{mosimage}Like many Americans, I spend an impressive number of hours in my car, although I have to confess that I do monitor that time more zealously given today’s pain at the pump.
    I spend my car time in several ways — talking on the phone, with an earpiece, of course. I also listen to the radio, mostly NPR, oldies and the occasional book on CD. After growing up in a family of radio broadcasters and learning Motown along with their nursery rhymes, my children are encouraging me to broaden my musical horizons, and they are probably right, though old habits do die hard.
    Sometimes I just drive along and think.
    I also read every bumper sticker I can get close enough to see.
    We Americans may be tightlipped about our personal finances, but beyond that we wear our hearts on our sleeves and on our bumpers. Our bumpers celebrate our pride in our children by telling the world they are “Terrific Kids” and “Accelerated Readers,” and bragging about our grandchildren, who if we had only known how wonderful they were going to be, we would have had them first. We also crow about our favorite vacation spots at the beach with decals announcing WB, TI, HH, OBX, MB, BHI and MB. Most of us do brake for animals, but I have seen at least one Fayetteville bumper sticker advocating human consumption of cats. One of my favorites decorates the bumper of a member of my church — it reads, “Not so close. I am not that kind of car.” Another is not really a sticker per se, but the back of a motorcyclist T-shirt functioning as one. It reads, “If you can read this, she fell off.” 
    We Americans also wear our politics on our bumpers. I suspect this has been around since we have had cars to have bumpers. I have always liked these stickers and remember particularly the hot pink ones reading only “LURA,” which were the signature design of former State Senator Lura Tally.
    I have been a bit disappointed this political season, though, by the quality of campaign stickers. I have seen plenty of plain McCains and simple Obamas which now seem to be morphing into Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin without other comment. The closest I have seen to clever is “Jesus was a community organizer.”
    I have also been somewhat surprised by the  number of old, faded, and dated political stickers still riding the roads, particularly from the 2004 Presidential campaign. I see several variations of the discreet “W. The President” on both bumpers and windows. I also see a few red and blue Kerry/Edwards riding around forlornly. There are candidates from lesser races still holding on as well. Promoting those particular candidates is no longer an issue, so why do folks continue to show their undying support?
    Though it pains me to say so, I think our refusal to set aside partisan feelings from a bygone election reflects not only deep political divisions among our fellow Americans but deep social and cultural ones as well. These stickers tell us more about the people inside the cars than they do about the candidates they once supported, and drivers of those cars want the rest of us to get the message. It is all about perception, not persuasion. We are trying to say that not only our politics but our values are the same as those of our chosen candidate, and we want everyone else to know it.
The same is true this political season, perhaps more so. The McCain/Palin stickers and the Obama/Biden ones demonstrate the driver’s support for their candidates but they also speak to values shared with their candidates, or at least the perception of shared values by both the person who put the sticker on the car and those who see it.
    {mosimage}Bumper stickers are without question a form of protected free speech, a right to be cherished. But I have to wonder as well, are they fanning the flames of partisan divisions, especially when they are left to ride around for months and years after an election — long after any political persuasion value has passed.
    We Americans are blessed to live in a country where we can express ourselves politically without fear of retribution. We are blessed to work within a political system in which campaigns are hard fought but eventually someone wins and someone else loses, leaving some Americans happy and some distressed. The point is, though, that the contest is over and it is time to look ahead to the next opportunity.
    We are going to be gripped by highly partisan politics for another few weeks in a political season made more vivid by the unprecedented financial uncertainty which has overtaken us. Rhetoric and negative ads will be with us until this election is over, even though pollsters tell us that most of us have already decided on our candidate for president.
    My fear is that whatever Nov. 4 brings, Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin are going to be on the roads with us for the foreseeable future.
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