Obama ‘Graph Fever

Autograph January 2009
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In the Trenches: Politi-graphs

Featured in Autograph January 2009

John McCain signing his book in San Diego, Calif.

My two least favorite types of autographs to collect are politicians and astronauts. So, when about four years ago, Hillary Clinton held a book signing, I had no interest in going. She was a first lady, not a president. And people lined up at the book store at 4 a.m. for a signing that started at noon.

When Clinton was in her fight for the nomination with Barack Obama, the idea of getting an autograph from someone who could’ve become part of history as the first female to be president sounded better to me. I got the inside scoop that she was going to be at a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., just outside of San Diego.

When I got there, fans, newscasters and cameras were lined up. Sadly, it was one of the few times she didn’t stop to sign a bunch of autographs. In the ’50s, politicians kissed babies. Today they stop to sign numerous campaign signs for fans, which is great for people in this hobby.

Christmas in Plains signed by Jimmy Carter.

I had better luck with former President Jimmy Carter. He’s often at book signings. One newspaper reported that at one book store, Carter was averaging 1,000 signatures an hour.

The book store had a line around it of a few hundred. People could buy up to five books each, and he’d sign them as an employee set them on the table, opened to the proper page. It was like a big assembly line.

I brought my parents with me. My stepdad wanted to meet him. And, I knew they’d buy me the 10 books I wanted. I told my stepdad the Secret Service might frisk him and to make sure there’s no mace or anything in his fanny pack. (I hate to admit it—my stepdad has a fanny pack; the mace was a carryover from his days as letter carrier who had to deal with dogs.)

As we walked in, the Secret Service pulled my stepdad aside. They noticed a pocket knife dangling from his keychain. It was removed.

John McCain and the author meet.

As usual, Carter was signing, “J Carter.” I asked if he could sign one of my books with his full name. He didn’t look up, but signed one in his full name. My stepdad told Carter how much he appreciated everything he did. He went on for a minute, and Carter stopped signing, smiled and thanked him, as they shook hands.

As we left, my stepdad’s pocket knife was returned.

I thought these books would make a nice addition to my political autographs, which consisted only of a Nixon book (one that was offered to the news director of my radio station when Nixon was alive; he promptly gave it to me) and a likely autopenned 8×10 of New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. I wrote to Bradley as a kid because I was more impressed with him from his playing days with the New York Knicks.

When John McCain came to town for a booksigning, it was well before he announced a run for the presidency. But I suspected he’d run. And at that time, I thought he’d win.

Character is Destiny signed by Senator John McCain.

The line was long, but there were no Secret Service to deal with. He signed his book for me, and a book marker. People were going around the table to have their picture taken with him, so I did as well. I asked him how often he’s asked to sign autographs. He said, “Not as often as celebrities get asked. I can go through an airport without being noticed. There are people that ask, and I always try to sign.”

When John McCain lost the election, I assume it made the value of my book drop by about $100. But since I voted for Obama, I figured it was a fair trade off.

Book Collector: Let’s Hear it for the Boys and Their Autographs


Featured in Autograph January 2008

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. signed this promotional postcard for his 2007 BCPAC lecture at the University of Pittsburgh.

Named after his famous father, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has carried on his family’s mission of helping the world to become a better place. This Kennedy’s particular crusade is saving the environment from destruction at the hands of greedy corporations and everyday citizens. As the country’s most prominent environmental attorney, RFK Jr. has also used his pen to further his activism, writing two books about the environment, Crimes Against Nature and The Riverkeepers (co-authored with John Cronin). In addition, he wrote a children’s book, St. Francis of Assisi (after whom he’s also named) and his first book, 1977’s Judge Frank M. Johnson: A Biography.

RFK Jr. inscribed and signed a page in his book, Crimes Against Nature

Last April, I had the pleasure of attending RFK Jr.’s lecture and signing at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He spoke for nearly an hour and half, and never used a note! Naturally, for the signing afterwards, I went armed with his three most recent books, as well as the Playbill and promotional postcard for the event. Kennedy flew through the signing, appearing to be rushed and even distracted at times. My comment to him about me being named after St. John Evangelist, in relating to his own


namesake, St. Francis, was completely ignored. However, to his credit, he stayed until everything was signed.


Barack Obama

Obama's first book, Dreams of My Father, featuring what appears to be an autopen signature.

When Barack Obama burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic

National Convention, I, like millions of others, became enamored by his powerful aura. I immediately read his first book, Dreams from My Father, and I loved it. Then, after Obama became the new Senator from Illinois, I devoured his second book, The Audacity of Hope.

What, then, is a collector to do? Most certainly, send the two books off to be signed, especially when considering that, even at the time, it was clear Obama was going to make a run for the White House. In early 2007, I mailed the two books to his Capitol Hill office. Many weeks later, the books arrived back in my mailbox. My initial elation, however, was soon dampened, when upon close inspection, I noticed that both signatures were identical, except where one trailed off a little longer at the end. The culprit, I suspect, was a busy autopen machine employed by an even busier senator and presidential candidate. It looks as though he plays by the same through-the-mail autograph rules as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope, with a signature nearly identitcal to the one in Dreams from My Father.

As with any alleged autopen usage, I’ll let you, my book collecting friends, be the ultimate judge after you’ve examined the images yourself. In Obama’s defense, I have noticed him signing up a storm, in-person, on the campaign trail.


Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe signed this bookplate in his book, What a Party! The title page is signed by his wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Sally.

Terry McAuliffe is a longtime political and fundraising mastermind who served as the energetic Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and then assumed the role of campaign chairman for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic 2008 bid for the presidency. I caught up with McAuliffe at his 2007 Washington, D.C. 50th birthday party/launch party for his book, What a Party! And what a party it was, with a who’s who of our capital’s social scene, including a star-studded appearance and remarks by Senator Clinton (she also led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to the author).

A true sign of style: Every one of the nearly 1,000 guests received a book with a signed bookplate (all were handsigned). Of course, I also sought out McAuliffe’s beautiful wife, Dorothy, to autograph my book. At the time, McAuliffe’s young daughter, Sally, was standing with her mother, so I asked her to ink the book as well.