In January 2023, a viral tweet from late December 2022 continued to circulate, with a purported quip from late comedian and actor Robin Williams that politicians ought to wear “sponsor jackets” like NASCAR drivers:
Text alongside a photograph of Williams read:
Politicians should wear sponsor jackets like NASCAR drivers, then we know who owns them. – Robin Williams
No attribution or link to context for the purported quote appeared alongside the tweet. Our reverse image search indicated the combination of text and the image were first crawled in 2019 response tweets; the meme was shared to Imgur in September 2020.
As of January 2023, searches for “politicians NASCAR sponsor jackets” primarily returned variations crediting the quote to Williams. A search restricting the results to pages published during or prior to January 2010 returned a similar iteration without attribution to Williams, dated August 1999 and first archived in 2008.
It appeared conceptually (not verbatim) on the website hightowerlowdown.org, the final words in a piece titled “How .05% of Americans buy our elections”:
We’d like to mandate full and forceful disclosure—make every politician or candidate own up to where every dollar of their money’s coming from. Maybe we could even make ’em wear their sponsors’ logos like NASCAR drivers do, as in the illustrations in this issue.
Another version of the concept (if not the quote) emerged in March 2013, when blog post chronicled a then-active petition on the White House’s petition site. Attempts to retrieve the March 19 2013 petition were unsuccessful, but quoted text read:
Since most politicians’ campaigns are largely funded by wealthy companies and individuals, it would give voters a better sense of who the candidate they are voting for is actually representing if the company’s logo, or individual’s name, was prominently displayed upon the candidate’s clothing at all public appearances and campaign events. Once elected, the candidate would be required to continue to wear those “sponsor’s” names during all official duties and visits to constituents. The size of a logo or name would vary with the size of a donation. For example, a $1 million dollar contribution would warrant a patch of about 4” by 8” on the chest, while a free meal from a lobbyist would be represented by a quarter-sized button. Individual donations under $1000 are exempt.
Without a complete copy of the original petition, it was difficult to determine whether it credited Williams. However, a Huffington Post article about the petition made no mention of Williams’ name — which would constitute an unusual omission on a website covering politics alongside entertainment.
Adding “Robin Williams” (in quotes) to the search above and restricting the date to pages published on or before January 2013 (just prior to the creation of the petition) returned no results connecting the two. Different jokes made by Williams about NASCAR populated the top results:
In the Robin Williams show Weapons Of Self Destruction, he takes a jab at NASCAR fans.
Robin: “I watch NASCAR for the driving.” Yeah, and I watch porn for the acting. YOU LIAR!!!
Much farther back, this time in March 1995, the Hartford Courant published a political column with the headline, “Politicians Should Wear Sponsor Logos.” Its central premise was similar to the meme version, and it began:
Gov. John G. Rowland [in March 1995] unveiled the latest in the state tourist promotion arsenal: A racing car that will tour the televised Indy Lights series of races around the country. Its “Spirit of CONNECTICUT” name will be seen by millions of people who will decide to vacation or do business here.
I’d been mulling the growing practice of displaying corporate logotypes in sports — and the possibility in politics. This may be the way to get ridden of the baleful hidden influence of big money on government: Make it readily visible.
Racing cars have long been high- speed billboards for oil additives, tires, automobiles, airlines and any other corporate endeavor that helps underwrite the car and driver.
The practice is spreading. Tennis stars wear togs that identify the products they have endorsed; so do golf pros. Basketball players’ shoes are prominently labelled. The Kraft cheese-etc. logo was prominent going down with the Aussie America’s Cup entry [in 1995] …
Although Williams wasn’t typically mentioned in connection with early iterations, we did find a version of the commentary that was attributed to Williams. It was published on a comedy transcript site in 2019 (just before the meme emerged), as part of Williams’ 2009 “Weapons of Mass Destruction” comedy special.
At best, the meme appeared to paraphrase Williams’ set:
… people in California give their cats Prozac. How much more mellow can a fucking animal be? But that’s California, where animals have better healthcare than the rest of the country. It’s fucking insane.
And if the whole healthcare debate – if you want to know how your congressman and senators are gonna vote, we should actually – maybe they should be like NASCAR drivers. They should actually have to have jackets with the names of all the people who are sponsoring them. Wouldn’t that be cool? Fuckin’-a! Yeah, baby. Then you might have a clue to why the fuck they voted that way. “[Big] drug company.” [Got] it! Thank you.
And I have an alternative healthcare plan. It’s called cash-for-clunkers- for-older-relatives. It’s kind of fun. You sell grandma for parts. Grandma, you’ve got two kidneys. We need a porch. Let’s do this …
A viral December 2022 tweet attributed a quip — “Politicians should wear sponsor jackets like NASCAR drivers, then we know who owns them” — to late comedian Robin Williams. Versions of the quote as a concept dated back as early as 2005. Williams made a similar comment during his 2009 “Weapons of Mass Destruction” special, and in 2013, the concept appeared as a petition. While Williams made a similar joke in 2009, it is not clear where the concept truly originated.