By Ananda Shorey
WASHINGTON – Change happens, but not if Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, can help it.
The congressman said this week that the U.S. Mint should immediately stop a $45 million ad campaign promoting its new $1 coin, because the campaign denigrates America’s founding father.
“I can say with complete certainty that our first president would not approve of this portrayal of himself,” said Bartlett, referring to ads that show George Washington dancing in a nightclub and hanging out with women who are drinking.
But Bartlett, whose comments were entered in the Congressional Record, had particular disdain for the campaign’s “Change Happens” theme.
“The worst one is that ‘Change Happens,'” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “Everyone knows what happens. It is a perfectly disgusting ad.”
The Western Maryland congressman is not the only one upset with the campaign. The executive director of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association said that, after receiving dozens of letters, phone calls and e-mail complaints, he recently wrote and asked the Mint to reconsider its campaign.
Jim Rees, the director, said that showing Washington dancing and hanging out with women in bars in ads is just another unfortunate extension of the overall commercialization of his image.
“It is just one more use of Washington in an unproductive way, instead of holding him up as one of the greatest presidents our country has known,” Rees said.
But a spokesman for the Mint said the coin program was not intended to portray Washington in a negative way and that people, in fact, see the commercials as trendy and funny.
“It shows Washington doing things that everybody does,” said Michael White, the spokesman. “We find that people perceive the first president as an urbane, cosmopolitan person in these commercials.”
But Bartlett said the misuse of Washington’s image is not his only concern: He also thinks the campaign is a waste of taxpayer’s money.
“These funds come directly out of the Treasury Department’s budget,” he said. “I am quite sure the money could be spent on more productive activities.”
But White said no taxpayer funds are used for the ad campaign, which is financed out of profits from sales of the coin. He said that $900 million will actually be returned to the general fund of the Treasury under the program.
“We covered the expenses of the promotion of the campaign in the first few weeks,” he said.
While the Mint may think it is good for Washington to be perceived as hip, Rees worries that it sends the wrong message to youth, who he said know next to nothing about the first president.
Rees said he is not upset by the fact that Washington’s image “is being used in a clever and funny way, but there are very few times when his image is being used in an educational and productive way.
“It just seems more and more that he is used as a merchandising image and not as an educational image,” Rees said.