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Binders, bayonets, Big Bird: How Decision 2012 went viral

Just a few months ago, you may not have thought twice about Big Bird, binders, or bayonets, but they've all become familiar terms due to the 2012 campaign. TODAY's Willie Geist reveals the top five memes of this election season.

During the 2012 presidential election, words like “bayonets” and “binders” were barely uttered by the candidates before being instantly turned into snarky memes shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

In the final presidential debate, President Obama deflected Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion that his administration was shrinking the Navy. “We have fewer ships  than we did in 1916,” the president said. “Well Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” And with that retort, a new meme was born.

When legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood delivered his famous speech to an empty chair symbolizing President Obama at the Republican National Convention, it didn’t take long for Democrats to seize on an image shared widely on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

“This seat’s taken,” tweeted the president’s official account, along with a picture of the back of Obama sitting in a chair labeled, “THE PRESIDENT.”

Republicans struck back with a string of attacks on “Invisible Obama,” and distributed a photo of their own featuring a similar chair this time vacant at the head of an empty conference table supposedly used by the White House Jobs Council.

When Mitt Romney mentioned during a debate that, as president, he would cut funding to public television, he all but created mass hysteria by specifically mentioning Big Bird would have to go.

His words immediately led to the widely distributed meme of a dejected looking Big Bird sitting on the steps of the iconic Sesame Street stoop holding a “will work for food” sign while two children look on.

The debate also inspired a “FiredBigBird” Twitter handle, as well as a “Million Muppet March” the following weekend (which drew only 1,000 participants).

Other debates that triggered popular memes included the one between the two vice presidential candidates.

Meme-generators had a field day with the way Joe Biden smirked and guffawed his way through his showdown against Paul Ryan, whose constant reach for the water glass also inspired Internet lampooning.

"Laughing Joe Biden" Twitter handles emerged within minutes of the debate, and dozens of pundits got in on the joke, including Comedy Central's @Indecision.

Another debate casualty: The “binders full of women” candidates Romney said his staff found for him to serve in his cabinet while he was Massachusetts governor. Within hours, a still from the music video “Gangnam Style” featuring Korean singer PSY was renamed to say: “My binders full of women exploded.” Another popular image that made the rounds featured John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler from "Say Anything" holding binders instead of a boom box; another, starring Patrick Swayze, in character from the movie, “Dirty Dancing,” asserted that, “No one puts Baby in a Binder.”


Republicans created a convention theme — and a meme — by capitalizing on President Obama's saying "you didn't build that" from a stump speech.

knowyourmeme / Tumblr

One of the "you didn't build that" memes that dogged the Obama campaign.

Other memes were created much earlier in the election calendar. The “Texts from Hillary” series featured posts on a Tumblr site that has since been retired, but the images continue to get resurrected with images from people other than its originators.

Watch video: How women have shaped the 2012 campaign

The original site featured a cool Secretary of State Hillary Clinton texting messages on her BlackBerry while wearing sunglasses. One post taunted Romney’s early popularity standings, when he was running far behind Obama in the polls.

“Any advice?” Romney asks Clinton in a text.

textsfromhillaryclinton / Tumblr

“Drink,” she responds.

Also mocked was Biden’s penchant for inappropriate gaffes. In one post, he appears to be texting Clinton a joke.

“So you know what the bartender says?” he writes on his BlackBerry. To which the cool Madame Secretary responds: “Really Joe?”

textsfromhillaryclinton / Tumblr

And then there’s the meme that emerged during the Republican primary season but continues to get mileage, literally, today. When Romney revealed that he had tied his dog, Seamus, to the car roof during family vacations, the poor Irish Setter secured a spot in meme immortality.

The New Yorker

Then-candidate Rick Santorum stood in for Seamus, the Romney family dog, on a New Yorker cover, by Bob Staake.

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