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Friday, June 20, 2008

Legal, but offensively cocky: Obama rips off official presidential seal for his podium, and adds the motto "Vero Possumus"

Yeah, sure, I'd defend to the death Obama's technical legal right under the First Amendment to mangle national icons, burn flags, yada yada yada. It's a free country, and that freedom includes the right to engage in political expression that is crass, tasteless, and irredeemably cocky.

And one of the perquisites of being an incumbent president who's running for re-election is that, well, you actually are the POTUS, so you're entitled to speak to audiences from behind a podium that bears the official presidential seal. No one meets that description this year, however.

Nevertheless, the junior senator from Illinois, who's yet to complete his first term in the United States Senate, apparently feels entitled to rip off the most familiar elements of the official Seal of the President of the United States for his campaign use — and then to combine it with some of his own campaign artwork:

The Great Seal of Obamaland (photo: NYT)   The Seal of the President of the United States

According to the NYT Politics Blog (bold-face mine):

At a discussion with a dozen Democratic governors in Chicago on Friday morning, each of the governors was identified with a small name plate but Senator Barack Obama sat behind a low rostrum to which was attached an official-looking seal no one had seen before....

Just above the eagle’s head are the words “Vero Possumus,” roughly translated “Yes we can.” ...

Us God-loving, bitter, clinging gun-owners in the fly-over country have an expression for the kind of arrogance required to appropriate the seal of a public office to which one hasn't quite yet been elected: "He's dang sure gotten too big fer his britches," we'd say.

In response to which, someone might ask: "Can you folks usually find a way to deal with young fellas who're too big fer their britches?"

To which the answer — which I'm sure is spoken confidently and frequently on at least the West Texas prairies of my own birth, and perhaps elsewhere — is surely: "Vero Possumus!" Which, out here in fly-over land, roughly translates to: "You bet yer road-kill possum butt we can!" (I'll spare you the photographs of the possums, with or without the surrounding seal.)


UPDATE (Sat Jun 21 @ noonish): Ann Althouse wins this year's award for "pithiest post" on this subject, in which she expresses her own views entirely through subject tags. (And in her comments, she generally agrees with my legal evaluation in the title of this post and in my own comment below.)

Other reporting, this time from the N.Y. Daily News (h/t Power Line):

Asked to explain the new seal, Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "It's a mix of presidential politics and a call for hope and change."

Snarked John McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, "I think we can all agree that we need presidential candidates that are serious enough not to play make-believe on the campaign trail."

"It's laughable, ridiculous, preposterous and revealing all at the same time," Bounds said.



UPDATE (Sat Jun 21 @ 11:30pm): I finally remembered what the Great Seal of Obama reminds me of. It's those Royal Delft plates from Holland. Perhaps Michelle can have them make up the new White House china.

The Great Seal of Obamaland (photo: NYT)   Delft


UPDATE (Mon Jun 23 @ 6:20pm): The Obama campaign has reportedly consigned the Great Seal of Obama to the same memory hole as Michael Dukakis' tank hat. Good luck to them with that. (H/t: InstaPundit, and thanks for the link, Prof. R.)

Posted by Beldar at 04:42 PM in 2008 Election, Obama, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Legal, but offensively cocky: Obama rips off official presidential seal for his podium, and adds the motto "Vero Possumus" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 5:27:57 PM | Permalink

This is so funny it's sad ... or maybe it's so sad it's funny. Either way, well done!

(2) cboldt made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 5:31:17 PM | Permalink

It might be worth having this empty suit in the WH just for the entertainment value!

Vero Possumus!

(3) JMW made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 6:25:55 PM | Permalink

Can you explain to me why this is any more offensive than politicians using the American flag in their political ads / campaign propaganda / etc.?

No wait, ... let me guess ... non possumus?

(4) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 6:53:28 PM | Permalink

Dear JMW: I sure can. All you have to do is show me a campaign ad/propaganda piece that has the American flag with www.HackPolitician.com at the bottom, and the motto, "In God I Trust, But YOU Gotta Pay Cash So I Can Enforce Campaign Finance Reform By Not Grafting Off da Taxpayers" blotting out the stars because we all know the federal govt is the only thing that counts.

Mr. Dyer, I think this proves you wrong on one point: Obama IS a uniter. How else to explain that cboldt and I agree on Obama's entertainment value? Bring on the popcorn. He is managing the difficult feat of investing John Kerry with gravitas.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(5) Dr. Weevil made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 7:05:55 PM | Permalink

Could be worse: at least he got the Latin right. It does indeed mean 'Yes, we can' (or 'Truly we can' or 'However, we can' or 'Moreover, we can' -- the first word has a range of meanings).

And speaking of Could be worse: he could have made his slogan 'Ex Uno Plura' (= 'out of one, many').

(6) hunter made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 9:55:03 PM | Permalink

I had possumus gumbo once.
When I first saw that picture, I honestly thought it was a photoshopped piece from The Onion.
I guess he should use all the toys like this he can- he will never get to stand behind a real Presidential seal.

(7) axt113 made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 10:46:28 PM | Permalink

Sorry hunter, but he's crushing McCain in the polls, both in state by state and national, fivethirtyeight gives him almost an 80% chance of winning

(8) axt113 made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 10:48:32 PM | Permalink


Obama is drinking McCain's milkshake

(9) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 11:02:40 PM | Permalink


I've heard lots of ways to say someone is winning but I've never heard "drinking his milkshake." It's pretty good. What part of the country/world does it come from?

(10) cboldt made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 11:08:56 PM | Permalink

-- I've never heard "drinking his milkshake." --

Piling on the question, is the phrase related to "catching his pearl necklace?"

(11) hunter made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 11:15:45 PM | Permalink

Obama is not even as far ahead as former President Dukakis was at this time in his election cycle.
You guys are so funny.
You have a guy with an ego so shallow he has to get a pretend Presidential seal, so he can go around play-President.
He cannot survive unscripted moments.
He throws grandma, preacher, financier, friends, campaign adivisors under the bus tot he point where the bus is stalled out.
He does not even understand basic supply and demand.
And his money machine is running outta steam.
But he is marginally ahead in some democrat-run push polls, and that is enough for you to declare him a winner in the November election- in June.
This election has not even begun to unfold.
But be happy. Be complacent. Let me roll you another one.

(12) hunter made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 11:38:45 PM | Permalink

Here is a nice picture of how people will see Obama:

(13) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 12:18:07 AM | Permalink

Dear Hunter: I hope you are right. But the contracts trading at Intrade at the moment are:

Obama: 63.6
McC: 33.0

These aren't push polls. They could be wrong, and it is mid-June, not late October. All of what you say about Obama is true. But does that matter to enough voters? The young don't remember Jimmy Carter and his antics. That's a big chunk of voters. All the Bush haters, another chunk. The people who make good dough, say 102-250 grand (which, you will note, Obama has carefully exempted from his idea of lifting the lid on Social Security taxes), another chunk. That's a lot of suckers. Above all, there's the press. It doesn't have the stranglehold it once did, but it is behind Obama to the end. The one good thing about that is, if McC wins, he will have it knocked out of his head that the press and he are big buddies. I'm mildly surprised that the phony seal made it onto the New York TIMES's website.

So there's time yet. But if it ain't dark, why're you whistling so loudly?

Vote for the grumpy old man.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

PS--I have heard the phrase "drinking his milkshake" used in central California. Always "his" never "hers,"; if the speaker was a woman or was talking about a woman, a different phrase e.g. "ate his lunch" was used.

(14) PS made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 1:20:55 AM | Permalink

Actually, are you sure it's legal?

There is a special law protecting the Seals of the President, Veep, Senate, etc...

The Weekly Standard has the text. and points to: link

(15) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 1:41:17 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Gregory Koster. I've heard and used the phrase "ate his/her lunch" and it does seem like a similar idea.

(16) R. Fiontan Marsh made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 2:38:14 AM | Permalink

I found nothing wrong with the seal Mr. Obama chose. The only elements that are overtly similar are the eagle and what it holds in its talons, and if you ask me any symbol of america is appropriate for the man running for its highest office. As for the use of latin, if you find Mr. Obama using latin in his seal too akin to the presidential seal, then you must also find fault with every university and college in America. For it is nigh impossible to cross a campus of higher education without seeing a seal bearing latin text. I hear slanderous words when he doesn't wear a flag pin, but when he uses another symbol of america you berate him. I find this to be the argument of a person who has already made up his/her mind and is unwilling to change out of fear or ignorance. Also "drinking his milkshake" is a reference to the blockbuster film "There Will Be Blood" and if you are to old to recognize this pop culture reference, then you are probably to old to trust in change and hope. The grumpy old man will not raise taxes, but he will also send our country so deep into debt that my children's children will feel the ramifications.

Vero Possumus

(17) BJ made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 4:52:30 AM | Permalink

Hey he wrote his own memoirs at the age of 34. imo that speaks volumes about this guy and anyone who can't see that, is too young and too ignorant to get it.

He scares the s**t out of me and I'm a liberal.


(18) tmac made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 7:04:37 AM | Permalink

Dang! I thought vero possumus meant *virtual 'possum*.

(19) hunter made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 7:07:45 AM | Permalink

As R. Fiontan Marsh demonstrates, the Obamatons are not even going to see how childish and bizarre this is. Yet.

(20) Rob Harrison made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 9:34:43 AM | Permalink

Thanks, tmac--I was starting to think I was the only one who saw "Vero Possumus" and thought it referred to Sen. Obama's preferred approach to America's enemies: playing possum.

(21) JP made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 10:19:43 AM | Permalink

Is it paranoid for me to notice that Obama's seal tilts to the left?

PS The Milkshake line is from the ending scene of "There Will be Blood". Here's the clip.

(22) hunter made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 10:27:35 AM | Permalink

The great thing about the reference to the flop "There will be Blood" is that the Obamaton above thinks it is cool.
Here are some alternative lines, that I many people would have been more effective:
"If you were across the room, and you were having a baby, and I had really long arms, I WOULD DELIVER YOUR BABY!!

If you’re dog wasn’t neutered, and I had a long pair of scissors, I WOULD NEUTUR YOUR DOG!!

If you had bread and butter, and I had a very long knife, I WOULD SPREAD YOUR BUTTER!!

If I wanted your face, and I had a really long knife, I’d reach over and CUT OFF YOUR FACE!!

If you had an identity, and I had a long identity theft, I WOULD STEAL YOUR IDENTITY!!

If you had an itch, and I had really long fingers, I WOULD SCRATCH YOUR ITCH!!

If you had a cherry inflated with air, and I had a really long needle, I’D POP YOUR CHERRY!!

If you had a dog, and i had a really long leash, I'D WALK YOUR DOG.

If you had a sexy moose, and I had a long shlong, then I WOULD IMPREGNATE YOUR MOOSE!!"

(23) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 10:48:19 AM | Permalink

To commenter "PS" above: Thanks for the link to 18 U.S.C. § 713, which I was vaguely aware of, but hadn't consulted before posting.

With due respect to John McCormack at the Weekly Standard, though, I have to give a negative answer to his question of "Did Obama break the law?"

Just looking at the statute, it's arguable, I suppose, that use of the Great Seal of Obama constitutes "advertising" within the meaning of section 713. Certainly it was used at a "public meeting." But Obama would argue that his own seal is sufficiently dissimilar that the average person would not be actually confused into thinking that it was intended for "the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof." In particular, the rightful user — currently George W. Bush — is unlikely to be thought by many to be a fan of Sen. Obama's, so they're unlikely to be lulled into thinking that there's the required "sponsorship or approval."

Indeed, drawing on parallel concepts from copyright precedent, Obama could argue that his seal is actually a permitted, non-infringing parody of the real one.

More fundamentally, however, since it's clearly being used for what's primarily "political speech," the use would be treated as very close to a core First Amendment concern. (It might be different if he were selling a product using the seal, in other words.) This is pretty close to the flag-burning case, Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989). Thus, I'm very confident that any attempt to enforce section 713 against Obama's seal would be shot down as unconstitutional, with the SCOTUS majority opinion, in fact, probably to be written by Justice Scalia.

axt113: I have no argument with the observation that Obama is currently the front-runner and the favorite. I expect him to remain so at least until the only poll that actually counts.

Mr. (or Ms? I think it's Mr.) Marsh: Lots of Americans do indeed choose to show patriotism by wearing flag pins. Many, including many patriots, do not. Few choose to take a public stand against wearing them, and then contradict themselves, but that's certainly protected speech within the ambit of the First Amendment as well; it just shows a certain flavor of personal and political judgment.

I do thank you for the pop culture lesson regarding milkshakes. To use one from my own day: When I was a boy, I used to fasten a bath-towel around my neck and pretend to be Superman. I would very much have liked to be Superman. I will concede that Obama has a better chance of becoming POTUS than I ever had of becoming Superman. But his use of the Great Seal of Obama now is about as silly, an obvious case of "wannabe-ism." That's my opinion — again, protected from government interference and suppression by the First Amendment, but something you or other readers are entirely free to reject.

Anyway, you're obviously a Godless Communist, since you didn't capitalize the word "America" the first and third time you used it.

(Just kidding with the Godless Communist part. I do note that you use a first initial and middle name, which some people find presumptuous also, but for some reason Sen. Obama has chosen to eschew doing. Good for you both!)

(24) Mike Myers made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 11:46:43 AM | Permalink

Well those ignorant possum hunting rednecks in the Red States are going to read this seal to mean "Where um the possum?" That's confusing advertising because there's a shifty weasel standing behind the podium.

The man does have an ego; he can put up with almost anything from one of his friends or associates until/unless it touches him. At that point the offender is thrown under the bus with the statement "This is not the possum I knew."

Unfortunately there's a real possumbility that this politician will be our next President. It will be interesting to see him leap from gaffe to gaffe. I've resigned myself a bit to the thought of Barack as POTUS rationalizing that the country survived Millard Fillmore and Warren Harding, and we will probably survive four to eight years of the Weasel.

(25) hunter made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 11:50:24 AM | Permalink

That was possumbly the best take down of the Obama I have seen yet. A friend-tossing weasel.

(26) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 2:37:33 PM | Permalink

R Fiotan Marsh: "Also "drinking his milkshake" is a reference to the blockbuster film "There Will Be Blood" and if you are to old to recognize this pop culture reference, then you are probably to old to trust in change and hope."

You're right that I'm "to [sic] old to recognize this pop culture reference." Thank you for providing this information in such a revealing way.

(27) nk made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 3:30:44 PM | Permalink

I will be a very happy man if that remains Barack Next-Stop-Chitown-Ledo-Put-His-Money-Down Obama's official seal for the next lebenteen-fifty years.

(28) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 5:03:09 PM | Permalink

I recognize that song, NK. Boz Scaggs, right?

I hate to tell you this but that makes you too old "to trust in change and hope."

(29) nk made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 5:17:31 PM | Permalink

If Beldar will permit this abuse of his bandwidth, Boz Scaggs's "Ledo" for the benefit of our young'uns.

(30) nk made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 5:27:44 PM | Permalink

And it's the first time I've noticed that it's "Lido". Where do they pronounce the "i" that long? It's always sounded like leeh-doh to me.

(31) The Drill SGT made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 6:10:03 PM | Permalink

I lived for a while in Killeen. That's pretty much Central Texas. As I recall 25 years ago, Armadillo was more common as road kill than possum.

(32) Neo made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 7:05:13 PM | Permalink

Oddly, when I first saw this Obama-seal, the first thing I thought of was that the shade of blue that was used seemed to make it fit so well into the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial.

(33) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 8:10:44 PM | Permalink

My college son tells me "There Will Be Blood" is based on Upton Sinclair's story of the 1920's American oil industry, so I see how hip and modern that is. But then I realized I have heard "Drink the milkshake" before. They did a spoof of it on SNL, so I guess that really dates me.

(34) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 8:20:47 PM | Permalink


I don't know what Boz Scagg's Lido refers to, other than it's a guy's name. However, in Spanish, an "i" is pronounced like an "e" so Lido would be pronounced Leedo.

(35) hunter made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 12:17:23 AM | Permalink

When I called "There Will Be Blood" a loser movie, I meant it. It grossed ~$40 million US box office. link. That is a flop.
So for our Obamaton to call TWBB a blockbuster is a symptom of how he could confuse 'Obama' with 'a leader.'

(36) John personal trainer Austin TX made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 10:52:49 AM | Permalink

Barack's Seal is pure cheeseball, pretentious, and juvenile. Will SNL jump all over this? I doubt it. With that seal it would be fitting for BHO to wear a Burger King crown when he is at the podium. With this latest piece of work I believe he might be a malignant narcissist.

(37) hunter made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 3:30:32 PM | Permalink

john from Austin,
There is something deeply disturbed about what Obama is doing.

(38) fat tony made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 6:22:44 PM | Permalink

In the spirit of mindless pedantry:

I doubt Beldar's claim that Obama stood behind a podium almost as much as the NYT's that he spoke from behind a rostrum. Moreover, I am not willing to remain standing on my lectern speaking about this matter further.

(39) fat tony made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 6:23:54 PM | Permalink

In the spirit of mindless pedantry:

I doubt Beldar's claim that Obama stood behind a podium almost as much as the NYT's that he spoke from behind a rostrum. Moreover, I am not willing to remain standing on my lectern speaking about this matter further.

(40) Milhouse made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 7:28:53 PM | Permalink

Bravo, fat tony. When Hillary Clinton misused the word in her debate with Rick Lazio, if I wasn't already determined to vote against her that would have done it.

(41) Phelps made the following comment | Jun 22, 2008 11:55:37 PM | Permalink

Why don't they just go ahead and rename it the Fascist Party? Could they be any more obvious with the imagery?

(42) JMW made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 4:27:52 AM | Permalink

"I sure can."

Um, at which point you proceed to respond with something (amazingly) even more incoherent than the original post.

Non possumus indeed. But I digress.

Hey, so when are we gonna get around to talking about how McCain dumped his wife and kids for a younger woman? Or is that still not as important a character determinant as campaign marketing and the occasional cigarette?

I suppose blog authorship does allow for some mighty double standards around here ...

(43) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 4:35:00 AM | Permalink

JMW: To answer your original question: I described Obama's seal, and his use of such a device, as "offensively cocky." I don't think the presidential seal is particularly sacred; I'm not offended by his rip-off of the official presidential seal in the same way that I'd be offended by, say, dumping elephant dung on a statue of the Virgin Mary (or the Buddha, for that matter). But the flag is intended for use by any American, or any fan of America; and by contrast, the presidential seal is intended for use by the POTUS. What offends me, specifically, is the cockiness of Barack Obama in his assumption — which I confess I'm merely inferring, but which I think is a reasonable inference — that come next January, he'll be entitled to use the real thing. That's why I also characterized him as "too big for his britches."

That said:

The internet is a large place. No one forces anyone to visit this blog; nothing prevents any reader or commenter from starting his or her own.

However, I pay for the bandwidth here. I write the posts. I moderate the comments. Whether they are double or not, the standards maintained here are my own, and they are indeed subjective and idiosyncratic.

As I've written many times, and demonstrated with regularity since starting this blog in 2003, opposing views, expressed with civility, are welcome.

You certainly have opposing views. Civility, you can't seem to manage. If you'd like to regain commenting privileges here, you're welcome to email me to explain why I should expect less snark and more substance in the future. Otherwise, I respectfully recommend that you find other places on the internet to express your views.

I warned you in April. You've persisted. I now dub thee a troll, sir, and banish your various I.P. addresses. That's an imperfect solution; I recognize that determined trolls can find other I.P.s from which to post, but I encourage you to accept this decision with good (albeit silent) grace, and I hope that you will neither demonstrate your own ingenuity nor call on my own by making further attempts to post here without authorization. Consider yourself, rather, to have joined a small, elite club of banned commenters from this blog: You're one of less than a dozen such (other than spammers) who've been so honored since I started blogging. Begone!

(44) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 5:20:33 AM | Permalink

fat tony: The first two definitions that Answers.com — my first reference source simply because one of my Firefox add-ons lets me crank it up by alt-clicking on any word displayed in my browser — give me for "podium" are as follows:

  1. An elevated platform, as for an orchestra conductor or public speaker.
  2. A stand for holding the notes of a public speaker; a lectern.

Perhaps the word originally only meant the former, and as a trumpet player, I've certainly heard and used it that way too. If the meaning has drifted, then I suppose I'm guilty of failing to maintain its purity. I'm been accused of worse, and indeed, am guilty of worse as well. Answers.com suggests that the NYT was indeed in error with "rostrum," but "pulpit" appears to have been blurred in much the same way as "podium." Perhaps we can take comfort in the apparent continued purity of "dais," from the Latin instead of the Greek when came "podium."

But please! Don't let me discourage you from further comments on usage, for which I'm genuinely grateful, and often much in need.

(45) Mark Poling made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 2:28:53 PM | Permalink

The "D" leaning commentariat seems to think the seal flap will blow over, but just like "mission accomplished" the image is too easy to reference, and the picture just ain't going to go away, no matter how hard the campaign runs from it.

Possumus (my new name for the junior Senator from Illinois) just gave the Republicans another gift that will keep on giving.

(46) hunter made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 4:16:07 PM | Permalink

Like nearly everything else that confronts BHO, he quit.
Instead of standing by and explaining his toy seal, he tossed it under the bus.
Getting mighty crowded under hat bus of his.

(47) Hutch made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 7:21:27 PM | Permalink

Apparently no one else finds the alternate translation of Vero Possumus "But, we have influence!" quite as humorous as I do.

(48) fat tony made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 7:23:37 PM | Permalink


The prescriptivist's lot is not an easy one. We start with the knowledge that we will inevitably lose our petty squabbles. You'll note that I reserved my real scorn for the NYT.

In light of Obama's expunging his great seal, I offer up a new slogan:

Sibaraci, si ergo.
Fortibus es in ero!
Nobaraci, deus trux.
Vatis un derum?
Vatis no?

(49) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 9:55:10 PM | Permalink

As noted in Beldar's update, the Obama campaign has canned the seal. This is not an auspicious start for Obama's efforts to act "Presidential" but it does prove he's open to change.

(50) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 23, 2008 10:10:06 PM | Permalink

Now the Obama campaign is downplaying stories that they dumped the seal because it made him look arrogant and are claiming that it was "a one-time seal for a one-time use." Heh.

Obama's campaign has an uncanny knack for making bad stories hang around longer than necessary. It's interesting to see a smooth operator like Obama have a campaign with such a tin ear.

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