Ever since he began his uphill battle for the Presidency two years ago, Barack Obama has been getting mobbed for photos and autographs, and that enthusiasm and passion has only grown since he entered the Oval Office. But even President Obama must be a little taken aback by the identity of some of his well-wishers on Capitol Hill of late. After his address to Congress last Tuesday, the same House Republicans who had decried his stimulus plan as the work of just another tax-and-spend liberal crowded around him like starstruck tween girls at a Jonas Brothers concert, all just to get his John Hancock on their copy of the speech.
Members of Congress have always gotten autographed photos of themselves with the President from bill signings and other events keepsakes that are then prominently displayed in their offices. It is unusual, though, for representatives and senators to cross the aisle. None of the Democrats I spoke with had anything signed from President Bush except for Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who has five large framed photos of Bush in his office, which probably speaks more to his strained relationship with his own party than any Bush popularity. So why the crossover with Obama “It reflects the fact that although their leadership is stuck in a negative mode, the Party of No, their membership is more open minded,” says Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who had her copy signed so she could frame it and hang it in her offices. “It shows that his attempts to reach across the aisle are having some effect.”
That may be wishful thinking, though. It’s possible that Republicans, no matter how much they may disagree with his politics, recognize the groundbreaking nature of Obama’s Presidency, and would like to have a little piece of history. It’s probably more likely, though, that members of Congress simply know Obama is still riding an incredible wave of popularity, something no politician has ever been above attaching himself to.
All the GOP autograph-seeking does beg the question, what exactly does a Republican member actually do with a signed copy of a popular Democratic President’s address to Congress Some Republicans say they got them for their kids, some for charity and others just wanted a collectors’ item. “It’s an honor just to be there, it is the President of the United States after all, no matter the party,” says Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican who plans to give his speech to two students from a school in his district who’d visited him earlier in the week. But Murphy makes clear that getting an autograph simply helps get you a little more face time with the President.
“It’s an important opportunity to get 10-20-30 seconds with the President. For me, I talked to him about health care, told him I wanted to work with him. Getting something signed gives you, perhaps, 10 more seconds.”
Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, rushed out after the speech to meet his two daughters, 14-year-old Caroline and Jessica, 17. When he won his seat in 2002 he started a project collecting autographs with the girls, in part to make up for being gone so often. Both girls have dozens of signatures from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Two weeks ago they got former President Bill Clinton’s signature at an event honoring Rep. John Dingell. And last Tuesday night, Murphy waited at the exit with his girls, clutching Obama photographs. Signing the paraphernalia Obama joked, as he often does, “I better not see it on eBay!” “The girls thought it was funny,” says Murphy.
Since early in the primaries, Obama has insisted on autographing items only addressed to specific people. In fact, he got into an ugly scene in Philadelphia just before the Pennsylvania primary in April with an autograph hunter upset that Obama wouldn’t just sign his John Hancock and nothing else. But Obama has good reason to be leery – he could restart the economy with a glut of signed paraphernalia. Items signed by him are selling for upwards of $1,900 on eBay and there are dozens of listings. So far none of the bound copies of his speeches have made it to eBay – though at least one member said he plans to donate his signed copy of the speech to a group that will likely sell it. “I did it a couple of years ago for the Marshall Chamber of Commerce and they auctioned off the copy signed by President Bush,” said Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas. “I’ll offer it to other chambers now. Once you write this, though, I’m a little worried I’m going to get inundated for requests!”
Not that getting Obama’s autograph is going to make Rep. John Culberson, a Texas Republican, any more willing to vote for Obama’s agenda. “No, it wouldn’t have an effect,” says Culberson, who got to the chamber at 8:30 in the morning to save an aisle seat in order to be the first in line to get his speech signed, a memento for his 12-year-old daughter. “This is a piece of history like the ones I have from President Bush and Vice President Cheney. And it doesn’t hurt to have your constituents see you with the President.”
Watch a video on Obama paraphenalia.
See pictures of Obama’s college years.