June 16, 2015

Included below is an e-mail exchange between Mr. Bradley Carlson of Miami, Florida.  Mr. Carlson reached out to Shepard to share his viewpoints and concern with how Shepard’s recent commentary about President Obama could and has been taken out of context and used for the benefit of the Republican rhetoric.

We believe this is a healthy discussion and with a considerable amount of attention on the subject matter, felt it compelling to share publicly.  Please take a moment to read this.  Thanks Brad for your thoughtful dialogue.


Dear Mr. Fairey,


I have long admired your work. I loved the HOPE image you created for the Obama campaign, of poster of which I own. 

I am a Democrat, a strong supporter of President Obama, and a longtime activist for LGBTQ rights. My partner and I were very active in the Obama campaign in Florida in 2012 and we’re still very proud of that fact.  We have no regrets about supporting President Obama.  I serve on the board of directors of the National LGBTQ Task Force, the nation’s oldest omnibus gay rights organization. Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting President Obama. With my fiancé, Austin, sitting by my side, I thanked President Obama for his leadership on LGBT issues

President Obama is, in many ways, a hero to me and my fiancé. His administration’s leadership has improved our lives immeasurably, not to mention the lives of hundreds of people we love. Our careers have flourished under the Obama economy. We have better, more affordable health care. As a gay couple, we are closer to being treated equally under the law than I ever thought would happen in my lifetime.

For these reasons, I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to read this story in the Washington Post: “The HOPE poster guy is done with Obama. And Republicans now have their metaphor.” Other news sources, like MSNBCFox NewsMother Jones, and Politico have done similar stories. 

Your words resonate on the national stage. By publicly stating that you have categorically given up on President Obama, you have empowered the Republican Party, which stands opposed to nearly everything you and I care about. Not a single viable Republican presidential candidate supports basic LGBTQ civil rights. They are all against marriage equality, and a majority still call gay rights “special rights.” Their economic policies cater almost exclusively to the wealthy. They deny climate change. They’re in the pocket of Big Oil and Monsanto. They want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and cut funding for education, public transportation, infrastructure and the arts. Their platform is explicitly anti-choice.

Since you are an artist, you might think you don’t have to parse your words like politicians do. I would urge you to reconsider. And I implore you to issue a statement clarifying your views. If you let the current headlines stand, I guarantee that the GOP will twist your criticism of President Obama into an implied endorsement of the GOP platform. You will be held out as an example at the Republican convention of a disaffected Democrat eager to see change. And unless you explicitly state otherwise, they will imply that the kind of change you seek means electing a Republican president, like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush or Scott Walker. Is that what you want?

Elections are zero-sum games, and in politics, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I admire and share your idealism. At the same time, I would ask you not to give up so easily on President Obama, and not to allow your idealism to cloud the reality that politics is an art of compromise and that your words, in particular, have immense influence on the national stage. 

President Obama is a good man who deserves credit for the positive impact he’s had on millions of Americans’ lives. You don’t have to agree with every single thing he’s done, but he still deserves your support.

I would welcome hearing from you. 

Many thanks.

With best wishes,

Bradley Carlson


Bradley R. Carlson is a real estate developer, investor, and human rights activist. He holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He lives with his fiancé, Austin Allan, in Miami Beach.





Thank you for your note.  I appreciate that you took the time to write something thoughtful.  

A lot of the headlines that you reference are not things that I said – they are media spin.  Since I first made the “Hope” poster, I’ve found the press tends to either portray me as a brainwashed Kool-Aid drinker who considers Obama the Messiah, or someone who has turned against him, when in reality I’m neither. 

My feelings about Obama are very mixed, but that’s not at all an implicit endorsement of the Republican platform.  I’ve been very clear that Obama has let the left down, not been too far to the left. Both parties have moved further to the right over the last 30+ years.  

I dedicated basically a year of my life plus to supporting Obama based on his proposed ideas during his campaign – of supporting a green economy, decreasing the influence of lobbyists in Washington, pushing for universal healthcare, closing down Guantanamo, and making the system more fair so that the middle class, not just the Oligarchs, could achieve the “American dream.”  Obama also said he would pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible. 

The other thing I was working on in 2008 and early 2009 was blocking, and then protesting the passing of, Proposition 8 in California.  I’ve been outspoken about marriage equality for a lot longer than Obama has.  Obama did not show his support for marriage equality until several years into his presidency, which I found incredibly disappointing because I have friends who know him personally and knew where he stood on the issue in private.  

When I was asked in the Esquire interview about Obama I felt that I needed to answer honestly.  I am honestly disappointed in Obama not because he didn’t accomplish the things I’d hoped he’d accomplish, but because he chose to parse his words and made attempts to appease rather than stand up vocally for the ideas he campaigned on and stand up for justice in general.  

I feel incredibly fortunate to be successful in my business, which is an exception, and I empathize with those people who are struggling…I’d like to see Obama attempting more to help restore the middle class, even if it’s only vocalizing his dis-satisfaction with the system as it now exists.  

Being complicit with domestic spying with the excuse that’s it needed for national security against terrorism is absurd when our own police have killed more people than terrorists have, including 9/11(  I agree with you that it would be terrible if a Republican wins the next election, however, nothing I said in the Esquire interview suggested that moving to the Republican side of things would be the better way to go.  Anyone who read all of what I said could not come to that conclusion. However, I know that some people will cherry-pick to push the idea that criticism of Obama is an endorsement of the Republicans. That tactic frustrates me, but I refuse to abandon nuance in my discussions of politics to avoid the reductive false media narratives. We should demand better from the press. 

The bottom line is that I refuse to endorse Obama simply because he’s a little more human and a little less indifferent than the Republicans.  I’m looking for people in government and a system of government that creates the greatest good for the greatest number of people, democratically, without the influence of corporations, or military contractors, or other special interests.  Many of these things can only be corrected through changes to the system itself, like campaign finance reform, but Obama has been actively or passively complicit on too many things that are unjust for many people.  He has compromised to adapt to the power structure rather than spoken out against the things he has found to be unfair within it.  I’m not in politics, and I’m glad that that means I can  speak my mind openly both verbally and through my art. By the way, in the Esquire piece, I said I sympathized with Obama’s challenges.  I wouldn’t want to be in his place.  

Things only go in the right direction for the people at the bottom when the people at the top are pressured by the people at the bottom.  Aside from a bit of notoriety, I am one of those people at the bottom and I speak for myself, and hopefully  many others when I say the things I say in my art and my interviews.  Of course, we all need to be more engaged and educated so we can distill truth from disinformation and make the right choices as voters and basic citizens. Bottom up change only works when those in power don’t think they can avoid the demands of the public.

 – Shepard