Now that it appears that President George W. Bush won fair and square (or rather, fair and square enough), it’s time to dumb it down a little and get with the program. Stop wallowing in the self pity and start thinking of ways to turn this situation to your advantage.

We’ve got one word for you: ribbon magnets. Okay that’s two words, but we’re one nation, under God, and don’t you forget it!

According to a recent New York Times Magazine article, “The ribbon-magnet phenomenon apparently began in April 2003 in rural North Carolina, where a Christian-book-store owner named Dwain Gullion began distributing a batch of 1,000 magnets created by a local designer and a local screen printer.”

Wow, nice story, but with all due respect, bigger is better. Ribbon magnets were too important to remain in the hands of a little guy.

We’re all united in support of our armed forces, but someone other than Gullion applied for the patent on the idea. Richard Real, a Florida entrepreneur, apparently figured out that, in a country obsessed with wearing its patriotism on its sleeve, it makes sense to be the guy designing, manufacturing, and selling that sleeve. Profit is, after all, the American way.

This Year’s Bumper Crop: Ribbon Magnets

While driving to the country one fine autumn morning, I was suddenly exposed to the fashion phenomenon that has swept the nation – ribbon magnets. With enough of these things, I thought, Bush is destined for glory.

Living in Buffalo, a place where folks struggle to put food on the table and have to be stingy when it comes to accessorizing, I hadn’t really noticed the trend of normal Americans affixing these ribbon magnets to their cars to show their patriotism. In years past, it had always seemed as if it was enough for patriotic folks to hang American flags from the front porch, but apparently that no longer cuts it.

If you’re a true blue American, you drive, period. You consume, no questions asked. And this is just my gut feeling, but it seems to me that people who drive sport utility vehicles, especially ones that burn lots of fossil fuel, are more patriotic than the rest of us, at least in the countryside south of Buffalo because I was absolutely blown away by the number of vehicles that had these things on their rear ends. The most common ribbon magnet I saw that day was the yellow one with the inscription, “Support Our Troops.”

When Did “Our Troops” Become a Charity Case?

I noticed that all of these folks were supporting our troops, and I apparently wasn’t. How was that possible? Don’t my taxes also go to support the military? Like the flag from the front porch, that’s no longer good enough, apparently.

Part of the new patriotism is this church fundraiser mentality (exemplified by Guillon’s best intentions) whereby we have to raise money for the most powerful military force in the history of the planet as if they were Jerry’s Kids. I’m not trying to make fun of Jerry’s Kids by saying that, but aren’t Jerry’s Kids a more worthy charity than a war machine? I’m just afraid that many of these folks who hold house parties to scrounge up quarters for Kevlar may not have anything left over to give to charities such as Jerry’s Kids.

Then it dawned on me. The ribbons weren’t necessarily a symbol of the drivers’ extra financial support for the troops. How much of the money spent on these magnets goes to the troops, I wondered. Well, why would any of it have to go to them? The U. S. military is, after all, not a charitable organization. Then I realized that there was probably some guy out there who masterminded the whole movement, kind of like the guy who came up with beer-dispensing football helmets. An absurd invention, true, but it’s one that many people can no longer live without. I decided that there must be some genius exploiting all of this patriotic fervor for fun and profit, and I was going to find out this man is.

“Support (Wink-Wink) Our Troops”

His name is Robert Real and his Florida-based company, Americas & Americas Inc., carries not only a complete line of the seemingly ubiquitous ribbon magnets but also lots of other patriotic novelty products as well. His company does make these products available to not-for-profits for resale, but anyone who can afford to buy these products in quantity can do as they please with them. Talk about a great potential hustle! There’s nothing that would stop an enterprising person from selling these things at a mark up and keeping all of the profits, because after all, if the hustler pays his federal taxes, he would not be lying if he promised the buyer that some portion of the profits would go to the military!

But if you’re of this same entrepreneurial frame of mind, don’t get any big ideas because Mr. Real is no fool. He has applied for a patent on ribbon magnets and, if the letters of appreciation from Rudolph Guiliani that are posted on his company’s website mean anything, Mr. Real has some serious support of his own and is prepared to defend his patented products. The company’s website has all sorts of tidbits that can satisfy a curious person.

For example, did Mr. Real come up with this product out of the blue? The answer to that is no. The company apparently started out with other, less exciting patriotic products, such as flags, prior to coming up with the ribbon magnet. Not surprisingly, September 11 was like manna from heaven, and the company did its best to meet the demands of a grieving nation; hence the thank-you letter from Rudy Guiliani.

Lest We Never Forget…

The saddest thing about our need to memorialize things with trinkets is that the very things that are meant to help us remember eventually help us forget. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult for some people to figure out who is buried in Grant’s tomb.

In that vein, Buffalo was once awash with memorials to the Grand Army of the Republic. Who were they? The town of Kenmore has an inordinate number of streets with French names. Why? Lest we forget, indeed. Today’s tragedy becomes tomorrow’s trivia. Perversely saying we’ll never forget helps us forget.

If you still feel the need to remember the events of September 11, you might be interested to know that Americas & Americas is now having a clearance sale on some of its unforgettable novelty items, including an American flag with the World Trade Center towers silk screened over it, a 9/11 paper weight, and a charming little set of figurines depicting Yesterday’s heroes, the firefighters and police. They were heroes on that day but, today, they seem to be just another example of bloated government that we can no longer afford. Buy now, lest you forget.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, Parade magazine kept a vigil for tacky novelty products that the magazines’ editors felt were exploitative of the legacy of the late Princess Diana of England.

No such watch was carried out for 9/11, however.

But to stick with the ribbon magnets, let’s analyze the company’s latest assortment:

God Bless the USA Magnets – Both Presidential candidates in this year’s race intoned “God Bless America” in their final speeches. I believe there is a country song, called “God Bless the USA.” If I’m in the mood for a patriotic anthem other than the Star Spangled Banner, I find “This land is your land, this land is my land,” to be an attractive alternative. I apparently don’t have much company with this because there isn’t a ribbon magnet with that theme. This sort of communitarian patriotism appears to be distinctly out of favor with the ribbon magnet mavens, anyway.

Pray For Our Troops Magnets – Ah yes, the power of prayer! Somehow I don’t think this one would be appropriate affixed next to an old Darwin fish insignia.

Keep My Soldier Safe Magnets – This one is personal, almost atomistic. It kind of reminds me of the “army of one” commercials you see during sports broadcasts. It’s all about me, my soldier, my anxiety. Who is being asked to keep the owner’s soldier safe with this ribbon magnet, though? I’m going to go out on a limb, take a wild guess, and say God because some of us did do our best to keep your soldier safe by voting for John Kerry, but that didn’t work.

Freedom Isn't Free Magnets – I think they may have gotten this one out of George Orwell’s 1984. It also brings to mind Rene Descartes’ assertion that freedom cannot exist without responsibility, but that comment needs to be taken with a grain of salt because we hate the French, right?

Camouflage Proudly Served Magnets – New! This tells your fellow motorist that you proudly served your country. The problem that I have with this is that that the camouflage makes the ribbon look like a snake and, although few restaurants in the United States proudly serve snake, it is a delicacy elsewhere. For example, I once bought a snake dish from a street vendor in Seoul, South Korea. I can’t say the vendor seemed particularly proud of serving the snake but he had no reason to be ashamed, either. It was quite tasty, as I recall.

Camouflage Support Our Troops Magnets – New! The camouflage “Support” ribbon almost says that the driver secretly wants to be in the military. Stop hiding behind the um, camouflage and join up, already. Then, if you survive, you can upgrade to the ribbon that we just discussed.

Keep My Airman Safe Magnets – I’m probably the only person who saw this ribbon and thought of the William Butler Yeats poem about an Irish airman (“An Irish airman foresees his death”). Okay, I had to look it up on the internet to get the correct title. Now that I did, I don’t know if I can see this ribbon in traffic and not help but foresee the death of my fellow motorist’s airman. Again, we’re being asked to keep this serviceman safe. Again, Kerry lost. If it’s any consolation, I promise to vote against the Republican candidate in 2008, okay? As Mr. Yeats said, “Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love…”

POW-MIA Magnets - Shades of Vietnam with this one. It’s my personal impression that the whole POW-MIA thing kind of got appropriated by Harley enthusiasts. Face it, POW-MIA insignias look awesome on a Harley. It has major curb appeal in the “owner is a badass” department. I don’t think this magnet works on a Harley, however. Too big. Not a part of the artwork. Still, it’s ahead of the curve. The people being taken hostage in Iraq have thus far been primarily poor, desperate people who are in the country to support their families. Hardly the glamour of the Hanoi Hilton in the minds of war enthusiasts, but this could change as things escalate.

Support Our Marines Magnets New! - Now I know a few ex-Marines and maybe it’s just them but they’re not the type who need or even like support from some fat slob in an SUV or from any branch of the service, save their fellow Marines. Leave them alone! They’re Marines, damn it! Semper Fi! Hoo-ah!

Protect My Sailor Magnets New! - On the surface, this one makes no sense, whatsoever. Protect your sailor? What are we supposed to protect your sailor from? KP duty? Seasickness? Seriously, all the Iraqi problem areas (they’re not quagmires, if you believe your fellow voters) are inland and don’t involve the Navy directly. But here’s an interesting twist: Iran is building a nuclear weapons program. If Israel were to launch a pre-emptive strike, and Iran were to decide to retaliate by sending a few shiny, brand new missiles into an American navy vessel in the Straits of Hormuz, your sailor would need more than a little protection to survive. This is not as unlikely a scenario as you might think. We’re spread too thin, can’t invade Iran, and extremely vulnerable. Thank you, Paul Wolfowitz and Ariel Sharon, in advance.

Pink Ribbon Magnets – Breast Cancer Awareness – Okay, so pink is a color that we associate with femininity, but so is yellow, and we figured out a way to make that color apply to the military. This reminds me that the whole yellow ribbon thing got started in the first gulf war and was inspired by the Tony Orlando and Dawn classic, “Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree.” We know that Mr. Real has applied for a patent on ribbon magnets, but shouldn’t part of the proceeds of the yellow ribbon campaign go to Tony Orlando? And what about Dawn? It’s been a long time since they had a hit and, while people might have tied ribbons around trees before, I’d definitely credit them with making it a national craze. They should get with the program and cash in.

Cancer Awareness Ribbon Magnets – Were you aware that there was a horrible disease which eats away at its victims and is often fatal? Well, you will be if this ribbon starts to take off the way that the others have. What is the cancer of which motorists need to be made more cognizant? Well, in my opinion, it’s called the war machine of George W. Bush, but it’s also known by other names, such as the American political-criminal nexus, the military-industrial complex and the Project For the New American Century. It’s a cancer all right, but I’m not aware of any chemo that can kill it now.

The Most Important Frequently Asked Question:

The number one question that the company wants to respond to in its FAQ? Well, if you were wondering if you can mix and match ribbons, you’ll be happy to know that the answer is yes, or to be more supportive of our military, we should say, “That’s an affirmative!” So, while I’d say that the maximum number of ribbons I’ve seen on a vehicle thus far is three, the company gives its blessing to those who want to show their support in spades.

How will the left respond to all this, we wonder? It might be time to bring back “Visualize Whirrled Peas,” or, perhaps, my personal favorite, “Keep it Cool With Telly Savalas.” How about the ultimate smarty pants slogan, “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm?” Eventually, people may regain a sense of humor, but, in the meantime, it’s sobering and (perhaps a bit hopeful) to note that the Americas & Americas company does carry a line of American flags with a peace symbol. They’re just not very big sellers, at the moment. by John McMahon

Remember that old expression, “If life brings lemons, make lemonade?” That’s a saying that supporters of John Kerry may consider taking to heart as they try to get over the post-election blues.