The Bush-Cheney presidential campaign disabled features of a tool on its website Thursday that pranksters were using to mock the Republican presidential ticket.
The tool originally let users generate a full-size campaign poster in PDF format, customized with a short slogan of their choice. But Bush critics began using the site to place their own snarky political messages above a Bush-Cheney ’04 logo and a disclaimer stating that the poster was paid for by Bush-Cheney ’04, Inc.
The campaign changed the tool Thursday so that users could no longer enter their own messages, but only select from a pull-down list of states and coalition groups. The campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The poster tool has been up and running since December, but Ana Marie Cox, editor of the Washington political gossip blog Wonkette, turned it into a weapon of mass satire this week when she devoted several posts to the inner workings of the device she dubbed the “Sloganator.”
At Cox’s request, close to 200 Wonkette readers sent in slogans which they had slipped through the system. Among them: “Run for your lives,” “They sure smell like old people,” and the Orwellian, “A boot stomping on a human face forever.”
Cox also published lists of words the tool was allowing and, perhaps more tellingly, those it was not. Not surprisingly, it rejected the usual four-letter words and sexual lingo, but it also banned more innocuous terms like “stupid,” “evil,” “terrorists” and “Iraq.”
Chuck DeFeo, the electronic campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney campaign, declined to say how the campaign was filtering user input. “We are taking significant precautions to prevent the use of offensive materials on the GeorgeWBush.com website,” he said.
But despite the campaign’s efforts, several Wonkette readers reported that the generator was occasionally routing slogans to the wrong users. One reported entering a sexually outrageous slogan and getting back a poster reading “Sportsmen for Bush-Cheney 2004,” raising the possibility that somewhere in America a bewildered GOP duck hunter was wondering what on earth was going on with his party.
DeFeo said he was not aware that any slogans were being misrouted, but said that the more obscene slogans were indicative of a certain tone in the discourse of some Bush-Cheney opponents.
“Their action says a lot about people who are 100 percent committed to using profane and vulgar language in place of substantive dialog on the important issues facing America today,” he said.
Cox scoffed. “No one’s going to have a substantive dialog of any kind on a poster,” she said. Besides, she argued, many of the humorous slogans were more thoughtful than anything the tool was designed to create.
She cited her own slogan, which she admitted was one of her favorites: “But not if you’re gay!”
“‘But not if you’re gay!’ has more intellectual weight behind it and says more about the Bush campaign than ‘Ohioans for Bush’ or ‘Hunters for Bush,'” she said.
Cox, who counts herself neither a Bush nor a Kerry supporter, admitted that it would be a trivial matter to mock up the same posters in Photoshop. The attraction, she said, was somewhat childish.
“If someone made up a bunch of posters and did them on Photoshop no one would care. It’s the juvenile glee of having the campaign be the ones to do it,” she said. “But just because it’s juvenile doesn’t mean it’s wrong and doesn’t mean that it’s not an expression of some kind of legitimate political grievance and opinion.”
She read from a recent submission: “‘Five hundred dead soldiers support Bush-Cheney ’04.’ See? Substantive political debate. That is an incredibly powerful political message. It may not be a discussion, but posters rarely are.”