There's no easier way to gauge the disappointment that liberals and progressives should feel toward President Obama than to look at their cars -- more specifically, their bumper stickers.
I've been playing this game for years. Whenever I see a car with an Obama-Biden bumper sticker and a second bumper sticker, most of the time I can predict the following about that second sticker:
1) It usually reflects a social cause the car owner cares about.
2) The cause reflected on that second bumper sticker is usually one that Obama has opposed or obstructed as president.
It's uncanny. It's jarring. And it's commonplace.
When I see those cars, I try to assure myself: Someone who cares enough about an issue to paste a sticker on their car must surely know that Obama is not an ally on that issue.
I have a bit of sympathy for liberals and progressives whose cars carry a tattered 2008 Obama bumper sticker . . . along with another sticker (or two) for causes Obama has actually undermined. Back in 2008, many thought Obama might bring about progressive change.
But here are some bumper stickers I've seen in recent months . . . alongside non-tattered "Obama 2012" stickers.
"Criminalize Fracking!" In upstate New York where I live, I've seen anti-fracking stickers on several cars with "Obama 2012" stickers. Could these car owners really be unaware that Obama is a longtime champion of gas-fracking, who appointed industry-connected fracking enthusiast Ernest Moniz as his Secretary of Energy?
"Local Farms, Local Food" Could this Obama supporter be unaware that the president packed his administration from the beginning with executives and lobbyists from Monsanto and other corporate promoters of global agricultural monoculture?
"WE ARE THE 99%" No presidential candidate in history had received more Wall Street funding than Obama in 2008, and Wall Streeters dominated his economic team from day one -- not to mention that one Obama Chief of Staff after another was a 1-percenter investment banking exec, from Rahm Emanuel to Bill Daley to Jack Lew (now Obama's Treasury Secretary).
"WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER" Are you kidding me? Go tell that to the Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenis, or anyone who's seen Jeremy Scahill's new book or documentary on Obama's "Dirty Wars" -- with the book subtitled: "The World Is a Battlefield."
"Defend the Constitution: Repeal the Patriot Act" Hello!!
You don't need to be Einstein to explain this paradox of "Obama 2012" stickers alongside those for causes Obama has actually resisted or undermined. These car owners will tell you: I care deeply about fracking (or local farms or economic justice or war or civil liberties), and I displayed the Obama 2012 sticker because on the issue or issues I care about, a President Romney would have been worse.
There's some logic here.
But it should bother these folks to consider that their cars may be misleading others to believe that Obama opposes the dangerous fracking process or that he stands up to the greed of Wall Streeters when, in fact, they've been so powerful inside his administration.
Here's a simple solution:
1) Tear off the Obama election stickers.
2) Right in front of each bumper sticker that says "War is Not the Answer" or "Defend the Constitution" or "Ban Fracking" -- as a salutation to those stickers -- put one that reads "PRESIDENT OBAMA:"
With these two simple steps, thousands of progressive car owners can avoid any risk of sowing confusion about how Obama has actually been governing. Instead, they'll be sending a clear and important message that often gets lost in mainstream media:
There is a large, active progressive community in our country that is unhappy with Obama, and is making demands on him.
Jeff Cohen is cofounder of the online activism group RootsAction.org, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.