Thursday, January 08, 2009

Twinkies For Obama & Outlandish Chapters in Minnesota Election History

The Minnesota recounts for the contested Al Franken (D)/Norm Coleman (R) Senate seat have been an excellent form of halfway-house rehab for election junkies coming off their Obama jones, and we got really involved watching it all happen on The UpTake, a site that's been streaming video from behind the scenes at the Minnesota Canvassing Board. We weren't the only ones; there's a very active chat board, and The UpTake has been getting more than 20,000 viewers a day. We got so involved, in fact, that we discovered both an interesting chapter in Minnesota election history, and a current food-as-metaphor campaign that's focused on Barack Obama. Both involve Twinkies, that legendary Hostess snack food, which are produced in a factory in Barack's hometown.

The Minnesota Twinkie Extravaganza: According to Washington Post, in 1985, when Minneapolis city council candidate George Belair served Twinkies and Kool-Aid to two senior citizens' groups, he was indicted for bribery in what local newspapers dubbed "Twinkiegate." Although the charges were eventually dropped, the case led to a Minnesota fair campaign act, popularly known as the "Twinkie law." Interestingly, Kool-Aid was frequently used by anti-Obamaists during the current election, too.

The Obama Twinkie Extravaganza: A group that calls itself Freedom Outlaws has been running a Twinkies For Obama campaign, which urges people to send Twinkies to Barack's senate office. It's the brainchild of one Bill St. Clair, a limited government theorist, who is very active in The Mental Militia, a huge online community for like-minded thinkers that describes itself as a site to "confer in cyberspace and stimulate intellectual/psychological growth between ourselves as we discuss, argue, debate and celebrate the spectrum of Liberty-related premises and theories."

1,190 Twinkies have been sent to Barack's senate office in the Hart Building in DC, according to the Twinkies For Obama site. From what we can gather, the flood of Twinkies is a symbolic protest against taking Barack seriously as President; in a chat thread on The New Hampshire Underground, St. Clair writes "It's pure silliness. Plain fun. Not serious....Of course, the subtext is that I don't consider Obama to be worthy of serious attention. Not that McCain would have been either."

If more than a thousand Twinkies have actually shown up at the Hart Building in the last two months, it's somewhat amazing that this hasn't been covered in the mainstream media (the Security office at the Hart building could provide no confirmation, and a youngster answering phones at The Transition office was profoundly unhelpful). But The UpTake and Twinkies For Obama share common ground: The UpTake's slogan is Will journalism be done by you or to you?; both organizations aim to engage netizens as activist participants in the political process, and to foster freedom of thought and protest, whether it's by monitoring traditional media coverage of elections, or by sending Twinkies to Obama.

*UpTake executive director Jason Barnett talks about the project in a Minneapolis Post interview. Norm Coleman's going to court to continue the recount battle, according to the latest story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

*Barack Kool-Aid image from Sodahead.