A bookstore at the University of Tennessee has voluntarily pulled boxes of mints from their shelves that depict President Obama in an unflattering light, after Democratic state Rep. Joe Armstrong personally complained to the store manager. The local politician had been tipped off by a student complaining that the mints — whose tin can features a Shepard Fairey-like image of the president along with the words "This is change? Disappoint-Mints" — were sending the wrong message.
The company behind the mints, Uneemployed Philosopher's Guild, is actually politically agnostic, selling over twenty-five varieties of mints on their website, including GOP-unfriendly ones of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. Armstrong said having the mints removed did not violate the First Amendment, since they weren't educational material. He also said that since UT enjoys the use of federal and state funds, they should be sensitive to "politically specific products."
Whether the kid who complained to Armstrong felt that it was demeaning to the dignity of the highest office in the land, or whether he's just a huge Obama fan, removing punningly judgmental breath mints from a University bookstore just seems silly. Especially when they're slagging both sides of the aisle.
UT constitutional-law professor Glenn Reynolds gets the final word:
"Let me make very clear, there is no candy exception to the First Amendment. Free speech is free speech. If you make fun of the president in a mint, it is just as much free speech as it is if you make fun of the president in a political cartoon. While citizens have the right to express disapproval of a message on a tin can of breath mints, that opinion has more heft when it's coming from a government official."