BOSTON (TheStreet) -- A political consultant once explained that he had tried, in vain, to get his candidates to refrain from producing bumper stickers.When a bad driver promotes a candidate, his road-hoggery could cost votes. The reaction from other drivers would be that Obama cut you off, John McCain blocked a crosswalk or Ron Paul drove for three miles with his blinker on. We would go even further than the aforementioned spin doctor and implore that society apply a razor blade and bottle of Goo Gone to a fad that has outlived its welcome for more than a century. In years past, bumper stickers were intended to be humorous, good for a chuckle or two while parked at a red light. Originally, they did no more than promote vacation destinations. Then they evolved to matter-of-factly promote a candidate of choice. Eventually, business began to benefit from four-wheeled publicity. Herbalife ( HLF) was a pioneer in such viral marketing. "Honk If You Use Snap-On ( SNA) tools" brought awareness to hardware purchases. Countless dotcoms spread their URLs on city streets. A more modern start-up, TweetMyBumper.com, helps Twitter junkies grab followers with stickers sporting their handles. More recently, however, bumper stickers have become more activist, more political. Advancing a trend that many thought had peaked during the Clinton administration, current variations are either cloyingly Kumbaya or downright angry. There is no subtlety anymore, only ham-fisted polemic or wishy-washy sentiment even Hallmark ( HALL) wouldn't spit out. We get it. You share the road with bicyclists. You have a child who is an honor-roll student. You love to talk about your grandchildren, Jesus and pet labradoodle. Calvin urinating on a Ford ( F) logo! Oh, you rebellious General Motors ( GMGMQ) loving scamp!
Bumper stickers break down into a few primary categories. There are those adhered by screeching right-wing ideologues: "Why the hell do I have to press '1' for English?" "U.S. Infantry: If we weren't supposed to kill people, God wouldn't make us so good at it." "Support terrorism. Vote Democrat." Then there are sticky notes favored by annoying, self-congratulatory, to-the-choir-preaching liberals: "Cats for Obama." "Hey, Sarah, I can see the moon from my backyard. Does that make me an astronaut?" "Be nice to America or we'll bring democracy to your country." "Wow! Your fur coat really makes you look like a heartless monster." "Those who ignore history are doomed to vote Republican." We really don't have to categorize the sort of chap whose car announces: "Suckin' gas and haulin' ass." You will know him when you see him. He's the one whose gun you will take "when you pry it from his cold, dead hands." We might not get so worked up about bumper stickers if others didn't take them so seriously. There was the spurious, but frequently relayed as fact, tale of a boss who laid off any employee whose car had an Obama sticker. Then there was the true story of a priest denying a parishioner communion in retaliation for his liberal bumper ideology. Some lawyers screen jury pools by asking potentials about what bumper stickers they have. We can cite at least one talk-radio host who warned liberals that they should scrape off their Obama stickers lest they be targeted by the inevitable rioting in the streets his policies will spark. Bumper stickers epitomize everything wrong in American politics and culture today. There is no discourse, only partisan fury. Emotion supersedes academics. Any and all issues are boiled down to a venomous, black-and-white sound bite. The economic downturn was caused by "greed." Health-care reform is "socialism." The Yankees "suck."
The recent trend of Web-based make-your-own bumper stickers hasn't led to a new diversity of opinion. During the last presidential election, custom bumper-sticker maker MakeStickers.com noted that: "As more people invent their own political messages, an overwhelming trend in negative tones has been noticed." That company's data showed that 68% of phrases used in custom-ordered political bumper stickers were "negative" in tone. About 72% of stickers mentioning Obama were negative. Conversely, 62% of stickers referring to McCain were positive. Data recorded on political party bumper stickers show that negativity wasn't just in the court of conservatives. Nearly 84% of Democratic custom bumper stickers and 75% of Republican custom bumper stickers were deemed as "negative." One can only hope that Cash for Clunkers will do its part to mangle a fair share of bumpers and the propaganda they sport. -- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.