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Obama's quandary: Wear a helmet, look dumb or be a role model?

June 13, 2008 | 11:03 pm

No image affected Michael Dukakis' 1988 campaign more than his infamous ride in the tank. This image is still funny.

Sure, there's world wars and toxic pollution and corruption and Social Security reform and a few other things like trillions of dollars in debt to worry about.

But before getting to those easy issues, politicians who want to be chief executives must first get elected. And to do that they must decide if they're going to wear funny hats.

It's the bane of most big-time campaigns. And why you don't see candidates so often visiting construction sites; hard-hat zones, where they must don those funny-looking helmets that sit so high on their head. They may save lives, but they scare image-conscious campaigns.

Remember in 1988 Gov. Mike Dukakis driving that tank? It's a lot of fun. Looked good on paper to associate him with defense issues, a traditional Democratic weak spot. But you gotta wear the XL helmet. So he did. He looked like a pretender. And the rest is doofus history.

Long before him, there was the classic headgear disaster, Calvin Coolidge in the Indian headdress. Scroll down for that baby.

So, even though he's a freshman senator and a rookie national campaigner, Sen. Barack Obama faced a quandary last weekend.

Should he wear one of those stupid-looking bicycle helmets that legislators say we must wear but only look good on Tour de France racers? And get mocked? Or should he go without the hapless headgear and get criticized for defying the law? Who does he think he is? Above the rules that apply to everyone else?

These are everyday decisions now. Obama opted for the hat. At one of two lucrative campaign fund-raisers in Chicago Thursday night, at the home of a businessman who donates bicycles to charities, Obama couldn't resist a little boasting. He explained that he faced a tossup: Risking ridicule or sending children the right message about bike gear.

"I had an internal debate," Obama admitted when a supporter thanked him for wearing a helmet. "Because I knew that the AP was going to take a picturDemocratic presidential nominee and Senator Barack Obama opted to wear the required bike-riding helmet last weekend even though he feared photographers would take pictures like this one in a dumb-looking helmete, and they were trying to portray it like Dukakis wearing that tank helmet.

"But I wanted to make sure that the children who saw that picture knew that even the Democratic nominee for president wears a helmet when he goes biking," he said to applause.

"Now, obviously the rest of my apparel was apparently not up to snuff, because I got a hard time from all sorts of blogs ... who said I looked like Urkel."

There's more on this story here.

--Andrew Malcolm

Frame grab from 1988 Bush "Tank Ride" commercial. Image courtesy of the American Museum of the Moving Image.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

And now the classic of classic politician headgear photos, Calvin Coolidge becomes an honorary Sioux chief.

Henry Standing Bear makes President Calvin Coolidge an honorary Sioux chief with a big hat