Ford as Fonzie, Carter as Christ: A Look at Presidential Posters of Years Past


A 1968 poster parodying the Nixon campaign’s motto, “Nixon’s the one!” (Courtesy the Library of Congress)


Election Day is finally here, and I thought it would be fun to explore some of the campaign posters from past presidential elections. All of the posters featured here are in the collection of the Library of Congress and included in their new book Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art.

There are some intriguing images here—Jimmy Carter being depicted as Jesus Christ, the above parody poster for the Nixon campaign, the Gerald Ford Happy Days send up, and Geraldine Ferraro shown as Lady Liberty. It’s a riveting glimpse into the American mindset (or at least into the cultural assumptions of the day and which ideas could be exploited by the artists designing these posters).

It’s interesting how propaganda is blatantly obvious from the viewpoint of hindsight, but not as easy to spot when we’re in the thick of it. Humor and parody, on the other hand, isn’t always as simple to decipher as time passes and we lose the cultural context. (The below poster of Truman by Ben Shahn is a good example. Without knowledge of the original Lauren Bacall photograph, the meaning is hard to decode).

I love this “sideways” perspective on Presidential politics. When we look back at the election of 2012 years from now, I wonder what will stand out as our most embarrassing moment as a country? Which campaign claims and advertisements will make us shiver in hindsight?

I’m heading to my local polling place now to vote. Please don’t forget to exercise your right to vote today!


Jimmy Carter depicted as Jesus Christ. During the election Carter famously confessed to Playboy that he had committed “adultery in his heart many times.” (Poster by Chelsea Marketing, c. 1976, courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1968 poster for Eugene McCarthy, a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. The poster is by Lithuanian-born American artist Ben Shahn (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



In spite of a challenge from Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford kept his cool–and was depicted as the leather-jacketed greaser Fonzie, the arbiter of cool, from the hit television show Happy Days–even as his challenger pestered him at the Republican convention in Kansas City (1976 poster and caption courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1908 poster from the campaign that pitted Republican William H. Taft (Republican) against. William J. Bryan (Democrat) and Eugene V. Debs (Socialist) (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1968 poster for Bobby Kennedy (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1988 campaign poster for Jesse Jackson (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



This poster by artist Ben Shahn titled A Good Man is Hard to Find served as a backdrop at the 1948 convention of the Progressive Party. The poster satirizes a then-famous photograph of Truman playing an upright piano as actress Lauren Bacall leans seductively on top. In his image, Shahn replaces Bacall with Republican front-runner Thomas Dewey, implying that both candidates were similarly unsuitable. (1948 poster and caption courtesy the Library of Congress)


A poster for the Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro 1984 presidential election campaign shows Ferraro depicted as Lady Liberty; Mondale in a top hat carries a bayonet with an ERA flag attached to it; an inset of the original Liberty by Delacroix is at the bottom of the poster, which suggests that the artist assumed many voters might not know the original painting. (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



Richard M. Nixon vs. George McGovern, 1972, by Jimmy So. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)



New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey was set against popular incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dewey portrayed himself as a youthful, fresh candidate. In the election, the candidates spent a combined $2.5 million on radio airtime. This 1944 poster makes a pun with Dewey’s name.” (From the Library of Congress collection. Caption courtesy the PBS NewsHour)



A 2004 poster for George W. Bush (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1968 campaign poster for Gregory’s unsuccessful run for President as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party. The other candidates were Richard M. Nixon (Republican), Hubert Humphrey (Democrat), and George Wallace (Independent) (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



This poster from the 1860 election between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen Douglas spells Lincoln’s first name as “Abram,” which was a common misconception during his candidacy, according to the LOC book. (Print by H.C. Howard, c. 1860, from the Library of Congress collection. Caption courtesy the PBS NewsHour)



The first African-American woman to campaign for the presidency, Shirley Chisholm of New York, ran with the slogan of “Unbought and Unbossed.” This 1972 campaign poster featured her famous mantra, declaring her independence from special interests and machine politics. (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1980 poster for Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



A 1928 poster for Herbert Hoover, who ran against Democrat Al Smith (Courtesy the Library of Congress)



Gov. George Romney was, like his son Mitt Romney, a favorite for the Republican nomination. He was a moderate Republican at the time, supporting civil rights and government social programs, as well as opposing the Vietnam War. George Romney lost to Richard Nixon. (1968 poster courtesy the Library of Congress. Caption courtesy the PBS NewsHour)



Introduced initially four years ago, President Obama’s “O” is back for his 2012 campaign. Like the “Hope” poster, Chicago-based artist Ray Noland, relied on simple, one-word messages without the use of Mr. Obama’s name. (2008 poster courtesy the Library of Congress. Caption courtesy the PBS NewsHour)




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By | 2016-11-11T21:52:16+00:00 11.06.12|Images|Comments Off on Ford as Fonzie, Carter as Christ: A Look at Presidential Posters of Years Past

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.