Saturday, August 23, 2008

Your No Grammar Whiz

As I was driving home this afternoon following a memorial service I conducted, I pulled up behind a car with an interesting bumper sticker. The only sticker on the entire car was an "Obama for President" sticker. However, below the Obama sticker the man had fashioned a homemade sign with bold, black letters on bright, yellow paper. The sign read, "Your No J.F.K."

I was a bit perplexed. My uncertainty about what this man hoped to communicate was only surpassed by my irritation at his grammatical mistake. At that moment I knew I needed to speak with this man. Fortunately, we were headed in the same direction. We soon came to a stop at a red light and I used to opportunity to pull up alongside him and gesture for him to roll down his window. When he did, I said to him, "I noticed your sticker. There is a mistake. 'Your' should read 'Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E.' It is a contraction between the words 'you' and 'are.'"

The man politely thanked me. The light turned green. He drove forward but I had to make a right-hand turn because I had pulled up alongside him in the lane for right turns only.

Our conversation was only half complete. I also wanted to ask this man what he meant by the sticker. The absence of any other bumper sticker presented me with no clues about this man's political leanings. Was he an Obama supporter who had become confused in his messaging? Was he a Hillary supporter too lazy to take down his sign after Obama secured the nomination? Was he a McCain supporter crafting his own negative ad?

His homemade sign is a reference to the 1988 Vice-Presidential debate in which Dan Quayle compared himself with John F. Kennedy. Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who was sharing the ticket with Dukakis, fired back at Senator Quayle, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

This insult seems to only work one way though. To make this insult implies that you hold Kennedy in high esteem and feel that the person to whom you are addressing the insult does not rise to Kennedy's level. Does the typical McCain supporter hold Kennedy in that kind of high esteem? I would guess not.

The other thing that is ironic about the bumper sticker is that JFK strived to be recognized for his intellectual depth. Susan Jacoby writes,
"John Kennedy... played up the sophisticated qualities that set him apart from but also gripped the imagination of ordinary voters. He famously balked at donning cowboy hats, Indian headdresses, baseball caps, or any headgear designed to show that he was just an ordinary guy, and he would surely have been appalled by the suggestion that he put on a phony southern or rural midwestern accent. Whether Kennedy was as cultivated as he seemed, whether he really was an omnivorous reader who could have been a historian... was less important than his desire to be seen and admired for his intellectual qualities...

"Whatever the reality, there is no question that the image of Kennedy as a cosmopolitan polymath... was a vital part of his appeal. Cultural literacy in a presidential candidate was seen as a desirable trait by the public, and the culturally sophisticated image that the Kennedys presented to the world only enhanced their domestic appeal."
In light of these comments, the bumper sticker is unintentionally hilarious.

I am going to do something I almost never do on this blog. I am going to leave the comment section open. You're welcome to chime in. What do you think this man was trying to communicate with his homemade bumper sticker? Who do you think he is most likely to vote for in November? (Please keep your comments on topic.)

Edit: 8/24/08 After receiving several comments yesterday, I've decided to close down the comments because it is hard to draw a line between trying figure out what this man was trying to say with his improvised bumper sticker and offering critiques of the candidates. However, the comments I did receive interpreted this bumper sticker as anti-Obama, suggesting that Obama is not on par with JFK. This interpretation makes literal sense, but it is also confusing. Kennedy was assassinated short of completing three years in office, which makes evaluating the success of his presidency a challenge. More than that, this insult only works if you hold JFK in high esteem. Maybe this is an incorrect assumption, but I have a hard time imagining that there are lots of people out there who think JFK was the greatest thing since sliced bread but would vote for McCain over Obama today. Of course, I could be wrong and please correct me if I am wrong on this count. I think it is also important to mention that without a long track record on which to evaluate Kennedy's presidency (and an understandable hesitancy to criticize the victim of an assassination) we forget that Kennedy was not universally admired. Kennedy did wipe the floor with Nixon in '60 in the electoral college, but the vote was a lot closer. Nixon won more states (26 to 24) and, in a race in which over 68 million votes were cast, Kennedy received only 110,000 more votes than Nixon.