Friday, September 15, 2006

Here's Your Sign

Yesterday a friend e-mailed me about an upcoming yard-sign distribution for Rep. Stephanie Herseth, which was something of a coincidence inasmuch as (as I told him) I had been musing on the subject of political yard signs, bumper stickers, and the like whist gazing upon a Jack Billion sign near my son's school.

The gist of my musing was twofold.

First, I wondered, and still wonder, if they do any good. Or anything at all. I would really hate to think that there are folks out there who are so ill-informed and ill-formed that they would go into a voting booth and cast their ballots based on the number of yard signs, bumper stickers, lapel pins, or Styrofoam skimmer hats they saw with Candidate X's name. Once upon a time people might have been more influenced by noting that some Prominent Citizen had a sign supporting a given candidate or issue; I suspect very few feel that way anymore. My conclusion, then, is that probably almost no votes are gained directly, though a few curious souls might note having seen a number of signs and be inclined to learn more about the candidate or issue they promote--name recognition, in other words.

Likewise, I would hate to think that there are people so shallow and mean that, perceiving a greater number of bumper stickers for Candidate Y than Candidate X, go in and vote for X out of some kind of perverse orneriness. Or who don't vote at all, on the theory that since they don't see many Styrofoam skimmers with "their" candidate's name on it the game must be lost and why bother voting at all. (Although that's pretty much the theory behind not publishing national voting results until after the last precincts in the country have closed.)

Second, I reflected on the relative lack of such signs in my current domicile, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, yard signs were de rigueur--everyone had 'em every political season, tons of 'em...every front yard, every vacant lot, every roadway right-of-way, every utility pole. What's more, people had at least one in the yard for every candidate and every issue they supported. All up and down the street...and the next street over...and every street all over town--literally thousands of yard signs, great and small, horizontal and vertical, red and blue being the predominant colors, but plenty of green and yellow and even orange to go around. It was like crops of signs sprouting up in people's yards.

I imagine there were local printing shops that, like retail stores at Christmastime, literally survived only because of the political season.

It was really quite amazing...and yet it wasn't, because it was the norm for the first ten or twelve years of my life. It was only after moving here in childhood--at a time when there were virtually no such signs in use in Sioux Falls--that it occurred to me that that was perhaps not the norm across the country. That suspicion was buttressed when I returned to Omaha for college in the mid-seventies and heard one of my political science professors, who was not originally from the region, declaim that he had never known of a town that went in for political signs the way Omaha did.

And does: I was back there a few years ago during an election season, and noted as in childhood the scores upon scores of signs as far as the eye could see, urging me to vote for this candidate that I had never heard of (and obviously could not vote for if I wanted) or against some proposition that, apparently, the locals knew all about, since they were cryptic messages along the lines of NO ON 162! Okay. Good to know.

'Round these parts, although there are far more signs than in my childhood (whatever "far more" of "zero" would be), no print shops are staying alive on the basis of creating yard signs for candidates or Concerned Citizens. Today, a few people up and down the block will post a sign, or maybe--if they're exceptionally bold and the sort of people who probably routinely stay up past eleven--two in their yard, sort of decoratively positioned back from the sidewalk where they're visible but won't, you know, attract too much attention But that's about it.

I will be interested to see if the yard-sign trend, such as it is, continues. As indicated in my musings above, I really do wonder about the signs' usefulness. And yet, if everybody is erecting yard signs, as they do in Omaha, what candidate could afford not to play the game as well, even if they really do no good?

The signs, I mean, not the candidates. Although...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Suddenly the city is fairly festooned with billboards that would persuade me to re-elect Mike Rounds as Governor of South Dakota. (As if, having not voted for him the first time, when he was a lesser-known quantity, I would vote for him now that he has displayed his true colors.) My favorite shows Mr. Rounds looking all grim and resolute and square-jawed and everything, with the message, "Rounds. Results."

To which I reply, "Results? Really?"

In signing South Dakota's heartless and mean-spirited abortion law, Rounds said, "In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society."

(That he pretty much swiped the statement from Hubert Humphrey is well documented [see and, among many others]. Humphrey's quote: "The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.")

My question is and always has been, Does he mean it? So far, the answer seems to be no. According to the Children's Defense Fund []:

  • South Dakota ranks 17th among states in percent of babies born at low birthweight.
  • South Dakota ranks 31st among states in infant mortality.
  • South Dakota ranks 34th among states in the percent of children who are poor.
  • South Dakota ranks 44th among states in per pupil expenditures.
  • South Dakota ranks 46th among states in the percent of babies born to mothers who received early prenatal care.

This does not speak well of how Rounds purports to treat "the most vulnerable and most helpless" in our society. I would argue that the "true test" of a political leader is how well her or she stands by his or her political rhetoric. So far, Rounds is failing the test pretty badly.

Clearly, as is so often the case with right-wingers, once a kid is out of the mother's womb, Rounds's interest in him or her drops to about zero. Certainly Rounds displays little interest--and definitely no "results"--when it comes to adequately funding public education. He and his Democratic opponent, Jack Billion, debated the matter the other day. Here's what the Sioux Falls Argus Leader (it won't be there long: the Argus is not good about keeping articles online) quotes Rounds saying this about school districts that actually manage their paltry finances enough to stay in the black:

"Let's talk about our local districts for a minute, because in the last two years, at the end of the last previous school year, they had $138 million sitting in their general funds, which was an increase of over $13 million from the year before, and their capital outlay (reserve) was at $83 million, which was an increase of almost $16 million from the year before,'' Republican Rounds said.

"So if they're taxing you and not spending it on their kids but putting it in their savings account, let's talk about that, because it ought to be going for the kids instead of into a checking account from year to year.''

Golly, Mike…do you suppose that maybe the money that's "sitting around" is there to be spent on the kids when you and the state legislature fail for the umpty-eleventh time to do anything to fix the state-aid formula? Do you think it's a bad idea to hold a little something in savings in case of unforeseen circumstances? Do you think it's good fiscal management to go into the red every year?

Rounds's opponent, Jack Billion, who is fighting uphill if only because this state hasn't sent a Democrat to the governor's office since the 1970s, had this to say about Rounds's bizarre statement:

"What the governor is telling you is that the school districts ought to spend down their money every year.

"That would be like if you were in business or if you were farming and you would say 'Hey, I'm going to empty my budget every year, spend it all. I'll start every year with zero dollars.' That's absolutely ridiculous."

Doctor Billion is a master of understatement.

Anyhow, billboards notwithstanding, I've yet to see the "results" that Mr. Rounds seems so proud of. Still optimistic, however.

(Oh, but only to a point: It is now obvious even to me that KSFY-TV has decided to ignore the e-mail I sent to them last Thursday. That's okay. I'll just do likewise with their station.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Curiouser and Curiouser

This appeared Friday in "Eat the Press" in The Huffington Post, but I only got to it today:

Bush Announces Sept. 11th Primetime Address, Asks ABC To Interrupt "Path Of 9/11" Posted Friday September 8, 2006 at 10:45 PM

Yet another wrinkle was thrown into the factually-challenged ABC "Path Of 9/11" drama today: President Bush is planning a prime-time address from the Oval Office on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11 — and has asked the networks for time to broadcast his remarks. If all goes according to controversially-scheduled plan, ABC will be entering the final hour of the five-hour, two-part, commercial-free miniseries, which has been hotly debated over the past few days when it was revealed that elements of the film were fabricated, improvised, and not remotely grounded in proven fact.

Read the whole article here.


In an otherwise fine article about The Path to 9/11 controversy at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website, "Fudged facts put 'Path to 9/11' on a slippery slope," Melanie McFarland makes an all-too-common mistake. See if you can spot it. She writes,

Some groups, including members of Congress, also requested the show be pulled from broadcast altogether. Wrong move. No political body in a free society has the right to pressure any network into censoring entertainment, even one with factual misrepresentations. What made-for-TV, ripped-from-the-headlines drama doesn't?

Did you spot the all-too-common mistake? It's this: Not understanding the concept of "censorship." Too many people too often cry censorship at the drop of the proverbial hat. To my knowledge, no one is proposing censoring ABC Television. I know I'm not. I'm asking them not to air fiction as if it is fact; I'm asking them to voluntarily do the right thing, the responsible thing, and restrain themselves from airing this smear job. That's not censorship: censorship would be the government moving to stop them from broadcasting this right-wing propaganda. Something the current government is unlikely to do.


Back to The Huffington Post (and having nothing to do with ABC Television): this item by John Kerry, with a link to the text of a speech by him in which he details "the five biggest things that need to happen to get the war on terror right." In case you're interested, Kerry says they are:

  1. Redeploy out of Iraq.
  2. Recommit to Afghanistan.
  3. Reduce our dependency on foreign oil.
  4. Restore our moral authority.
  5. Reform Homeland Defense.

Interestingly, not a single one of those seems to be on the Bush administration's to-do list.