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The Best Political Memes of the 2012 Presidential Election

From ‘Laughing Joe Biden’ to ’47 percent,’ here are the viral trends that went mainstream

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images ; Spencer Platt/Getty Images

When the 2012 presidential election season began, it didn't promise to be the most entertaining of battles. Between the thoughtfully meticulous Barack Obama, the business-savvy Mitt Romney and the grim reality of the country's present state, the race for the White House seemed like a straightforward and serious affair.

Turns out, when it comes to memorable quotes and absurd gaffes, this was the election season to end 'em all. Neither candidate was safe from having their less-than-ideal words immortalized by everyone from talking heads to web-savvy college kids. The Tumblr memes, Facebook pages, YouTube videos and fake Twitter accounts that resulted in their missteps have been the most creative and powerful ones that we've ever seen. Click through for a look at the best of them.

By Kerry Tkacik

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Clint Eastwood’s Empty Chair

In his guest speech at the Republican National Convention, actor-director Clint Eastwood railed against an empty chair that served as a puzzling stand-in for Barack Obama. The one-sided debate resulted in plenty of YouTube clips and parodies, including Jon Stewart's mocking recap on The Daily Show.

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The 47 Percent

A stealthily taped video of Mitt Romney at a fundraising event (released by Mother Jones) showed the presidential candidate deriding "47 percent of the country" as lazy, Obama-supporting freeloaders who felt entitled to benefits. The immediate outcry stunted Romney, who claimed that his comments were taken out of context, and the loaded words "47 percent" were brought up soon after by Vice President Joe Biden during his debate with Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan.

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Big Bird’s Pink Slip

During the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney said that he loved Big Bird but that if he were elected, he'd cut all funding to PBS. As a result, the unemployment of Sesame Street's tallest resident became an instant meme. Among the viral highlights: the Twitter account @FireBigBird, the valiant "Save Big Bird" Facebook page and the character's appearances on major news networks defending PBS and his efforts to put birdseed on his table.

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Romney’s Etch A Sketch

In an interview on CNN, Mitt Romney's campaign communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, likened the Romney campaign to an Etch A Sketch: it could be shaken, erased and redrawn to suit voter preferences. "Etch A Sketch" promptly became a popular term to describe Romney's frequent flip-flopping on the issues. The Romney team as a whole, however, did not embrace it.

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Binders Full of Women

During the second presidential debate, Romney answered a question about equal pay with the assertion that he had paged through "binders full of women" when he was staffing his gubernatorial cabinet in Massachusetts. Tumblr had a field day with "binders full of women" memes; Jon Stewart and The Daily Show's team brainstormed alternative labels for the collection, including Book of Broads and Notebook of Nipples.

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Obama’s ‘Call Me Maybe’

Obama enjoyed reinvigorated YouTube stardom when a new trend developed online: splicing his speeches into popular songs. Amateur video editors jigsawed split-second recordings of words from his interviews and speeches into the beats of popular songs, effectively making the President "sing" such hits as "Call Me Maybe," "Sexy and I Know It" and "Born This Way." One video that hit especially close to home: a Frankensteined video of Obama and Romney dueting on "Hot and Cold."

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‘You Didn’t Build That’

Barack Obama's biggest head-in-hands moment in the campaign was the fall-out from his line "You didn't build that!" Said by the incumbent in a campaign speech in Virginia, the line was meant to dispute the idea that a person can be entirely self-made, i.e. not benefit at all from the services or help of the government and their peers. The exact line, which referenced government-funded roads and also businesses, was jumped on by conservatives, who adopted it sarcastically by making "We Built This" the theme of the Republican National Convention. Obama's camp maintained that the phrase had been taken out of context.

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Obama’s Crystal Ball

During a White House press conference, Obama refrained from predicting the next high-water mark for unemployment by saying that he did not have a crystal ball. Predictably, a round of memes showing the President gazing into a crystal ball surfaced immediately.

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Laughing Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden couldn't keep a straight face during the VP debate, cutting off Paul Ryan countless times and repeatedly barking that his opponent's ideas and stats were "malarkey." The sight of his smirking resulted in a field day for enterprising young photo captioners.

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Paul Ryan’s Photo Shoot

The Internet craze over Paul Ryan's abs reached a crescendo in October when TIME published previously unseen photos of the VP candidate pumping serious iron. The pics, which were shot for the magazine's Person of the Year 2011 issue and filed away when Ryan didn't win, were generally met with ridicule.

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‘Romnesia’

In a rally, Barack Obama diagnosed Mitt Romney's indecision and political back-tracking as "Romnesia." The joke became the President's oft-employed term on the campaign trail to qualify Romney's strategic forgetfulness.

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Horses and Bayonets/Battleship

Obama scathingly refuted Romney's comments about the Navy's lack of ships when he reminded the governor that the country's technology has advanced a bit over the years; he snapped that America no longer maintains horses and bayonets as a part of our defenses and that protection of our nation is not a "game of Battleship." The comment went viral and a series of memes followed that poked fun at both parties.

In This Article: Election 2012

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