Uproot the Yard Signs

3 years ago ccwa 0

ap326906146903Driving through Louisville, Kentucky in the middle of February will give you very specific data about individual households (i.e. who roots for the Cardinals and who wouldn’t give up the blue without a fight). Neighbor fights against neighbor, and the residents proudly display their allegiance in the form of flags, bumper stickers, apparel, and posters.  Yet for all this torch bearing, publically displaying loyalty to the team does marginally little to increase winning. It does, however, encourage stronger in-group feelings toward the team and fellow fans, create more frenzied support, and foster greater blind loyalty to the team. This is all fine, and even fun, when simply discussing entertainment like sports, but what about when it involves governing a nation?

Going through a neighborhood during election season in 2012 was no different than driving through any sports obsessed town. Yard signs could be found on almost every street proudly exhibiting which political candidate that resident would be supporting in the upcoming election. T-shirts were worn, profile pictures were changed, bumper stickers were attached, and buttons were pinned on absolutely everything. A country was divided into in-groups, and fierce, blind loyalty was created.

This is not to demonize the yard signs themselves where they are useful. In more focused elections, when candidates aren’t as notable, when fervor isn’t established, and when those who post them in their yards are familiar with a candidate’s platform, they may still serve a purpose. The main issue is what they’ve become and for what they stand. In national elections, where the names of the candidates are in every conceivable piece of American media, all they do is serve as a symbol of the increasing polarization in American politics.

Yard signs are known by candidates and campaigns alike to do nothing to sway undecided voters. They don’t state where the candidate stands on gun control. They don’t list the candidate’s ten point economic plan. They don’t give any indication of how the individual will lead the country; they’re just a name emblazoned over a piece of plastic.  It does nothing to increase the knowledge of the American voter. Millions of dollars are spent by campaigns to produce them, while only solidifying the support of an individual who was voting for their candidate anyway. They are indicative of the larger problem in America wherein the majority seeks to be the choir to whom the preaching is done. Prodigious amounts of time and effort are spent to convince citizens of what they already believe instead of exposing them to ideas that might be new or foreign. This is not a novel concept, but one that bears repeating as a major issue in a democratic society with free information.

Being a fiercely loyal member of an in-group can be fun, and a person supporting a sports team because they grew up around it or because their parents did does virtually no harm to society as a whole. But when political candidates (or even worse, parties), are treated like the Dallas Cowboys, however, it can start to cause serious damage. A lack of interest beyond the superficial on the part of the citizenry leads to this kind of treatment. It’s fun to wear the t-shirt and put up the yard sign. It’s less fun to delve into the details of a candidate’s plan to fight inflation. Yard signs are an indicator of a culture that’s dedicated, but isn’t entirely sure why.

For example, there have been no political supporters more dedicated than those of the Paul’s, Ron and Rand. While there is no doubt that many are truly well versed in the positions taken by both father and son, there are many supporters of Ron Paul who back the younger’s presidential bid upon the belief that due to family ties, Rand is also a staunch libertarian. In fact, if a closer look is taken, Rand Paul leans closer to the conservative right than his father on many issues.

There is a difference between support and loyalty. What should be endeavored is support based on a marriage between knowledge of where a candidate stands and personal belief about an issue. What tends to be gotten is a cultivated fan base. America needs to get away from yard sign culture and turn instead to a culture of information. Elections have a very real implication for the lives of Americans, and treating them like the Super Bowl diminishes the importance of a democracy.

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by Miranda Onnen

(photo credit: media.npr.org, www.huffingtonpost.com)