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Presidential Pens

It’s hard not to see or hear people talking about the upcoming Presidential Election everywhere you go. Though it does get a bit annoying, it’s refreshing to not hear people talking about Kardashians or Kate Middleton’s wedding for a change. If you were hoping that would be a place where you could get away from the Presidential Debate coverage, I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, I think I might be taking an analytical angle that you won’t find anywhere else. It occurred to me while watching the last debate, the one in Florida.

What kinds of pens are the candidates using?

I am interested in pens, of course. I like to collect them and compare them. Examining exactly what pens Obama and Romney chose to bring to take notes during the debate made watching the debate slightly less boring, and also might give a bit of insight into the candidates themselves, if you’re so undecided that you’ll take absolutely any piece of differentiating information to make a decision.

First, let’s throw a bit of Presidential trivia out there. When a president signs a big bill or other document, it’s tradition to actually use a bunch of pens to make the signature. I guess they just carefully make bits of each letter with each pen. Once it’s done, the President has a bunch of unique souvenirs they can hand out to important people related to the document. Lyndon Johnson apparently used over 75 pens to sign the Civil Rights act in 1964, and gave one of the first ones to Martin Luther King Jr.

Bush deviated from this tradition, of course, because he signed all of his bills with crayon.

The President will obviously use special pens for these occasions, not just some off-the-shelf clicky-top. They’re high-class capped numbers, with the President’s signature engraved on the side. It turns out that Obama’s pens are somewhat unique, aside from the fact that they have his name on them. The engraved signature is right-side-up only when the pen is held in the left hand. Obama is left handed, just like all of the coolest people.

Let’s move on to the debates, though. It happens that the third Presidential Debate is the best one to take a look at. The first debate placed the candidates at big podiums, which made it impossible to see what they were using, and the second, “town hall” debate had the candidates standing and walking about, not sitting down carefully taking notes. For the last debate, the candidates were sitting at the same table, with nothing but their notepads and pens in front of them. Finally, there will be no secrets about the candidates’ preferred writing utensils.

While the candidates prattle on about their continuing rhetoric, we can see what pens they like to use.

Let’s start with Mitt Romney. He’s a businessman, and according to his debate rhetoric, he’s looking to make the government more simple and cut out anything unnecessary or expensive. We don’t have to go into the facts and figures of what he said at the debate or elsewhere. The point is that he’s rooted in business, and - being a very rich man - check writing.

These principles are actually kind of reflected in his pen choice.

This is a closeup of the pen Romney was using at the last debate.

Romney was using a Uni-ball 207 RT with blue ink. It’s a very straight forward, simple pen. It also happens to be fantastic (I found one on a chair in college and I still have it and enjoy using it). It’s part of Uni-ball’s Signo line, which means it has archival, “helps prevent check fraud” gel ink. It’s not quite as smearable as the Zebra gel I tested a while back, and the pen itself has a really smooth, dependable quality. That being said, there’s no pretense about it - it’s all very light plastic. It has a clear body to see the level of ink in the replaceable cartridge, and the only design embellishment is on the clip, which features the Uni-ball and Signo logos. All in all, it’s a very good choice of pen for a pragmatic, down to earth businessman.

Another look at Romney’s pen, with some of the archival scribbles it produced.

Uni-ball does produce four point sizes for the 207, and also makes a 0.7mm “needle point” version as well. I’m guessing Mitt was using the standard 0.7mm medium point. Now, there are blue and light-blue versions, but it looks like Mitt has the regular, conservative blue.

This is the Uni-ball 207 RT, for reference.

So how about Barack Obama, then? Obama is pretty much what you could cite as the classic politician. He went to law school, and practiced as a lawyer for many years before moving into politics. He has worked for his position, moving through first state and then national elected offices. He’s very well spoken, and pretty verbose, at that. He’s earned a reputation as being a very attractive and picturesque man. His image is important.

Here is Obama holding his debate pen.

It wasn’t as easy to recognize as Romney’s choice, but after examining some pictures I have determined that Obama was actually also using a Uni-ball in the debate. Unlike Romney, however, Obama had a Uni-ball Vision Elite, a pretty classy capped rollerball. The Vision Elite is not one of Uni-ball’s Signo gel pens, but it does have archival quality, pigment-based, water resistant ink. That sounds like gel to me, but who am I to say? I would say that a nice, comfortable rollerball pen would certainly be a logical choice for somebody known to be verbose. Also, for a career politician who is careful to maintain a classy mystique, nothing beats a sleek, black, capped pen. The claim that the Vision Elite won’t leak on an airplane is certainly not a bad thing for Obama, either.

Here is the best view we get of Obama’s pen, but we can clearly see the characteristic, circular “uni-ball Vision ELITE” branding and clear butt.

I’ve used a Vision Elite before, but I don’t have any here to refresh my memory. It will definitely go on my list to check out, then. It is a rollerball, though, which means it’s very smooth and designed for writing. It’s more substantial than the 207, and has a heavier, more imposing (for a pen, anyway) presence. The Vision Elite is also, for what it’s worth, a tad bit more expensive than the 207.

It’s surprisingly hard to find a picture of this thing with the cap on, instead of stuck on the back end, but here it is.

Pictures of the second, “town hall style” debate show that the candidates had the same pen choices there, which implies that these really were chosen by the candidates, or perhaps even their own personal pens. I doubt we’ll ever really know, but it does seem like these were more than just a last minute, “oh, here, better take a pen and paper with you on stage” situation.

There’s Obama’s Vision Elite, while the candidates were discussing five point plans and binders full of things.

Further, It’s interesting (or incredibly boring, I suppose, if you aren’t a weirdo like I am) that in the last debate, the moderator, Bob Schieffer, was also apparently using a Uni-ball.

It’s tough to find a good picture of his pen, but there are plenty of his stern moderator face.

Schieffer’s pen has a very characteristic cap (it was, like Obama’s, a capped rollerball), and at first I thought it was a Pentel Hybrid Technica. However, Schieffer’s pen was blue, and the Technica only comes in black. Looking through Uni-ball’s selection, however, it seems that Schieffer had a blue Uni-ball Gel Grip, another in the Signo family of gel pens. I don’t know what this pen says about Bob Schieffer, and I don’t care to explore it too much since he isn’t running for President. However, one interesting fact about this pen is that I can’t seem to find it in packs of less than 12 or so. I guess Schieffer likes a pen that comes in bulk, then.

Good thing, since they’re apparently delicious.

Perhaps all these Uni-balls are part of some grand pen-related conspiracy, or a complex product placement. Considering nobody else is talking about it, it probably isn’t. Uni-ball, for the record, is part of the same huge corporation that owns Sharpie, Papermate, and Parker. If the candidates were wanting to reassure us that they weren’t going to support corporate interests, their pens don’t really help their case. Who knows, maybe Sanford helped underwrite the Commision on Presidential Debates. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Whatever the case, perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that these two men who seem to disagree on so many things have at least this one thing in common.

What about the Vice Presidential Debate, you ask? Well, I looked into that, as well. I won’t analyse them, since it’s already very late, but here they are, anyway.

Paul Ryan makes a point while flanked by two simple pens.

Paul Ryan used a pair of blue Papermate Flairs (I’m pretty sure that’s what they are, anyway). Perhaps the blue thing was a campaign choice. The Flair is a simple felt tip pen. They’re unique in the debates in that respect, and though they aren’t from Uni-ball, they’re still under the Sanford umbrella, so it’s all in the family.

Joe Biden is the white to Obama’s black. I’m talking about pens, here, of course.

Joe Biden actually has the same pen as Obama, in white instead of black. I suppose that’s awkwardly appropriate, isn’t it? It’s a very clean, articulate pen, indeed.

Anyway, I find all this more interesting that most of the actual debate talk. Maybe you can go out and pick up your favorite candidate's pen, and feel like you're part of the team. Whatever the case, I hope you found this any bit as interesting as I did. Also, you're welcome for not making any "uni-ball" jokes.

I guess I should specify that all of these pictures were from Google Image search, since I have no real journalistic integrity to uphold.

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