Election nay: Anti-Bush vendor shirts the issue
"Damn straight, buddy!" says a voice from across the Downtown Mall. Mac Schrader's ears perk up, and he smiles, greeting the approaching pedestrian as both a political comrade and a potential sale.
"Oh. Wait." The incoming smile turns to a grimace as it becomes apparent that the scarlet letter on the t-shirt is a "J," not an "L."
The guy doesn't buy a shirt, but Schrader considers the encounter a victory because he's not just trying to make a few bucks, he's hoping to stimulate discussion.
"Reeject Bush" is a simple phrase, but that single letter substitution has made it clever enough to revive doubts about the current president's legitimacy four years after the disputed election. Schrader loves the ambiguity: "It's more memorable because you have to think about it," he says.
For the past year, Schrader, 37, has been camped near the center of the Downtown Mall with a cart full of merchandise. Naturally, not everybody approves.
"The people who disagree with me, they're more likely to just walk by and make a snide remark," he says. "One woman said, 'You should just write 'I'm a terrorist' on there.' I've even been called a communist."
Not all critics are so eloquent. "If I'm out here on a Saturday, and it's 11pm, there's a good chance that I'm going to get somebody who's had a few drinks," he laments.
Schrader says he falls into the "Dissent Is Patriotic" camp and considers these attacks unfair. "I guess the biggest thing has been the group of people who don't understand that I can be against the administration and be supporting the troops at the same time," he explains.
Recent weeks have seen the arrival of a second like-minded vendor. At the next table, Charles Jabbour now hawks shirts emblazoned with a somewhat less refined anti-Bush slogan: "No more Bushit." The two exchange perfunctory cordial greetings in a commercial rivalry made somewhat unusual by the mutual understanding that, at the end of the day, it's as much about the ballot box as the pocketbook. "I'm all for getting the word out," Schrader says.
Jabbour thinks the two fill different niches. "The people buying shirts from me are not the people buying shirts from him," he says.
And there are more– "I've also seen one that says 'Redefeat Bush,'" says one browser – but for the time being, there's no sign of that one downtown.
A conservative response is likewise missing. "Somebody could come out here and sell shirts that say 'Support Bush, Support the Troops,'" Schrader suggests, "but they haven't. I just don't think it's the truth."
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO