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My Night At Maud's

Sunday Night Journal — September 30, 2012

Where Are The Bumper Stickers?

 One day last week I saw a Romney/Ryan bumper sticker, and I realized it was the first one I'd seen. Since then I've seen, I think, one more, two at most. And then I realized that I haven't been seeing many Obama stickers, either. Most of the Obama stickers I've seen are faded leftovers from 2008, and "Obama 2012" is fairly rare. 

Both these phenomena are quite a change from 2008. I live in a place which has become pretty heavily dominated by the Republicans over the past twenty or thirty years. But there are also a good many diehard and vocal Democrats. In 2000 and 2004 Bush stickers were all over the place, especially those which appeared sometime after the 2000 election: the black squares with the big white "W" and, in smaller print, "The President." Those were popular and recognizable enough to generate imitations and parodies: "S: The Coach" (for Nick Saban); "W: Wine"; and the charming "F: The President."

(A couple of funny stories about that last one: I'm sometimes very slow to catch on to word-play, and the first time I saw this I was in the car with my wife and then-teenaged daughter. I made the mistake of wondering aloud what it meant. They laughed. I still didn't get it. My daughter said something like, "Um, Dad...say it." Pause. "F. The. ...oh."

And the other: I was waiting at an optometrist's office for a new pair of glasses, standing around in their showroom. I can only look at fashionable variations on "eyewear" for so long, so I started watching the customers. A fellow came in whose whole bearing radiated anger: his face seemed to be set in the beginning of a scowl, and there was something tense and hostile in his posture. About that time the technician appeared with my new glasses, and I ended up leaving the store at the same time as Hostileman. He got into a car with the "F" bumper sticker--and a faculty parking tag for the local university.)

In 2008 the wild enthusiasm for Obama produced an unusually large number of stickers for the Democrats, though they were still not as numerous as those for McCain/Palin. I recall wondering how even a staunch Republican could be so enthusiastic about McCain; I suppose it was Palin who created whatever excitement there was for that ticket, in addition to the general hostility to the Democratic Party that is widespread here.

But this year: almost nothing. It's peculiar. The lack of new Obama/Biden stickers is not too surprising, as the enthusiasm for Obama has been badly damaged in a collision with reality. And as for Biden--surely even Democrats are embarrassed by him. But the opposition to them is stronger than ever, fueled by the president's own actions. Even those of us who voted against him but were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, not to mention feeling a certain amount of pride in the fact that the country could elect a mixed-race president, are now decidely antagonistic.  There is no more room for doubt about his intentions. He never meant to be the healer and uniter that he spoke of being, or if he did have the intention he quickly abandoned it. His concept of healing and unity is that everyone should get in line with his program, and those who refuse are be steamrollered to the best of his ability. And as we all know the steamroller is now headed for the Catholic Church. 

I am certain that there is widespread outrage against the Obama administration, opposition at least as intense as there was toward the Clinton administration. I am certain that a great many people have arrived at the same anybody-but-Obama view I have. So why am I not seeing any more public support for  the Romney/Ryan ticket? It's not as if this were a liberal district in the northeast, where openly expressing support for a Republican could invite hostility. It's not that people are intimidated by the possibility of being called racist--they weren't intimidated in 2008. 

The problem, I'm pretty sure, is that Romney is a terribly unappealing candidate. He can't ignite Palin-style fire among "the base," as Republican establishment types apparently refer to the majority of people who actually vote for them. To others, who might or might not vote Republican, depending on the candidate and the issues, he is a walking stereotype of the establishment Republican: a fabulously wealthy man running for office at a time when millions of people have seen their material standard of living decline. Though he and his party attempt to represent him as a successful entrepreneur, the effort is unconvincing because he was less an entrepreneur than a financier and manager. He did not, in the classic mold, develop a useful new product and sell it to the world, but rather bought and sold existing companies. When a company changes hands, it is, to say the least, not always good news for the company and its employees, and so Romney's business success is, to say the most, not entirely of the sort that can be described as "creating jobs." 

Were it not for the fact that he's a Mormon, he would be the sort of old-line WASP for whom the term "country club Republican" was coined. His credentials as a social conservative are mixed. Worse, he has on several occasions confirmed the out-of-touch-rich-guy stereotype. And with most of the media apart from Fox News acting as an arm of the Obama campaign, every such instance is being pounded into the consciousness of people who aren't really paying very close attention, but who may decide the election.

Very few people seem to have any great enthusiasm for him.  He's discouraging even to many of the anybody-but-Obama people, because they fear he would, once in office, actually do very little to undo the damage. And that, I think, is the main reason for the dearth of bumper stickers. 

 Almost exactly four years ago, in the Sunday Night Journal of September 21, 2008, I was critical of the idea that the election of either candidate would dramatically affect the future of the nation. I was mistaken about that election, because I failed to anticipate the passage of Obamacare, aka the laughably misnamed Affordable Health Care Act. Were it not for that, I would be prepared to shrug off this election for the same reasons I gave in that column. But I didn't anticipate the will and power of a Democratic president and a Democratic congress to push through a very dodgy "reform" of the health care system. I hope I'm being overly pessimistic, but so far I have seen nothing to make me question what I wrote about Obamacare in 2009. Arguably the Act is only the latest in a long line of similar constraints, but it may represent some sort of last straw in the process described by De Tocqueville:

Thus, after having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Th end of that last sentence seems to be a pretty fair factual description of what contemporary liberalism has in mind.

And I noted, but seem to have underestimated, this factor:

Among many other problems with the idea is that it would increase the polarization of the country by locking our disagreements about abortion, euthanasia, etc. into a health care system that no one can escape, either as a patient or as a taxpayer.

I didn't foresee that the Democrats would move so quickly to force Catholic employers to subsidize the unacceptable. Leviathan is a jealous God.


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I saw an Obama sticker with that flag that has caused so much controversy a few days ago and was thinking it was the first one I had noticed. I haven't seen many yards signs either.


Would it surprise you to learn that last time around I saw quite a few Obama stickers here in Toronto? Pretty silly, but it happened. This time, though, I haven't seen any.

Two principals in the local Democratic Caucus live nearby (across the street from each other) and have signs up for various candidates (including one for the President). Otherwise nothing I can recall.

I think you are right, Mac. I want Obama out as bad as anyone, but I find it hard to stomach a yard sign for Romney, even though I think he is a better alternative by far. I guess it is a Mark Shea nagging conscience sort of thing.

Mark Shea nags at your conscience?

I am constitutionally unwilling and maybe unable to go in for displays of political enthusiasm, so I wouldn't display a Romney sign, either. But I would certainly not feel troubled by Mark Shea's reaction if I did.:-)

I mean really--Shea's basically a good guy, and I used to read him, but he's gotten...let's just stay tiresome.

I don't know why I was so focused on bumper stickers, but the mention of yard signs makes me realize I'm not seeing them, either. Not for either side.

Craig, that doesn't surprise me in the least. Fashionable progressives the world over were/are enchanted. Even Norwegians, apparently.

Janet, that flag reminds me of the bizarre celebrity pledge video of 2008. I don't think they're quite as fired up this time, either.

Things like that flag and the video make me think that there are an awful lot of people who want a king. It's a natural impulse but creepy in this manifestation. I'm not so sure political freedom is really workable in the long run.

Speaking of yard signs: I saw two Romney/Ryan ones on the way home from work. Maybe people are going to get more fired up as the election gets closer.

Re your last sentence, I've thought that for a long time.


However I am about to read The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness : a vindication of democracy and a critque of its traditional defense for a discussion group, so maybe Niebuhr will convince me.


No bumper stickers in this little town in Indiana except some very old ones on my colleagues cars. They despise Romney and he is a bit of an embarrassment

It would be nice to have someone to vote for who wasn't an embarrassment.

Convince you of what, Janet?

There’s a post up right now on the Power Line blog ( pondering whether Obama is doing his best to introduce national socialism into the U.S. Maybe exaggerated, but the author of the piece has put up two political posters, one of Obama’s and one of Lenin’s, and the similarity between them is, as the author says (and as Mac said here about the flag and video), creepy.

I think there are no bumper stickers because it's a grim election. It's not a things can only get better election. People have less money and they can see recession continuing indefinitely. I know there are contra indications, like people eat out a lot. But I reckon it's cheaper to eat in a diner than buy food in some cases.

I think you are right, Grumpy.


Convince me that political freedom is really workable in the long run.

But I doubt it.


I live in Pittsburgh, a fairly strong Democratic city, so expectedly you see more Obama stickers than Romney ones. The overall number certainly seems to have gone way down, however. Ditto yard signs and billboards.

In honor of the fact that I don't much like either of these guys (although I do plan to vote for Romney while holding my nose, as the saying goes) I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads "White - Pinkman 2012. Respect the Chemistry."

In case you don't know, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are the two main characters from Breaking Bad.

I've always had a certain sympathy for this campaign.

More extensive replies at lunch time, but yeah, Grumpy, I think there's a very widespread feeling that things are not going to improve much no matter who wins.

I would rather watch Breaking Bad than a presidential debate.

I'm trying to think of something that I would rather not watch a show about fishing tackle than a presidential debate.


What that was supposed to say was that I would rather watch a show about fishing tackle than a presidential debate.


Yes, fishing for sure. Bowling. Even golf. I guess I wouldn't go as far as one of the shopping channels, but that's about it. I'm sort of dreading Wednesday night, actually, because I find the debates not just boring but unpleasant, anxiety-inducing, etc. But yet I feel an obligation to watch at least one.

I didn't in fact recognize the BB character names. I haven't tried BB yet, partly because I'm pretty sure I'll be hooked when I do.

Re political freedom, Janet, no, I won't try to argue that. I just wasn't sure what you were referring to--you said "last sentence" but my last sentence at that point was about whether people will get fired up or not.

I often wonder whether not only our freedom but our material wealth and comfort will prove to be an historical anomaly.

Well, apparently Rush has been reading your blog. When I went out to lunch, the radio was on the station that we listen to in the morning and I would normally have turned RL off pretty fast, but he was talking about the lack of bumper stickers and yard signs. Of course, he was mostly talking about Obama stickers, but he did mention there weren't many for Romney either. You are a read trendsetter Maclin.

I was looking and the only bs I saw was one in our parking lot for Obama. Last year there were lots.


I know that "last sentence" comment was confusing. I thought it was very inconsiderate of you to post another comment before I had a chance to speak. ;-)


Oh well, you know, insensitive male and all that...

Good to know Rush is paying attention to me.

About that Powerline post: I do think it's exaggerating and not an especially good rhetorical tactic to use the term "national socialism." But I also think the basic point is valid. My guess is that Obama is, like a lot of American liberals, basically a democratic socialist of the European type, who thinks it's obvious that that's how things should be run and doesn't understand why Americans won't just accept it. He very plainly wants to move the country as far to the left as he possibly can, in the sense of putting as much control as possible in the hands of an enlightened central government.

But that poster is, I admit, creepy in a way that goes beyond mere advocacy of d.s.

Yeah, folks on the right really should keep away from the "national socialism" tag.

Aside from the poster, I am also troubled by the number of times Obama has used executive orders to push his agenda. Looks very slippery-slopey.

Oh, I wasn't saying that Shea convinced me of anything, since I don't read him (because he is tiresome). I was just saying that I sometimes have an underlying tendency to purism, even though I don't really act on it.

Yes, there's always the purist-vs-pragmatist argument, both within oneself and among other people. I tend to think purist, at least in the sense that I recognize the defects of every party and candidate (which is why I'm never a banner-waver), but act pragmatist. Ideally there would be a perfect balance.

Marianne, there are people who know the law who think Obama has done a number of blatantly unconstitutional things. I never know quite how seriously to take those charges--I mean, I always want to know what the person making the charge would say in a similar circumstance if he was on the president's side. But if this is being accurately reported, it seems beyond question a grotesque abuse: the government demanding that a company break or sidestep the law and promising to defend it in court if necessary.

Re: Kings. It's Christ the King, not Christ the President. I don't believe there is anything wrong with having a President, but I can't help thinking that a king is better in some sense. Although that also must depend somewhat on what we think the king's rights and duties are. I'd rather have a President than a thorough tyrant of a king. At least Obama will have to go in 4 years.

Yep, there's a big problem in trying to figure out the relationship between the governance of the universe and governance of human society. Does the kingship of Christ imply the kingship of Louis or Henry? Or Barack? It seems that the impulse to obey a king (or some other sort of strongman) is very strong. But it doesn't necessarily produce good government, to say the least. And does the democratic impulse undermine the willingness to submit to God? Quite possibly. It's a knotty question.

Re: the presidential debate tonight.

Today I walked past a television and noticed that the topic was this evening's debate. The commentator said that all eyes [sic] would be on the debate, and that people would be paying close attention to "the faces, the body language, even the clothes" of the candidates. I don't think she ever did get around to the idea of paying attention to, you know, what they say.

I thought that was odd at first but, if your leadership debate are anything like ours up here, maybe there's a certain wisdom in it...

Maybe we should watch with the sound turned down.


I'll watch at least some of it, miserable all the while. That commentator is probably a ninny but probably not too far wrong, at least as far as the pundits are concerned, about what's important. This is an example of what we were talking about regarding pundits viewing the whole thing as a horse race. Here's a interesting predicit

I walked around the neighborhood today. Yard signs were half and half. And this is a heavily Republican area. Distressing.

It ALMOST makes me want to put up a sign.

That's a bit surprising. This is also a heavily Republican area and I'm seeing almost no yard signs at all. Local election a few weeks ago brought out lots of them. I saw an Obama bumper sticker a bit earlier: a faded 2008 one.

Man! I just followed the twitter updates of the Presidential debate! I think twitter might actually make my brain explode! It's like a bezillion people talking at once and basically just talking past one another. I kept looking at the "new tweets" section and was reminded of nothing so much as "1984's" Prolefeed!!!


I'm not on Twitter, and have no intention of being, partly for the reasons you mention. My head is already in enough danger of exploding. But I admit I watched the Twitter updates from National Review.

As for the debate: Romney seemed to me to do pretty well. Better than I expected.

I just recently set up a Twitter feed, but am following only five other Twitter feeds so it's not overwhelming at this point. (Not sure I've got the lingo right on this!)

There is a lot of that "people talking at once and basically just talking past one another" that you mention, Louise, but also some very funny and insightful comments now and then.

One "Twit" (hehehe) expressed dismay that neither candidate had a policy in the event of a Zombie Invasion.

I think that's a real oversight.

I think the last debates is supposed to be on foreign policy. I don't know if zombies are considered foreigners or not.

Here's a fairly on-target, if somewhat simplistic take on Breaking Bad by a Catholic commentator (with no spoilers!)

There is little doubt that this series is in my future, even if it's not, as I hear, quite as good as The Wire. Maybe I'll get started before long.

If I'm not mistaken, Vince Gilligan was a writer/producer on The X-Files.

I think that it's as good as The Wire quality-wise but it's hard to do a straight up comparison because they're very different types of shows. BB isn't as starkly realistic -- at times it's got more of a dark comedy vibe, a la some of the Coens' work.

It can't be as good as The Wire.:-) Of course The Wire wasn't always as good as its best.

I had an exchange with a Facebook friend about the Great American Novel on Film/Video. She said it was Lost, I said The Wire. I tried a couple of episodes of Lost, but just didn't care for it, though to be fair I was jumping in well into the story.

On the subject of kings, I really can't see that Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Thailand and Japan have worse governance than Greece, Italy, Russia or Congo. In fact, the track record of presidencies is pretty poor in terms of delivering good governance.

It's in questionable taste to say so, but I think Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Japan (I don't know anything about Thailand) would be pretty well-governed no matter what form it took. And that the opposite would be true of the others, notwithstanding early Greco-Roman successes. Which is not to say that monarchy's necessarily a bad thing. I wonder how many attempts at the presidency+legislature form are attempts to more or less imitate the American model, which has worked reasonably well, but is historically and culturally a pretty unusual case. Not to mention that there are some real doubts as to whether it's going to continue working. Structural weaknesses that caused no problem as long as there was an understood agreement on basic principles may prove fatal now that that agreement is collapsing.

Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Japan are constitutional monarchies. Which, in practice, are pretty much the same as parliamentary republics, right?

Wisconsin is to a certain extent experiencing election fatigue after the Walker recall vote in June and the hotly contested Republican senatorial primary in Sept. We just want it all to go away so we can rake our leaves.

Yeah, I guess you do. The Walker stuff was particularly nasty. btw some new Romney/Ryan yard signs sprouted in the couple of days immediately after the debate.

Yes, I was going to point that out, too, Marianne. We had a go-round about the definition of monarchy here a while back, but however you want to use the word there is certainly a significant difference between contemporary monarchies like those mentioned and those of Europe 300 or more years ago.

Well if we start including people like the Doge of Venice or the Lord Protector or the First Consul of France, monarchy looks better and better ...

Or worse, if we start including people like the average Russian czar...

Really I think it's almost impossible to compare the systems in the abstract. You can't separate them from the times and cultures. We really don't have many true classic non-constitutional monarchies running modern industrialized nations, or many historical examples of presidential-legislative systems. Do we even have any of either? Saudi Arabia for the former, maybe? But their economy is sort of a fluke.

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