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Life, politics and bumper stickers

Katie Boyle | Monday, January 31, 2005

As I walk through the parking lot on the way to DeBartolo or drive the streets of South Bend, I can’t help but notice the array of bumper stickers. Ranging from the eternally hopeful, “Kerry-Edwards,” to the collegiate, “University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish,” this rainbow of messages boldly declares anything from political party to the fact you brake for animals.

Besides providing me with reading material at red lights (highly important), what purpose do bumper stickers serve? Do other drivers really need to know that the “Proud Parent of a Whitefish Bay Middle School Honor Student” is navigating your eggplant mini van?

Has anyone actually changed their vote after looking at a bumper sticker? Well, I don’t know about you, but once I saw that snazzy Bush-Cheney ’04 logo on the back of a Ford Explorer on Juniper, I was convinced “W’ was the man. There was something about the font.

The sheer number of bumper stickers on the streets of America reflects the needs of a culture that demands instant gratification. Their one-liners fit our hurried lifestyle, distilling complex arguments to a five-second read.

They also provide me with justification when I find myself cursing at other vehicles. “Of course you’d cut me off … Libertarian driver!”

Such easy labeling defies the complexity of who we are. Sure, the contact information at the bottom of this column may say I support the Democratic party. But unequivocally? Absolutely not.

So why do we feel the need to define ourselves in such a limited fashion? In a world catered by the Value Meal, where the OC is an intellectual experience, these labels provide enough definition so others generally know our alignment without forcing any of us to be able to work through our actual philosophies.

How incredibly different would America be if its citizens did not define themselves as Republicans or Democrats but had to puzzle out the best possible solution to each national problem, such as health care or education?

(Cue an a cappella version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”)

If politicians were forced to address an audience of well-informed constituents imagine how different their campaigns might be, rather than their characteristic overarching promises, perhaps they would seriously discuss current crises and the best ways in which to manage them.

Politics in America needs a reality check, and this wake-up call can only come from her electorate. Those running for public office should be able to offer a specific and feasible plan of action for each of their campaign ideas.

Also, they should not feel compelled to toe the proverbial party line on each and every issue.

Of course I’m not advocating the abolishment of political parties, but I do believe it is often all too easy to choose one side of the spectrum and blindly follow their positions. Neither am I trying to demonize bumper stickers, although there are only so many times the phrase “As Long As There Are Tests There Will Be Prayer in Public Schools” will strike me as new and innovative.

Once.

But politics should reach beyond these easy statements and black and white affiliations. The complexity of the issues with which politicians deal should be reflected in their own careful and considered evaluations as well as those of their constituents.

If you believe in a particular politician, by all means support him in any way you can. Slap that campaign slogan on the back of your white Honda Civic. Just realize that in the end political campaigns should amount to so much more than the 90-second sound bytes on television, weathered yard signs and yes, bumper stickers.

They should amount to what you believe in, and you should vote for whomever seems most likely to carry out that agenda, regardless of how fabulous their advertisements look. Seeing beyond the glitz of ad campaigns and media coverage can be difficult in our appearance-oriented society.

Despite the presence of this veneer, it can be done.

In the meantime, I’m going to have a few words with this double-parking Constitutionalist.

Katie Boyle is a senior English, political science and Spanish major. She supports the Democratic Party. She can be reached at kboyle2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.