01/20/2012 05:07 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2012

The Product Placement Presidency

The State of the Union is grim, my fellow Americans...but not so bad that it can't be made a bit better by a nice two-toppings pizza from Domino's. Our nation's healthcare is expensive and obesity is on the rise, but a quick trip to Sports Authority could fix that. We need jobs, so get on down to Staples and print that resume. That was easy!

It's official: government is now neither the problem nor the solution, but a uniquely effective product placement opportunity. We all pretty much knew that Newt was in it mostly for the book sales and that Cain was all about burnishing "Brand Hermanator" or perhaps leading a comeback for Godfather's Pizza: nine slices with nine toppings for nine dollars, anyone?

Even Obama has become a best selling author largely on the back of his rise to the presidency.

Now comes the news that Mitt Romney has been peppering his speeches with glowing references to the business of a major contributor, Full Sail University, a for-profit college in Florida.

Mr. Romney has offered Full Sail as an example of an alternative and effective approach to education. This is pure brilliance. We have moved from a democratic ideal, which appears to have peaked early in the Washington administration, through candidates presented as products, to the packaging of candidates as if they were canned ham. Now, apparently, we have arrived at the full flower of democracy: the candidates acting as packaging for other products -- a handy prop to promote the sale of useful goods and services to the public.
Leave aside the facts, as reported in the New York Times, that Full Sail programs, while promoted as a competitive alternative to traditional college options, can cost up to $40,000 per year, may have graduation rates lower than many big time college basketball programs, and admissions criteria on the order of "draw this pony" (I made that last one up, sorry).

These programs do, however, rely on federal dollars granted to veterans and displaced workers requiring education and re-training. So in that sense, they seem much like many of the other alternatives being offered in response to traditional government programs like great public colleges and universities - more expensive, less effective, and still paid for by our tax dollars, only with a nice slice for the 1%.

But I digress. We were talking about a revolution in advertising. Of course, we have long treated presidents as a commodity to be sold. Campaign songs and slogans have been a staple since the days of Tippecanoe and Honest Abe, and vote-buying has a venerable history, culminating with the invention of the free t-shirt in 1971. We have also become comfortable with the idea of slick candidate packaging, ever since Joe McGinnis' 1969 "Selling of the President 1968" outed Roger Ailes and his team's efforts on behalf of Richard Nixon. A lost cause, but Ailes was able to learn from the experience and use these skills to bring us George W. Bush. That's what I call innovation -- is this a great country or what?

For far too long candidates have spent too much money to get elected. Now they can make money while being elected. Of course, big money has always been part of politics, but now we will be able to see it plain as day -- the bottle of Snapple on the president's desk, the red iPhone hotline to Moscow, a nice Snuggy with the Presidential seal...What's next? Polo logos on his pinstripe suit? Pennzoil stickers on Air Force One? Why not? While this is not what we had in mind, it brings a whole new meaning to "getting the money out of politics."

It's not hard to imagine how history might have been different, had we discovered this new twist on political speech in earlier days. We could have been blessed with "Mission Accomplished...thanks to the good folks at Halliburton" or "Ask not...for just any brand, ask for a Camel." Or "We have nothing to fear, but ...ring-around the collar." We are, after all, "endowed by our creator with certain inalienable, liberty, and Having it Our Way."
Oh, the missed opportunities.

Running for president need not be merely an opportunity to express your views in order to serve your country, or even to creatively hide your views in order to impose them after you win. Rather, the campaign can now be secondary to the real goal: the promotion of a business.

All this works because -- for the moment, anyway -- when the president talks, people listen. Just like E.F. Hutton.

Soon, however, we will learn to TiVo right past the presidential address. That's fine, we prefer the eTrade baby anyway.

David Boghossian is a technology entrepreneur following the 2012 campaign from Cambridge MA.
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