Four years ago, Santa Barbara-based artist and graphic designer Dan Levin made international headlines with the most unlikely of products: toilet paper, festooned with the face of President George W. Bush, a poopy project to protest the re-election of the man many in America and abroad consider to be history’s most divisive, diabolical, and downright dumb leader of the free world. Since then, Levin’s Bush wipes have been featured on Good Morning America and David Letterman‘s late night show, used by rockstars Radiohead and Coldplay, championed by celebrities Cher, Jeff Bridges, and Jon Stewart, and even purchased more than once by soldiers fighting in Iraq. More than 250,000 of the rolls were made and distributed (most sold at cost or given away), models for Vice President Dick Cheney and right-wing pundit Ann Coulter also hit the market, and Levin, in turn, enjoyed far more than just 15 minutes of fame.
Get ready for round two in the lefty TP frenzy: Levin recently unveiled rolls for Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain – and sales have skyrocketed since the announcement of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as running mate. “I didn’t want to do the McCain toilet paper. I was burnt on the deal,” said Levin on Friday, explaining that he wanted to instead focus more on his “green, peace, love products” and “get out of this angry political bullshit.”
But his distributor said the desire was there, so Levin made up a batch. Sales took off “a little bit,” he said, but when Palin was announced, the interest increased exponentially, and stores that initially didn’t want a batch even called in and ordered plenty.
“I definitely don’t support McCain at all. I disagree with his policies completely, but the venom’s not quite there as it was with Bush,” said Levin, who said he could even see himself voting for the right Republican some day. “But with Palin, I’m so glad to have the McCain TP out there.” Among other gripes, Levin – a proud environmentalist who prints his rolls with soy-based ink on recycled paper – is concerned that Palin doesn’t believe in global warming and that, should McCain die in office, the country would be left in the hands of someone with very little relevant experience.
The Bush-themed toilet paper rolls can usually be found at record stores, novelty shops, and “open-minded” retailers in more left-leaning corners of America, including Midnight Sun in Santa Barbara. But Levin said that it’s also being sold at “quite a few stores” in Texas and the Deep South. “That’s amazing to me,” said Levin. “That takes balls.”
Despite the quarter-million Bush rolls – which retail on the affiliated Web site piehole.net for $9 a pop or $25 a four-pack – Levin is not a millionaire, and was even worried about his cell phone minutes running out during Friday’s interview. “If I made money on each one, I’d be sitting a lot prettier right now,” said Levin, who’s now 45 and has called Santa Barbara home since 1985. He recalls first getting involved in liberal politics while going door-to-door for George McGovern when he was not even 10 years old. “I am definitely in it for the cause and not for the money,” Levin observed. That being said, the rolls have supported Levin for the past four years, during which time he fled America-under-Bush, lived in Australia for a year, and then traveled through Europe and North Africa.
The Bush rolls were invented because he was “freaked out by the policies of this administration,” said Levin. “It is really all about greed and making sure the haves have more.” Most frightening to Levin are the Bush administration’s environmental policies, the sentiments of which are echoed in the Palin camp. “It’s just outrageous,” said Levin, who really doesn’t want to do another one of these rolls four years from now.
“I really hope this is the end,” said Levin. “If McCain wins, ahh geez:.”