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Campaign laughs and history on view at D.C.’s Newseum
Question of the Day
Tina Fey’s red suit, flag pin and eyeglasses worn to channel her Sarah Palin parodies of the 2008 presidential race are going on view at the Newseum, along with items from journalists and candidates who made history in presidential politics.
A new exhibit, “Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press,” opens Friday at the museum and will be updated with material from the long campaign season ahead. It also includes relics of presidents and comics from long before “Saturday Night Live.”
There are John F. Kennedy’s handwritten notes taken during a 1960 debate with Richard Nixon, a radio microphone used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his “fireside chats” and political ads from Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as early political laughs from Puck magazine in 1877.
“You can see all the way back more than a century ago people were poking fun at presidents,” said Newseum exhibits chief Cathy Trost. “This is nothing new.”
With the 2008 election, though, between “Saturday Night Live” and the antics of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart on TV’s Comedy Central, such parodies “reached new heights as a political and cultural force during that campaign,” Ms. Trost said.
Besides Miss Fey’s costume, the Newseum also borrowed the jacket Amy Poehler used to impersonate Hillary Rodham Clinton in the “SNL” skits, a set of “pork knives” used by Sen. John McCain on “SNL” when he pretended to sell items on QVC to cut campaign debt, and the mask worn by then Sen. Barack Obama on “SNL” in 2007 for a sketch about a Halloween party hosted by the Clintons.
The Newseum pulled together about 120 objects and images dating to Republican President William McKinley’s campaign in 1896, which McKinley ran from his front porch, while his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, traveled thousands of miles to make his pitch.
A case of campaign memorabilia includes Mrs. Clinton’s beer mug and shot glass from her campaign stop at a bar in Crown Point, Ind., and Mr. Obama’s bowling ball and size 14 1/2 bowling shoes from a stop in Altoona, Pa. The bowling alley and bar had saved them as keepsakes.
There’s also a cowboy hat given to President George W. Bush in the 2004 campaign and a guitar labeled “The Prez” that President George H.W. Bush played at his 1988 inaugural ball.
Other sections explore the impact of radio, television, faster travel and the occasional scandal on a presidential race.
From the media world, Katie Couric lent her purple suit from a newsmaking interview with Mrs. Palin on CBS in 2008 and her notes from the interview. Tim Russert’s white dry erase board from election night in 2000 is on view with the words he wrote that night: “Florida, Florida, Florida,” as well as a gold-plated microphone from talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh.
A nearby theater will show a Newseum film recounting the changes in political advertising during the TV age, from the “I Like Ike” slogan for Eisenhower and a melody of “Adlai, I love you madly,” for his opponent Adlai Stevenson, to memorable ads from President Bill Clinton showcasing his small-town roots, President Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad and the “Yes We Can” Web video that went viral during Mr. Obama’s campaign.
“People are going to see an incredible evolution and difference between the ads from the 1950s compared to the current, more sophisticated ads,” said James Duff, the Newseum’s president. “But the simplicity of the old ads, I think, will be appealing for a lot of people.”
One thing that hasn’t changed over time, though, is the importance of money to pay for a campaign designed to reach people across the country.
Early political strategist Mark Hanna, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1895, summed it up like this: “There are two things that are important in politics The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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