NPR logo Buttons And Babies: Why Do Campaigns Love Them?

Buttons And Babies: Why Do Campaigns Love Them?

While monitoring news photos from the Republican presidential race, we couldn't help but notice two recurring elements iconic to election images: buttons and babies.

It's a weird, weird cycle: People love images of babies; parents shove their babies at politicians; politicians throw photographers a bone with a Kodak moment; and the photographers eat it up. Does it somehow help the candidate's image? Does it tug at the heartstrings of the viewers, or do they cringe with the sight of another seemingly staged moment of cuteness?

Regardless, the tradition will undoubtedly continue, as long as we have politicians and supporters toting their newborns and toddlers. Will young Leah Debries one day ask her father why her arm had a temporary tattoo announcing the "Ron Paul Revolution"? Perhaps one day these disenfranchised little people will be granted suffrage.

The buttons range from humorous messages like "Hot Chicks Vote Republican," to more caustic messages like the one directed toward the president, exclaiming, "One Big A - - Mistake America." Believe it or not, there was even a time when button manufacturers were worried for their business.

On Oct. 7, 1976, the Spokane Daily Chronicle in Washington state ran an Associated Press article with the headline "Political Buttons are Vanishing." In it, they quote Frank Sitzberger, the then-president of Adcraft Manufacturing Co., bemoaning the loss of the electoral souvenir. " 'I like Ike,' " he said, referring to the iconic button for Dwight Eisenhower. "That got him elected."

"[If] you don't see the button," he said, "you don't get the discussion and the issues don't get aired."

In today's media and social-media age, the message is often broadcast, tweeted or read online — it is most likely not coming to our attention in the form of a plastic button. But you can't pin an electronic message as elegantly on your lapel as you can a traditional pin that asks: "Is America Ready?" That one was from Herman Cain.


Ed. Note: This text originally stated that an article ran in the Spokane Daily Chronicle. It has been edited to reflect that it was actually an Associated Press article.