There are times when the exuberant heterogeneity of the bumper stickers I see on many American vehicles seems to realign itself into a synchronized statement. Take this vehicle I found myself inching along behind the other day. I photographed it for the anti-establishment message dating back to the 2012 Presidential campaign, in which both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are deemed to provoke disgust. But when I revisited the picture today, I saw so much more.

For one thing, the latest stand-off in Washington DC,  has even middle-of-the-road Americans sick to their stomachs. Progressives like myself may blame the government shutdown primarily on the insurgent wing of the Republican Party, but that doesn’t mean we have good things to say about either its old-guard leaders like John McCain ,or the Democrats who have drawn so many lines in the sand that it’s impossible to tell how many of them have been crossed.

Most members of Congress seem “tone deaf,” to quote the sticker on the left side of this car’s license plate, explaining why, even if other government workers aren’t going to get paid for the time being, they will still be making their usual salaries. And then there’s the name of the car itself, which serves as an ironic commentary on what the nation’s elected leaders seem astonishingly incapable of doing: focusing their attention on resolving the crisis.

But what stands out for me, above all else, is the juxtaposition of the “I WANT TO PUKE” message with the outwardly humorous sticker declaring “My DACHSHUND is SMARTER than your HONORS STUDENT,” another iteration in a long series of ripostes aimed at those earnest parents who broadcast their children’s achievements to their fellow drivers.

I may feel sick when I think about the government shutdown, but what really makes me want to toss my proverbial cookies is the insidious anti-intellectualism demonstrated by the stickers on this car. After all, one of the reasons why Mitt Romney was so unpopular in backwater conservative circles is the impression that he might be too smart for his own good or the nation’s. The animosity against Barack Obama runs much deeper obviously, often with racist overtones, but it also testifies to the belief that politicians who are overly educated will betray conservative principles in the end.

 

Photograph and commentary by Charlie Bertsch