If you read Head Muscle regularly you know that we travel quite a bit. We love exploring different cultures and brining those perspectives to our HM readers. One indisputable downside to traveling however, is having to spend so much time in airports. Airports are what I like to think of as “transitional spaces.” They are neither here nor there, but somewhere in between; a traveler’s purgatory if you will. At best they are full of antsy people trying to be somewhere else, while at worst they are prisons full of involuntary suitcase ladened captives.
Most cities, Newark New Jersey excluded, understand this about their airports and do their very best to disguise them as shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, and even theme parks (Newark on the other hand has gone for the Gothic dungeon look). They load them up with overpriced kiosks and boutiques designed to momentarily separate us from our airport angst, and a bit of cash while they are at it.
On a recent flight from Washington DC, my friend Tracey (famous for his McDonald’s photo) and I had a couple of hours to explore the mysteries of Dulles International Airport. If you have never flown out of Dulles, it is the one airport in the country that actually makes Newark International Airport appear “not so bad.” Since it was built in the early 60’s by President Kennedy, it has seen few updates and is by all standards – exhausted.
Tracey and I walked by several airport vendors completely detached from our circumstance when something caught Tracey’s eye. “Hey Chuck wait a moment,” he exclaimed reaching for his cell phone. “I gotta get a picture of this.” We were standing in front of a DC memorabilia store that just several weeks earlier had been littered with the usual pro-Obama teeshirt displays. Shirts printed with the popular bromides “Hope” and “Change” had literally been hanging from every available ledge since last November. For months I had breezed by this store without giving it much more than a passing glance. I suppose that their gratuitous pandering to the current administration was even somewhat irritating. “Why on Earth does Tracey want to take a picture of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ teeshirts?” I thought to myself. “This store is nothing but a retail propaganda arm for the Democrat Party!” As Tracey leveled his camera on the display table however, I walked up beside him to see what all the fuss was about. My jaw dropped when I saw the subject of his photograph:
It was as if, in the middle of the night, the political memorabilia fairies had come and swapped out Hope for Nope! This was not just one shirt either. There were dozens of shirts on prominent display decrying everything from the bailout to public health care. In addition to all the shirts, the table was rimmed with anti-Obama mugs, wallets, pens, and ball caps as well. Not only could you by anti-Obama clothing in any number of sizes and colors – you could accessorize! In fact, as I looked from side to side I could not find as single solitary “Hope” teeshirt on display anywhere. I was dizzy with partisan joy!
Now, it is no secret that Obama has been slipping steadily in the polls. Many political blogs have devoted countless posts to analyzing the meaning of our Commander-in-Chief’s waining numbers. In fact, the Daily Rasmussen Report shows that only 26% of Americans strongly approve of Obama’s performance while a whopping 41% strongly disapprove. The reality however, as we all know, is that polls will be polls. Skilled pollsters can elicit any result they desire simply by crafting bias into their questions. So, politicians routinely use “friendly” polling organizations to accomplish their political objectives. Yawn.
Unlike the polls however, something about this teeshirt display really struck me. This was a retail organization selling to the public. Unlike politicians, they make money the old fashioned way – by selling products that people want. Certainly if “Hope” and “Change” were still selling, the displays would be full of the usual paraphernalia. Then it hit me. The only explanation for the change in inventory was that folks just weren’t buying the “Hope” thing anymore. This little teeshirt shop had actually been able to capture American sentiment through the purest of all venues – the free market. People vote with their wallets and, at least in the airport teeshirt and coffee mug business, the “Hope” market appears to have run its course. If “Hope” and “Change” were still selling, they would still be selling it – pure and simple. It was like someone had hit me in the face with a bucket of cold water (still in the bucket). Could America be waking up from its ideological coma? Could the light at the end of the tunnel be something other than a socialist locomotive? I felt a surge of energy coarse up my right leg as I pondered the significance of the table of T’s before me. Yes, this could truly be a sign of what awaits our liberal compatriots in 2010! I want to believe it- I really do!
<Pause for deep breath…>
Now, whether or not this is only a temporary reprise or a true grassroots shift to the right is clearly difficult to say. I also reluctantly admit that airport goers are not a fair sample of all American voters. The only clear fact is that, at the moment, Americans seem to be shifting from “Hope” to “Nope” – which may just mean that there is hope after all.