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Political apparel makers fret about life after Bush

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George Bates, in the Santa costume, says Christmas is a boom time for his anti-Bush T-shirts(please note that this photo's size is 1400x1500). (Courtesy of George Bates)

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This T-shirt designed for the Bush family is a very popular piece of political apparel in Times Square, New York. (C. Onur Ant/CNS)

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One of the best seller anti-Bush T-shirts in a Times Square gift shop, New York. (C. Onur Ant/CNS)

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This apparel which reads "A village in Texas has lost its idiot" is one of the best selling anti-Bush T-shirts in Times Square, New York. (C. Onur Ant/CNS)

George Bates hates his president, but he loves what the president has done for his business. Since George W. Bush took office in 2001, Bates has earned his living from what he considers the incompetence of the 43rd president.

Bates, a 58-year-old Californian who formerly worked in computer networking, has designed and sold tens of thousands of T-shirts mocking the president and his policies.

As the president's approval ratings hit record lows, sales of anti-Bush gear have kept producers very happy. The only concern seems to be what the apparel makers will do when Bush, the main force that has been driving their profits, leaves office.

“Young people, seniors, tourists--they are buying these like crazy,” said a Times Square retailer showing a white T-shirt with a face of Bush on it. Next to the picture are the words: “A village in Texas lost its idiot.”

“That T-shirt is one of the most expensive ones, and I already ordered it five times in two months,” the retailer said.

Sales of anti-Bush apparel peak around the Christmas shopping season, Bates said, but sales also pick up whenever the president says or does something his detractors think is less than brilliant.

“Pretty much when he opens his mouth he says something stupid,” said Bates, who's hardly neutral when it comes to the president. “He was on N.P.R. recently, so I anticipate the sales will go up soon again.”

The sporadic nature of political apparel sales makes it best suited for small companies, and Bates is one of the biggest producers in the sector.

His company, Shirt Magic Alta Hemp, produces almost 10,000 T-shirts a year, and more than 80 percent of the company's revenue comes from T-shirts that ridicule the president.

“Would someone please give him a Monica, so we can impeach him?” reads a T-shirt Bates designed. Another one says, “Worst Ever President.”

Bates said he had no regrets about making fun of Bush. “I feel sorry for this country and its people that they elected such an incompetent president,” he said.

On cafepress.com, a Web market where freelance designers, manufacturers and buyers meet to shop online, an anti-Bush apparel search returns more than 49,000 results.

“Already smarter than Bush,” reads an infant T-shirt that is among the best-selling items on cafepress.com. A sticker on the same page shows the last day Bush will be in the office: 01.20.09.

The people who produce anti-Bush apparel don't only do it for the money or the laughs. Some believe they are performing a service.

“I am doing it because I think it needs to be done,” Bates said. “And I am feeling good about what I do.”

Ryan Red Corn, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Pawhuska, Okla., broke into the market in 2004, shortly before the general election. Now, he is the owner of Demockratees.com, a Web site where he exhibits his political apparel.

“It’s an avenue for me to both push my political agenda and connect with my community at large,” Red Corn said. “It’s a visual manifestation of the issues I feel passionate about.”

Red Corn, an American Indian, describes himself as a “Dust Bowl Democrat” and a member of the Osage Nation. Bush parodies make up only a small part of Red Corn’s output. He also produces T-shirts that speak about poverty and the environment.

Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild sells T-shirts depicting the "axis of evil" quartet. Bush, who in his 2002 State of the Union address referred to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the axis of evil, is depicted as the fourth member of the quartet.

Displayed alongside the customary Bush items are mugs with climate change warnings or watches with a sketch of Che Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary.

This president will leave office and another one will take his place, but most of the issues that concern these makers of politically sensitive apparel will be around for years to come, Red Corn said. That’s how the anti-Bush industry will survive the next elections.

“I have a handful of designs directly related to him," Red Corn said. "I’m aware that he’ll be gone soon. That’s a conscious decision of me to expand the topics my designs cover.

“Free speech, abolition, poverty, gasoline, war. These are the issues that will be around long after Bush," Red Corn said. "As long as they exist, I’m going to stay in the business.”

E-mail: coa2103@columbia.edu