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Schlock the Vote: 22 Ridiculous Convention-Themed Items

This week in Tampa, those attending the 2012 Republican National Convention will exchange far more than plans for adjusting the tax code and adjective-laden riffs relating to the hairstyles of Romney and Ryan. By bringing together an abundance of joyous, carefree, captive audience consumers, political conventions result in a perfect storm scenario for tchotchke peddlers. Everything from weird-looking stuffed animals to giant party-themed belt buckles gets created for these events.

(Also: Partisans apparently love bad wristwatches.)

So here's a look at some of the oddest and most ridiculous convention-related items of the past 50 years. The bulk of these are terrible. But which is the worst of the worst? Let us know in the comments!

1. Jimmy Carter Coloring Book (1976)

This one is just plain bizarre. And I think I may want to own it. As described by a recent seller on eBay: "Coloring book contains somewhat insulting and politically incorrect captions for the caricatures. Coloring book was issued in 1976 for the Democratic Presidential Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. ...Features great caricatures of Jimmy Carter, Hubert Humphrey, Carl Albert, Lester Maddox, Dick Daley, Frank Church, Tip O’Neill, John Glenn, George Meany, George Wallace, Bella Abzug, Walter Mondale, Teddy Kennedy, Dan Moynihan, George McGovern, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and more. Not exactly sure if this was pro Carter or not...as it takes a dig at just about everybody!"

Image via eBay

2. Ugly Phone (1996)


Image via eBay
I mean, even the cord is hideous. That's rare. It's not easy to mess up the look of a phone cord.

3. Republican Delegate Barbies (2000)


Images via eBay and WorthPoint
Delegates at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia received these dolls in their swag bags. At the time, Republican convention spokeswoman Stephanie Mangino assessed the red-suited Barbie thusly to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Barbie's almost as stiff as Al Gore." Zing! Or something. Also: Note the tiniest of lanyards.

4. Tipper Gore Drum (2000)

The eBay seller suspects that this item will "display nice" in a museum. Hmm, perhaps. But the same individual notes that the drum is from the 2000 "Democrastic Convention," so keep that in mind if you run a museum and are wondering whether you should trust the seller's judgment on the ideal landing spot for this thing.

Image via eBay

5. Terrible Watch Number One (1996)

The first in a series! To keep them straight, feel free to refer to this one as "Terrible Swatch Watch."

Image via SwatchAndBeyond.com

6. Dukakis Foam Fingers (1988)

Shouldn't the hand be making a #1 sign? Poor Dukakis.

Image via eBay

7. Hideous Cuff Links (1960)


Image via CuffLinks.com
The ad says these are "both historic and nostalgic." I say they are "both poorly designed and look like they feature a donkey that is either near death or coughing."

8. Elephant Ashtrays (1972)


Image via eBay
The 1972 Republican National Convention had to be moved from San Diego to Miami following a bid-rigging scandal. The bottom line: lots of unused novelty ashtrays in SoCal that year.

9. Beanie Babies (2000)


Images via eBay
Do you love nothing more than Beanie Babies and keeping up with the range of complex, interrelated issues that join together to form the basis for national electoral politics? Well, if so, then have I got the ideal product for you. Also: You don't exist. No one likes both those things. So perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree here in trying to sell you on these stupid things.

10. Partisan Mac & Cheese (2004)


Images via eBay
Pasta made to look like elephants and donkeys is a nice touch by Kraft. But it's not all good. The backs of these boxes feature something called the "Presidential IQ Test." The goal is to match "famous" quotations with the presidents who said them. An example: "Speak softly, but carry a big bowl of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese." They get worse from there.

11. Terrible Watch Number Two (2000)

Is this monstrosity worse than the Democrats' Swatch watch? You be the judge.

Image via eBay

12. Elephant Alligator Thing (1988)


Images via eBay
This hybrid stuffed animal from the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans is like something out of a made-for-Syfy movie. It has the head of an elephant but the body of an alligator. What gives? Actually, come to think of it, both name mash-ups work: elegator is great, and so is alliphant.

13. Saddest Pennant Ever (1984)


Image via Minnesota Historical Society
Womp womp.

14. Garish Belt Buckle (1992)


Image via eBay
What is more befitting for a Republican National Convention held in Houston than a custom-made, Texas-sized belt buckle? A recent eBay seller noted that buying the buckle would amount to "your chance to be a part of history." I don't know about all that, but I have to admit, the elephant on the front of this thing does appear to be having one hell of a good time.

15. Miller High Life Convention Survival Kit (1964)


Image via eBay
Includes Tums antacid, Alka-Seltzer, aspirin, breath mints, a bandage, and a little "Do Not Disturb" sign. It's odd, but for real: This kit is fantastic. I'm hoping they still make these, but unrelated to political conventions.

16. Bush/Quayle Baseball Card (1992)

The craziest thing about this one is that Upper Deck produced this card commemorating the 1992 Republican Convention... in 2009. A few notes: (1) Was there really Bush/Quayle-specific nostalgia in 2009? (2) What a perfect way to celebrate the historic 17th anniversary of that memorable convention. (3) This card was a bad idea.

Image via eBay

17. Wizard Hat & Spaghetti T-Shirt (1996)

Not even this all-powerful, mystical pasta T-shirt could transform the Dole/Kemp ticket into a winner.

Image via eBay

18. Computer Terminal Decanter (1984)


Image via eBay
Wait, so you mean they not only had computers in 1984, but they also had crazy-looking computer replicas that featured giant buttons and doubled as alcohol receptacles? I love the '80s.

19. "Hello Lyndon" 45 rpm Record (1964)


Image via eBay
In 1964, Hello, Dolly! was a big deal on Broadway. So LBJ co-opted the song for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Thankfully, both "Hello, Mitt!" and "Hello, Barack!" don't seem like viable options in 2012.

20. Terrible Watch Number Three (1992)


Image via eBay
So I'm just going to call it: This one is the worst of the watches. Is that the Astrodome in the foreground, or a spaceship with teeth?

21. Betty Ford Matchbooks (1976)


Image via eBay
The backs of these matchbooks note that "Your Vote and Influence [are] Appreciated." OK, makes sense. The fronts say "Win with BETTY'S HUSBAND." OK, that sounds like a license to engage in infidelity.

22. Mitt Romney Finger Puppet (2012)


The end.

Image via Etsy

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Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Stacy Conradt
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politics
Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

With the state of politics lately, it’s hard to imagine a generous act of kindness from one political rival to another. But if Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were capable of burying the hatchet, there’s hope for anyone.

Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota, ran for president several times. In 1952, he lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, of course, he faced a charismatic young senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. In 1968, Humphrey, who was vice president at the time, came closest to the presidency—but Nixon triumphed by a little more than 500,000 popular votes.


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Though he graciously admitted defeat and pledged to help the new president-elect, Humphrey wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon. Just 10 months after Nixon took office, Humphrey stated that the administration had done “poorly—very poorly” overall, citing the increase in interest rates and the cost of living. Nixon and his team, Humphrey said, had “forgotten the people it said it would remember.” He was still making his opinions known four years after the election, turning his eye to Vietnam. “Had I been elected, we would now be out of that war,” he told the press on January 10, 1972.


Stacy Conradt

The Watergate scandal broke later that year, and Humphrey no doubt felt validated. He mounted another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. Humphrey briefly considered trying one more time in 1976, but ultimately nixed the idea. "It's ridiculous — and the one thing I don't need at this stage in my life is to be ridiculous," he said. The public didn’t know it at the time but the politician had been battling bladder cancer for several years. By August 1977, the situation had become terminal, and Humphrey was aware that his days were numbered.

When he knew he had just a few weeks left to live, Humphrey did something that would stun both Republicans and Democrats: He called former rival Richard Nixon and invited him to his upcoming funeral. He knew that Nixon had been depressed and isolated in his political exile, and despite the Watergate scandal and the historical bad blood, he wanted Nixon to have a place of honor at the ceremony. Humphrey knew his death would give the former president a plausible reason to return to Washington, and told Nixon to say he was there at the personal request of Hubert Humphrey if anyone questioned his motives.

Humphrey died on January 13, 1978—and when the funeral was held a few days later, Nixon did, indeed, attend. He stayed out of the Washington limelight, emerging right before the ceremony—to audible gasps. Humphrey’s gracious act must have been on Nixon’s mind when he listened to Vice President Walter Mondale sing the fallen senator’s praises: “He taught us all how to hope, and how to love, how to win and how to lose. He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die.”

Nixon wasn’t the only former foe whom Humphrey had mended fences with. Barry Goldwater, who ran against Humphrey in 1964, had this to say:

“I served with him in the Senate, I ran against him in campaigns, I debated with him, I argued with him. But I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a friendship as much as the one that existed between the two of us. I know it may sound strange to people who see in Hubert a liberal and who see in me a conservative, that the two of us could ever get together; but I enjoyed more good laughs, more good advice, more sound counsel from him that I have from most anyone I have been associated with in this business of trying to be a senator.”

After the ceremony in D.C., Humphrey was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. His wife, Muriel, joined him there when she died 20 years later.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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