- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

The creators of Politicards 2000 say that no significance should be read into the number next to the face on their set of 54 comic playing cards, featuring images of key American political personalities.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan a numbers cruncher if ever there were one is a mere 10 as is Sen. John McCain, Republican presidential aspirant and would-be campaign finance reformer.

Symbols are something else, however.

The queen of spades in the deck is a worried-looking Tipper Gore gazing into her dressing-room mirror. ("Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?") And Hillary Rodham Clinton, as the queen of diamonds, stands poised with a frying pan about to attack what just might be the presidential bedroom that has a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.

Don't look for partisan interpretation either, say illustrator Peter Green and writer Christopher Smith even if they have fashioned Dan Quayle in a jester's suit puzzling over a Mr. Potato Head in his hand, and Pat Buchanan building a brick wall around American shores.

President Clinton the king of diamonds in a George Washington costume is shown taking an oath with his left hand. Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services, as the seven of diamonds in a Red Cross nurse's uniform, smiles wickedly above a giant hypodermic needle while citizens flee from her. Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh rises newborn from an egg, arms outstretched as if to acknowledge the world's applause.

It's all in good fun, say the pair, who came to Washington last week with Politicards 2000 publisher Michael Metzler for appearances at Political Americana stores in Union Station and the Shops at National Place at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street in Northwest.

Their favorite saying is "Politics is a funny business." They like the line because of the dual meaning of the phrase: political life seen as 'funny' in the sense of being madcap as well as unpredictable.

Mr. Green first had the idea for the cards in 1972 and designed the first set now a collectors' item said to be worth as much as $300. The project was dropped when the original production team broke up. A second set of cards that the current team produced in 1996 had more than 200,000 sales, they say. (The 2000 version sells locally for $7.95.)

All three men are Californians who claim to be serious political-minded citizens who, in fact, vote in elections more often than they play cards. To this end, they emphasize Politicards' redeeming social value. In response to interest shown by teachers and educators, they have inserted a folded sheet of guidelines in small print about the need for people to be involved in political life.

Under the title, "How to Make an Honest Politician," are suggestions on how to make one's views known to elected representatives. Another section tells how to register to vote. The "Politicards 2000 Cast of Caricatures" list gives the Web sites of nearly every person whose image is in the pack. (Exceptions are Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Dole, Al Franken and Kenneth Starr.) When all else fails, there is the phone number for the U.S. Capitol receptionist. (202/224-3121)

Of course, the cards' creators can't resist the inclusion of pithy sayings from the likes of Will Rogers ("The short memories of American voters is what keeps our politicians in office.") and Thomas Jefferson ("One man with courage is a majority.") Mark Twain's words on the side of the cover read: "An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere."

The most difficult part of the compilation was deciding which 54 faces to include among hundreds if not thousands of potential names. Three who made the cut in all three versions are Sens. Strom Thurmond and Edward M. Kennedy and citizen activist Ralph Nader.

Sen. Bill Bradley made both the 1996 and the 2000 version in different guises. Last time he was shown with a basketball spinning around on his finger the uncertain candidate. This time, as a Democratic presidential aspirant, he has the ball under one arm while the other pulls a stubborn donkey the Democratic Party symbol behind him.

All current presidential candidates are included and will stay in no matter the outcome of upcoming primaries. Dropped from the 2000 list just prior to November's production deadline were former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and evangelist Pat Robertson. They are no longer heavy players in the political game. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo was added at the last minute "because he suddenly became more visible," Mr. Smith says.

The list is family-friendly as well as bipartisan. As a fail-safe measure, Mr. Metzler's Action Publishing house had conducted a survey on its Web site (www.politicards.com) to gauge public opinion well ahead of publication. "We didn't want to play up the sexual stuff" of the Clinton scandal, he says. Half of the survey's respondents said "no Monica," and half said "to put her in the deck." Their solution was to pair political commentator and former White House honcho George Stephanopoulos with a slimmed-down Monica Lewinsky, showing each one reading the other's book.

To ensure acceptance by both a young and old population focused on different brands of political humor, both Mark Russell of PBS-TV and Bill Maher of ABC's "Politically Incorrect" are jokers the wild cards in the deck.

The cards are among several hundred commercial items carried in Political Americana's two Washington stores, but they apparently hit a popular nerve in the local market. Store owner Jim Warlick reports he had "more than 500 calls" after C-SPAN carried a feature on their debut.

The creators hear from the people included in the deck, too. More than half the people included in 1996 autographed a deck later auctioned off for the benefit of the Junior Statesman program that helps get young people involved in government.

Henry Cisneros wrote, "I accept my depiction as a flattering portrait compared to my actual appearance after three years on the job at HUD."

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