Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dealing the seal

Self-confidence is a wonderful thing, but it has its limits. Self-confidence veers painfully close to arrogance, and no one wants to go there. Especially a politician whose status as the Democratic nominee is still officially labeled as presumptive.

The Obama campaign has quietly field-tested a new, uh, branding device? nameplate? emblem? at one of the candidate’s more high-profile events. At a meeting of Democratic governors on Friday at the Chicago History Museum, Team Obama unveiled a full-blown campaign seal. Circular in shape, its elements are meant to suggest — “suggest,” hell, imitate is more like it — the Presidential Seal of the United States.

Compare & contrast one with the other. The basics are the same. The eagle is used in both, its talons brandishing olive branches and arrows in equal measure, but the Obama remix features the words “OBAMA for AMERICA.” And just for good measure, the leitmotiv of the Obama campaign, “Yes we can,” is expressed loosely in Latin: “Vero Possumus” (the literal translation is something like “truly we are able”).

Truly, the blogosphere ain’t buying. “I thought it meant, ‘Yes, I Am a Possum,’ said Trubador at the Roman Catholic blog.

“Down here in Texas that sounds more like a rodent infestation,” a poster wrote Friday at The Huffington Post — one of many similar reactions from around the country.

“Nothing says ‘man of the people’ like translating your campaign slogans into Latin,” said Dakota Conservative in a posting Saturday on the Reuters Web site.

And Ainnj, writing at the Reuters site, wonders if the “incredibly silly” seal violates federal law — specifically 18 USC 713, which addresses "use of likenesses of the great seal of the United States, the seals of the President and Vice President, the seal of the United States Senate, the seal of the United States House of Representatives, and the seal of the United States Congress.”

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As a reflection of a campaign that prides itself on smart image management, the Obama seal is already being seen as a misstep, a day after its debut. It's nothing fatal, though, not a serious overreaching, but the kind of thing that’ll give the late-night TV hosts more material than they deserve. We can imagine them substituting the seal's foreign-language phrase with another: “Hubris in extremis.”

The size of this thing, its more-than-accidental similarity to the presidential seal contribute to the feeling that the H-word may be starting to play a role in the Obama campaign’s subconscious (witness the growing complaints about press accessibility).

But frankly, we want to believe that Team Obama won’t be paying attention to classical-language scholars at all. Maybe they’ll listen to some of the best focus-group responses Obama could ask for: the plain-spoke folks the candidate worked with as a community organizer in Chicago.

They’ll tell him straight-up:

“Barack? Sorry, man, but this Wedgwood-blue plate of scrambled eggs splashed in front of the podium … We’re not feelin’ it, B. Not at all.”
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Vox' update: June 23: Team Obama apparently wasn't feeling it either. The Great Seal of Obamaland has been retired. It was last seen being used as a pastry plate at campaign headquarters in Chicago.

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