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Published: November 30, 2003

Back in the days when people happily hunkered down to listen to two- and three-hour perorations from their local Congressman, American politics was all about words. (Were speakers better back then, or was it just that nobody had anything better to do?) We began shifting to the era of images after photography was invented and people began noticing that Franklin Pierce was a good-looking son of a gun and that William Howard Taft was kind of fat. More than half a century ago, Dwight Eisenhower hired the actor Robert Montgomery to make sure he looked good on the new medium of television, and these days a presidential campaign isn't much more than one long, fast-moving photo op. But for all of politicians' obsession with the way things look, modern campaigns have been amazingly short of memorable images. Next year, in commercials all over the country, candidates will be paying their media experts to make their opponents' faces morph into Saddam Hussein -- or if it's Chicago, the guy who grabbed the ball at that Cubs game.


Most of the visuals we remember from modern politics are the negative ones, like Willie Horton. We remember the New Frontier, the Great Society and, of course, ''Read my lips. . . . '' But we rarely remember the posters or buttons that were displayed across the land during those campaigns.

Perhaps the reason that modern campaigns are starved for memorable images is because the creation of them is often governed by the values of the advertising industry, where the whole point is to convince people that the product in question is either sexy or tasty -- not precisely the places a presidential campaign needs to go. In an effort to raise the bar, the magazine asked top graphic designers to draw the name of a Democratic presidential candidate from a hat and take a stab at creating a memorable poster and button. As always, you, the voter, are the ultimate judge. Slide Show

Gail Collins is editor of The Times's editorial page.

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