Branding is an important part of presidential politics. A candidate needs a unique platform and must be able to communicate it clearly and quickly.
Thanks to the wonders of modern production, this need increasingly manifests itself in branded campaign merchandise.
In many ways, there is a lot of good in political merchandise. For non-moneyed supporters, the purchase of campaign goods is an equitable exchange of value. Their purchase of a t-shirt or bumper sticker not only helps in publicizing a campaign, but gives the supporter the intangible pleasure of asserting their ideology and annoying those who do not agree.
But, while there are myriad meritorious free-market principles on display here, can such a transaction go too far, say, when complex political issues are encapsulated in pithy t-shirt slogans or highlight a candidate’s perfunctory personal attributes?
Rand Paul, whose campaign has capitalized on his opposition to the Patriot Act, is currently selling t-shirts that take a somewhat facetious jab at bulk data collection:
On the other side, Hillary Clinton supporters can purchase a t-shirt made to look like one of her trademark pantsuit jackets:
Those who bemoan the state of money in politics can surely find cause for alarm here. And they may be right, not because votes are being bought, but because American politics requires substance beyond that which can be screen-printed and worn on someone’s chest.
Modern campaigning, with its emphasis on partisan politics and “gotcha moments” divorced from context, is already insulting to the intelligence of the average voter. The veniality of merchandized politics runs the risk of making it more so, especially if this is the sum total of engagement the average voter has with candidates and issues.
On the other hand, when people are made free to decide for themselves what political choices are most advantageous for their interests, they are also made free to act superficially, to disregard serious political discourse. Individualism, then, would dictate, that the risk of degradation to the health of the body politic presented by certain actors is something that must be combated by attention and volition.
After all, capitalism and democracy share the same strengths and weaknesses. Chiefly, their virtue lies in their organic nature. Only a plurality of individuals with united vision have the power to direct greater definitions of right and wrong. And this does not infringe on the rights of dissenters.
So, when it comes to mercantilism and political messaging, the ultimate affect upon broader political health is something for the American people to decide by individual discretion. And that’s a wonderful thing.