Another Perspective

Sticker Shock

Closing the bumper sticker and yard sign gap in the nation's only boom town.

By 10.16.12

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Most mornings I drive to my Pennsylvania Avenue law office from an inside-the-beltway suburb of Washington, D.C. My route takes me different ways, depending on the day and time. So I see various commuting corridors, such as Spout Run, the George Washington Parkway, I-66, and assorted feeder streets.

Since the 2008 election, traffic is worse than ever. This is logical, for our government is larger than ever, and the unemployment "rate" among "government workers" is extremely low. The good times are rolling, along with lots of nice cars, here in The Nation's Only Boom Town. 

Still, based on my observations over the past several weeks, there are two things I'm seeing much less of now than in 2008: Obama bumper stickers and yard signs. This is not a scientific study, but friends I've asked say they are seeing the same. I think of this each day, as I hear and read about an "enthusiasm gap" between the supporters of President Obama and Governor Romney.

Think back. In the months before the 2008 election, as enthusiasm for candidate Barack Hussein Obama reached a fever pitch, the morning commute was a veritable riot of Obama bumper stickers. The Obama logo, hope and change, yes we can, women and gays and unions and aardvarks or whatever for Obama -- it was all there, along with "war is not the answer" (never mind the question!) and a host of similarly pithy messages. At times, it almost seemed that one had wandered into the midst of a motorcade of the converted headed for a worshipful Obama campaign rally somewhere nearby. Along the way, moreover, the streets were flanked by residential lawns and grassy medians forested with colorful Obama signs.

The 2008 presidential election was not the end of it, either. While the yard signs went away, many bumper stickers did not come off until well after the 2010 mid-term election. This phenomenon was sufficiently unusual and visible that people commented on it. Some would say the Obama campaign simply never ended. Of course, this could be seen not only from the ongoing, triumphal display of Obama bumper stickers on a conspicuously high proportion of cars in the D.C. daily commute, but also by the style of the President's administration.

Yet in the year following the President's kickoff of his non-stop reelection campaign, in his "class warfare" speeches delivered after the country's historic credit rating downgrade in August 2011, most (not all, mind you!) of the 2008 Obama bumper stickers have disappeared. And they have not been replaced by anything approaching equal numbers of 2012 Obama stickers, just as yards are not bristling with Obama signs as they did four years ago. 

Consider that we see these developments despite the Obama campaign's unprecedented spending starting in the Spring of 2012, and notwithstanding that here in swing state Virginia we've been inundated with pro-Obama attack ads. The Obama organization is paying college students from "safe" states to come to Virginia to help "get out the vote," I'm told encouraging them to register and vote here in Virginia as well (even if illegally). Campaign offices are open, canvassers are combing neighborhoods, and fund raising is relentless on a local level (right along with that Chinese website presumably for supporters who … how shall I put it … wish to circumvent pesky legal restrictions on campaign donations). 

With all of this, one wonders, why are noticeably fewer cars sporting Obama bumper stickers this time around? Why is the yard sign presence not so overwhelming as in 2008?

Curious whether my daily sample was somehow skewed, I even took a quick tour of my office building's parking garage. There I found, on a deck housing over 100 cars, exactly one -- only one -- Obama bumper sticker. This in a town where pretty much everyone benefits economically from ever expanding federal regulation and continuously increasing government spending, even as these phenomena suck jobs and resources out of the rest of the nation. 

So, go figure. Maybe I'm missing something, but in my view people are hesitant about Mr. Obama and his agenda this time around. Whatever the reason, the bumper sticker and yard sign gap does not bode well for Mr. Obama's reelection prospects.

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About the Author

Ray V. Hartwell, III was a Washington lawyer and a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. He died on February 7, 2014, in Anniston, Alabama.