Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2004 / 5 Tishrei, 5764

Froma Harrop

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Consumer Reports

Creative Bumper-Sticking 101 — Dept. of Nice Political Tricks | Political bumper stickers can hold magical powers. Consider this Cinderella tale of an Alabama woman who got fired for putting a Kerry-Edwards sticker on her Chevy Lumina.

Lynne Gobbell worked on a bagging machine at Enviromate, an insulation business in Moulton, Ala. The company's owner fervently backs the president, and placed pro-Bush fliers in everyone's pay envelope. The leaflets told workers that were it not for the Bush tax cut, he would have been unable to buy them, among other things, a wire cutter. Thanks to the tax cut, he wrote, "I was able to give you a job."

The boss apparently could not tolerate an enemy bumper sticker in his parking lot. And Gobbell's lack of gratitude for the Bush tax cuts clearly pushed him over the edge.

So he sent word down to Gobbell that either the bumper sticker or she would have to go. Gobbell confronted him and said that he couldn't tell her how to vote. He responded, "I own the place," and had her fired.

John Kerry heard about this sacrifice on his behalf and personally called Gobbell. The former bagger is now employed with the Kerry campaign, and presumably living happily ever after.

The story of Gobbell and her mean boss ends here. But the bumper sticker lives on, stuck on the back of the Chevy.

Oddly, the players in this drama missed an important point: A bumper sticker is a double-edged sword. It can be a dangerous thing on the wrong car.

Surely I am not the only one to have had a vehicle with "Vote for Joe Blow" on the bumper cut me off or, on occasion, make rude hand gestures. There's not much law-abiding citizens can do to exact revenge against obnoxious drivers. One thing we can do, however, is cancel out the jerk's vote.

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Had Gobbell's boss been smarter, he would have followed her car around town before concluding that the bumper sticker would help Kerry. And the Kerry campaign also erred, if it assumed that a bumper sticker on this, or any other car, is an automatic voter-getter.

It's surprising that more campaigns don't think about this. They pass out bumper stickers to anyone who asks, without knowing whether that person signals when making a turn or runs red lights. Is that backer's muffler working, or does it belch a disgusting cloud of exhaust next to the ad for the candidate?

One is reminded of the "How's My Driving?" stickers on the backs of trucks. These messages include a central phone number that others may call to praise or condemn the driver's conduct. Companies regard these signs as good promotion. They tell other motorists that Mallet Mart, Sid's Cement or whoever pastes its logo on the truck cares about public safety.

And so the campaigns should require that a "How's My Driving?" sticker be put next to any ad for a candidate. When complaints about a supporter's driving habits pile up, the campaign should strip its good name off the vehicle.

Bumper stickers can be used creatively by the dirty-tricks departments of the various campaigns. Here's an idea: Search newspapers for road-rage stories and hire the nasty drivers named. Slap some stickers urging a vote for the other guy on their vehicles, and let 'em rip. Pay the monsters on a per-mile basis to antagonize registered voters on the road. Then just sit back and watch your poll numbers climb.

The Department of Nice Tricks should also get busy. Have your volunteers take up prized parking spaces in town and at the mall. When they see a likely voter looking for a place to park, they should signal that their terrific space is about to open up. They should pull out very slowly, so the grateful driver can see the giant "Vote for Joe" sign on the back of their car.

One way not to help your candidate is to fire workers who express political views you don't like. Word will get around that you are a creep, and that will reflect badly on your political choices, as well. In the end, you'll do more for the opposition than the offending employee could ever dream of.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.