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Political Statements on Car Bumpers

09/01/04 12:00AM By Jay Parini
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(Host) Commentator Jay Parini has been reflecting on the sudden profusion of bumper stickers that accompany the political season.


(Parini) It was over 30 years ago, during the 1972 presidential campaign, that the impact of bumper stickers first hit me. My father, a lifelong Republican, had attached a bumper sticker on the back of his new Ford that declaimed, in bold letters: Nixon's the One!

I borrowed the car one afternoon to visit a mall, and when I came out of the stores, I noticed that somebody had put another sticker on the opposite bumper. In equally bold letters it trumpeted a clever but scornful anti-Nixon slogan - the sort of thing that cannot be trumpeted on the radio.

I drove the car home with trepidation, and showed my father what had happened. He was a minister, and it seemed unlikely that anybody in his conservative congregation would appreciate the anti-Nixon rhetoric. My father - a gentle man - shook his head sadly.

"I'll take it off," I said, aware that this would require some elbow grease.
"No, leave it there," he responded. "It won't hurt anything. In fact, it might get people thinking."

I've seen quite a crop of bumper stickers in the past few months, on both sides of the political spectrum. Vermont is a good place for bumper stickers, with lots of independent-minded drivers who want to express their feelings about the war in Iraq, about saving the whales, about abortion, about civil unions - you name it, there's a sticker to frame every shade of feeling.

Lately the yellow ribbons that signify support for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have begun to crop up in large numbers. One can hardly drive to the corner grocery without seeing half a dozen vehicles festooned with yellow ribbons and flags. I approve of these ribbons, as I support our own young men and women in uniform. I have three boys myself, and would want everybody in the country behind them if - for whatever reason - they had to go to war.

The problem, at least in my view, is that nobody had to go to war in Iraq: this was a war of choice, as they say. And I think, an exceptionally poor choice as well, one that has done nothing to improve our safety in a dangerous world.

Like millions of others in this country and a majority of people around the world, I strongly disapprove of our presence in Iraq and wish we had never gone over there in the first place, especially without the backing of the United Nations. This war, in my view, was a foolish and dangerous adventure, sure to end badly.

But what about our kids over there, in uniform? Once again, I support them strongly, and I hope we do everything in our power to see that they get all the support they need, and that this war ends swiftly, in a way that does not bring further chaos to the region and does not simply exacerbate an already horrible situation. It will take all the talent and dedication we can muster to accomplish these goals.

Which is why I put a yellow ribbon on my bumper last week, right next to another sticker that opposes the war in Iraq. As my father would say, it never hurts to get people thinking.

This is Jay Parini, in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College. He spoke from studios at Middlebury.
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