This post, which originally appeared on May 29th has now been amended. It now includes an Epilogue comment on Barack Obama's subsequent May 31st visit to the famous heads on a hill.
Scheduling political announcements or appearances against suggestive backdrops—attempting to inject symbolic grandiosity into dangerous, disingenuous, or trivial realities—is a timeworn strategy of political stagecraft.
When George W. Bush announced the beginning of the "War on Terror" on August 15, 2002, he was perched in front of Mt. Rushmore. After advance visits to the spot, his image experts set the stage, making sure that photographers were situated in a position where telephoto lenses would be needed to capture his speech, collapsing space to create a mental juxtaposition linking Bush to presidential luminaries carved into the side of a mountain in South Dakota.
Then on May 28th it was Hillary Clinton's turn. Yesterday, hoping to reverse a failing bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, her handlers brought her to Mt. Rushmore for a similar shot, attempting to erect a subliminal message of presidentiality.
Such visual demagoguery, however, turns democracy into a cynical sideshow performance. Thankfully, it is also remarkably susceptible to satirical lampoon, as seen in the following image from "Underdog," a 2007 film based on the cartoon series of yesteryear.
June 3rd Epilogue:
Bending the tradition, Barack Obama also stood at the mountain for a photo op on May 31st, while campaigning in South Dakota. Unlike the others, however, he and a park ranger posed for a tourist-and-guide moment. Perhaps this shot was a newly populist rendition of the old visual stagecraft, an attempt to present Obama as an ordinary American visiting a national treasure. When asked about his place at Mt. Rushmore, Obama offered self-deprecating response, asserting that he would never be able to join heads with the greats on the monument because, as he put it, his "ears are too big."