Politics: Mr. Obama Goes to Philly

Last spring, Barack Obama holed up in a Center City hotel room and crafted the most important speech of his life. How that address came to be — and how people reacted to it — says as much about us as it does about him

I ask Lim whether simpler might be better than ornate, and he cites Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

In another century or so, Lim believes, American presidents will try to squeeze political ideals — notions of vast importance, complex matters of life and death — into the “language of comic books.”

Actually, I tell him, there’s evidence it may not take that long.

Consider, for instance, the following comic books, due to arrive in bookstores this month: On one cover, square-jawed John McCain stands facing the right, outlined with a faint hint of red, before a super-sized American flag. And Obama, on another cover, stands facing the left, outlined in blue, also before a massive flag. McCain wears pinstripes and a smile; Obama, a solid two-piece with an equally determined chin. Both stand with fists on hips, suit buttons straining in the Clark Kent style.

“I sort of threw it out there as a joke one day during an editorial staff meeting, and everybody laughed. Then I thought, hey, maybe that’s not such a bad idea,” says Scott Dunbier, special projects editor of IDW Publishing, one of the country’s largest comic-book makers, after Marvel and DC. The joke became a run of comics about the two candidates, their backgrounds and their positions.

“If we’ve done our job right, then we’re helping to inform people,” Dunbier says. The comics are 32 pages each, he says, and “We put a Rock the Vote ad on the back.”

Dunbier seems devoted to doing a fair, accurate job. But can he imagine, say, Teddy Roosevelt, as he sought to persuade the American public of the need to dig the Panama Canal — a task so grand and complicated that it lasted into Woodrow Wilson’s presidency — holding aloft a comic book?

“Well, no, but 20 years ago, if you had asked me to imagine the Internet, I couldn’t have done that,” Dunbier says.

I ask Lim, the presidential scholar, to respond. After a moment of silence, he says, “There are ideas that won’t fit into the little boxes of comic books.”

Before the Republican and Democratic national conventions, I got a press release from a website called Campaign.com. The release was titled “Voting Is a Superpower,” and it noted the efforts of two people named Campaign Boy and Campaign Girl to get out the vote while wearing superhero costumes with top hats and capes.

“People don’t want a lot of policy and statistics,” Campaign Boy, also known as Michael Jonas, told me during the Republican convention. “People get bored. This simplifies the political process.”

Boy and Girl seem to be serious people. Boy, 23, is a student at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, and spoke with familiarity of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. And Girl, a 28-year-old Pennsylvania native named Elizabeth Ireland, writes for San Diego’s NBC news affiliate. So why the superhero ruse?