Like all cool people, I have a Barack Obama bumper sticker on my car. I thought I was doing the senator a favor. He'd be proud of me.
And then I accidentally cut somebody off yesterday. He gave me the finger.
And I thought "What did that man think of me as he drove away?" Well, he probably thought two things:
1. "That driver was an asshole."
2. "That driver likes Obama."
Now, campaign bumper stickers have always seemed an excellent idea to me. They're a very easy way to send a simple political message ("My car and I like Barack Obama. Perhaps you should consider doing so also.") to hundreds of other people per day. But there's a very real possibility that terrible driving could undercut any possible good that bumper stickers do.
Every time you steal a parking space from somebody, Barack Obama is stealing that parking space. Every time you have to hit the brakes suddenly, Barack Obama is causing the person behind you to hit theirs.
So far, I've seen a lot more Obama bumper stickers than McCain ones. That's the enthusiasm gap at work. Who would want to be seen driving a McCain car these days? The problem is that this also means that a whole lot more traffic infractions and road rage can be blamed on Obama.
Saul Alinsky, the famous community organizer (and Obama role model), wrote in his book Rules for Radicals of the necessity of adapting effective methods of communication for spreading a political message:
"If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. If I were organizing in an orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich."
Alinsky points out that if an activist finds that his tactics are ineffective, he must change them, even if such a compromise seems to be on some level betraying a principle. Although we may be proud to display an Obama bumper sticker, if such an action causes harm to Obama's cause, a true supporter must not do it. If you know your driving style has a tendency to annoy or maim other people, then do not expect a bumper sticker to do anything but harm your cause. Also, consider what other stickers are plastered on your vehicle. For example, if you have a Satan fish or something similarly snarky, perhaps you stop to consider the juxtaposition of your stickers. Does the message you send make Obama look more or less like an America-hating socialist Muslim? (You kind of want to go for less.)
On a separate note, there can actually be consequences to you for sporting a political bumper sticker. You may be more likely to be pulled over by a politically unfriendly police officer (I know that if I were a cop, I'd pull over as many McCain cars as possible!). And you may be subject to a bit of minor harassment. I was once followed for a number of miles by a man who kept pulling up beside me, rolling down his window and yelling "What do you like so much about THE MAGICAL NEGRO?" Eventually, he got quite threatening, screaming at me and swerving past other cars to get near me. Finally, after following me into a parking lot, he left when I met up with some people I knew.
It is perhaps not common, and perhaps easily dealt with, but there are plenty of nutty people out there, and every bumper sticker is an invitation to get your car keyed. Just last month, 60 cars in Orlando were spray-painted with anti-Obama slogans, including such racist nonsense as "Oboma smokes crack" (sic). Never underestimate the idiocy of your political opponents.
While a Barack Obama bumper sticker isn't exactly controversial, it's important to consider the consequences of plastering one on your car. Are you causing a net gain or loss for Obama's campaign through the message you send? If you let somebody back out ahead of you in a parking lot, that person will have a positive experience with an Obama driver. If you accidentally back into that person, they'll have a negative experience. If you run over somebody's beloved pet with your car, and the pet consequently ends up with bits of Obama-sticker clinging to their fur, do not expect the owner to be left with a favorable impression of the Illinois senator.
We don't expect people to correlate Obama himself with the actions of the driver of the car, but our minds aren't always logical in the way they associate experiences. Just remember, no two things get people angrier than traffic and politics.