as often is the case, Oregon votes, as they like to say, were Californicated as three weeks later Hillary handily won California. Gene McCarthy in ’68 experienced the Oregon high and the following Golden State drubbing. Clean Gene liked to crack, that had there been three or four more universities in California he would have won.

Cool Bernie as the hot D.J., “Fire in the Disco.” “Burn Baby Burn, Burn the Mother Down.”

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To paraphrase Alicia Keys, “This Man is on Fire!”

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I love this poster even though for some “Bernheart” might give you heartburn. But Bernie certainly deserves a better ending then that endured by William Wallace.

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Campaign after campaign reaches back to images of “Rosie the Riveter.”

Two of America’s iconic images on one poster—OMG! This deserves an emoji. 😂

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Not a campaign goes by without a 1940s boxing style “in this corner” poster.

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I’d hope to get to Ron Paul posters in this blog but Bernie Sanders images just keep showing up. In my book Hope: A Collection of Obama Posters and Prints, I questioned in 2008 if the Obama poster deluge was the end of an era—one that went out with a bang. Would all the new seemingly endless media sites and electronic gadgetry end the great American political poster? The answer is now much clearer. As long as there are candidates on the left that excite the art community, posters will remain alive and well. Here are a couple of 2020 Bernie posters to whet your appetite.  Next time we’ll take a look at more 2020 Bernie images and see what else other candidates are putting out. Yes, I won’t forget Ron Paul. As Porky Pig says, “That’s All Folks!” Oops, almost forgot, Billie say duh.

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