There’s an interesting little opinion piece in the New York Times today entitled ‘People of the Button‘, with an accompanying slideshow. It’s an analysis of the ways in which American presidential candidates have used (or failed to use) Hebrew script on campaign buttons in an effort to appeal to Jewish voters, who are likely to be decisive in swing states like Florida. Of note:
Wendell Willkie in 1940 was the first candidate to make this sort of appeal, but in this case it was through the use of pseudo-Hebrew Latin letters that spelled his name (much like the pseudo-Chinese fonts used on many North American Chinese restaurant signs). Apparently, also, it wasn’t very successful for Willkie!
The Gore 2000 buttons contrast ‘Gore’ with ‘Gore-nisht’ (Bush), a pun on Yiddish gornisht ‘nothing’. I find it interesting, as a numbers guy, that the Gore button uses the Hebrew calendar year 5761 instead of 2000, but notates it in Western numerals, not the Hebrew alphabetic numerals commonly used in Hebrew calendrics, despite the use of Hebrew script for the candidates’ names.
Barack Obama is the first candidate to print buttons solely in Hebrew script, in contrast with John McCain whose ‘Jewish-Americans for McCain’ is strictly in Latin script. Obama has also appealed to Jewish voters in the past by pointing out that his first name (of Arabic/Swahili origin) is cognate with Hebrew baruch ‘blessed’.