Exhibit / November 8, 2016
Object Name: Two 1980 Democratic presidential campaign buttons
Maker and Year: Unknown, 1980
Object Type: Political memorabilia
Image Source: The author
Description: (Michael Grasso):
This pair of campaign buttons illustrates the turmoil within the Democratic Party during the 1980 U.S. presidential election. Incumbent Jimmy Carter faced an insurgent, left-wing opponent in the form of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. The button asks the voter to re-elect President Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale, implicitly appealing to Depression-era and Greatest Generation voters with its refrain from the World War II slogan/song “We Did It Before, We Can Do It Again.” Kennedy was peeling away younger Democratic voters in the 1980 election, and Carter saw his path to victory through solidifying his base among older, New Deal Democrats. Carter won the primary, of course, but lost the general election to Ronald Reagan, whose own appeal to older, socially conservative Democrats cemented a new winning coalition for the next 12 years.
Speaking of the youth culture of 1980, our other button invites the viewer to envision a White House occupied by California governor Jerry Brown and his then-paramour, pop star Linda Ronstadt. Brown also ran in the Democratic primaries, arguably further to Carter’s left than even Kennedy, campaigning heavily on alternative energy and no-nukes positions, his campaign slogan being “Protect the earth, serve the people and explore the universe.” Brown’s run ended after a disappointing finish in New Hampshire and a Wisconsin campaign that culminated in a grandiosely disastrous Francis Ford Coppola-directed live speech from Madison rather ominously titled “The Shape of Things to Come.” The live special’s use of “gray screen” chroma key technology created many problems with Governor’s Brown’s hair and wardrobe.
Considering the real-world result of the 1980 Presidential election, both of these visions of an alternate-history America are tantalizing.