GUEST COLUMN

The branding of politics

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

November 21, 2012

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I was in the second grade and it was picture day. My mother combed my hair and straightened my collar, telling me to remember to smile. Then we had breakfast before I headed to school at Church Rock Elementary.

Living in the old Indian Village in the early 1960s, we had a shiny silver toaster with two slots on top for the bread. The sides of the toaster brightly reflected color and movement, almost like a mirror.

Aware of my appearance because of picture day and my mother's instructions, I could see a blurry image of myself in the side of the toaster. I moved closer to see myself better. Then, with a quick sizzling sound, the hot toaster burned my forehead.

It was not serious and I went to school, dressed up as if for a dance. My school photo for that year shows a dark burn on my forehead about an inch square.

But my smile beamed below it, as mom had instructed. (I dug through our family photo albums and old papers to find it but it was lost sometime in the ensuing 50 years.)

On this second Thanksgiving without our mother at the table, my picture day burn came to mind as families across the U.S. gather for the annual feast.

You could say my brand would have enabled authorities to find me in a crowd of kids. My mother would have said, "He's the one with the burn on his forehead."   

Childhood memories also include the way my grandparents out in Nageezi and Lake Valley marked their sheep with colors or symbols to show ownership or indicate some sort of status. I remember grandma pointing out which sheep to mark to the men who helped.

Naturally these memories raise possibilities for the politics we see around us today. For example, in our herd of sheep Republicans would have a red mark on their foreheads and Democrats a blue one. Independents, Libertarians or other parties would have a yellow, green or gray mark.

Folks who don't vote may have no mark, perhaps signaling that they are ready for slaughter.

And there would be gradations. President Barrack Obama might have not only blue on his forehead but also red and white, perhaps in a flag design since he is the U.S. president. Speaker of the House John Boehner might have a black slash over his red mark due to his dismissive remarks on election night after Obama's victory became clear.

Other Republicans who predicted a landslide victory for Mitt Romney may now have large question marks on their foreheads. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly might have circles with stars to signify their clueless opinions.

A good symbol for Romney's forehead would be Big Bird because of his October pledge to cut funding for public broadcasting even though he "likes Big Bird."

Rather than ink, paint or a magic marker, Romney's brand might be like mine – a burn considering how his remark mobilized voters and groups to rise against him.


Here at home, Arizona State Rep. Albert Hale, a former Navajo Nation president, could sport a variety of colors and symbols on his forehead. Besides serving a Navajo-majority district, he also advocates for developers pushing for a resort at the Confluence and supports the Little Colorado River settlement, both of which are passionately opposed by groups of grassroots Navajos. Maybe also a question mark since one of his talking points for the Confluence development is that the area is already desecrated by tourists in boats and rafts so why shouldn't we desecrate it instead?

President Ben Shelly might sport an ESL symbol, meaning English as a second language. For Vice President Rex Lee Jim, who possesses a forehead that begs for some kind of mark, an airplane signifying an avid traveler might be appropriate.

And what about our herd of Council delegates? They could also sport a variety of colors and symbols. Maybe a plus or minus followed by a dollar sign. Maybe also a box where constituents could place a check mark or an X.

If anyone wanted a Jack Ahasteen image on their delegate's forehead, we might run out of room and have to spill down to the nose and cheeks. Just think: It would be a sign of honor to have your face marked up in the same way generals wear a large array of pins, patches, medals and ribbons.

Chapter officials might be identified by an outhouse or a roll of toilet paper (or a crumpled newspaper – any of the local or regional publications would do), considering the insurmountable obstacles they face in their effort to accomplish any development.

The members of the news media could display one or all of the three monkeys – "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" – and make full use of the space on their foreheads.

Tribal employees could have a simple star like good students, a grade ranging from an A to an F, or, depending on vitality and production or a lack thereof, a jagged lightning or snoring Z's.

But wearing your sign for everyone to see might defeat the goals of unification, diversity and inclusion. Much as skin color divides us into races and results in herds of like animals coalescing, might we see delegates gathering in groups of pluses or minuses?

Or tribal employees hanging out at locations frequented by fellow stars or Z's (I'll leave it to you to figure out where these locations may be)?

But, alas, a world of such branding may not come to be. We all have our own style, whether it is moccasins or cowboy boots, dollar signs or a sock with holes in it.

My second-grade burn was accidental whereas many other people have a choice of whether they want a certain mark or none at all. Such is the world we live in today.

On Thanksgiving, we should all wear a heart as we gather with our families

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