Sunday, October 10, 2004

Of bumper stickers and lawn signs....

Lynn Sislo links this Stanley Kurtz article about a "culture of fear" that is dissuading good Americans from displaying their Bush-Cheney campaign signs on their lawns and bumper stickers on their cars:

There is a climate of fear. Again and again, Corner readers say they've been scared off of posting bumper stickers by visions of having their cars keyed or their windows smashed. A typical comment: "Putting a Bush-Cheney sticker on my car would be like adding a bulls-eye that says, 'Please vandalize my truck.'" A reader from Arlington, Va., who lives just a few blocks from national Bush-Cheney headquarters, says he was not afraid to use bumper stickers in 1996 or 2000, but wouldn't do so this year. Bush lawn signs are feared, not only as an invitation to vandalism, but because they might permanently alienate neighbors.

I suspect that this sort of thing happens in just about every election cycle, and for my own small sample size, I do see more Kerry-Edwards signage and stickers than Bush-Cheney ones, but I do see a fair amount of signs expressing Presidential support in the Buffalo area (and Buffalo is a fairly Democratic place -- not so much so as, say, New York City, but still Democratic).

(Actually, by far the dominant theme of political signage here is for local races -- Congress, State Assembly, judgeships, school boards, et cetera. Very few homes seem to have any Presidential signage at all.)

If this stuff really is going on, yeah, it's a shame, and yeah, it should stop. That's all pretty obvious. I'm getting tired of all the implications, on both sides of the aisle, that I shouldn't even associate with "the enemy". I know plenty of people who, unlike myself, admire George Bush and think John Kerry is a complete tool, and I even like some of them. Of course, that's just me.

What bugs me about the article is the complete lack of factual support. It all seems to derive from things like "Readers tell me" and "Someone wrote in to say" and "There are reports of" and so on. I'm sorry, but to take all this at face value seems absurd -- it reminds me of the level of factual reporting contained in that TV special Geraldo Rivera did back in the 80s, the one with the message that America was awash in closet Satanists. I'm sorry, but I just don't believe this is going on, in anything approaching the level of frequency that Kurtz seems to be taking for granted. This is all "a friend of a friend told me..." stuff. It's the way urban legends become, well, urban legends. It's the same mechanism by which every college student in the United States believes that if his professor is fifteen minutes late for class, he can leave the room without penalty; or that if his room-mate gets run over by a steamroller and dies, he automatically gets all A's for that semester.

Kurtz also suggests, oddly, that things like flags on cars and "Support the troops" bumper stickers are proxy-statements for Bush supporters. Maybe, but I find this to be an incredibly odd assertion. What I notice a lot in Buffalo are these magnetic "stickers" in the shape of a yellow ribbon. I mean, these are all over the place. (I don't have one on my car, but then, I don't like to put stickers on my car in general.) Does Kurtz believe that these people are mostly Republicans who are too terrified to put Bush stickers on their vehicles? What an odd thing to believe.

Late in the article, Kurtz ponders, "Is the violence really unequal?", as he ruminates on whether the violence directed at Bush-supporters and their outward displays of Bush-affection are more prevalent than similar violence directed at Kerry supporters. (Gee, I wonder what Kurtz's answer to that is going to be. Hmmmm, let me think.) Kurtz doesn't seem to even consider the more basic question here: "Is the violence really happening?"

UPDATE: In comments, Will Duquette says that he hasn't even heard of any vandalism directed at Kerry supporters or, failing that, vandalism in support of President Bush. Thus, I searched Google News, and found reports of such, here, here, here, here, and here. Granted, many of these articles describe vandalism going both ways, but that's exactly my point: to the extent that this kind of thing actually is a wide-spread problem, it's a problem that doesn't particularly favor one side or the other. Kurtz's article, frankly, strikes me as more of this "playing of the aggrieved minority" schtick that the right has down pat, even though they are so far as I can see neither aggrieved nor a minority.

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