The little-known link between campaign sign thieves and lima beans

By JAYSON JACOBY, Baker City Herald October 24, 2008 01:00 am

Politics are notorious for provoking people to embarrass themselves, but for sheer stupidity there are few acts, it seems to me, that surpass the stealing of campaign signs.

Except for the burning of campaign signs, which besides being illegal could lead to skin grafts or even death.

And yet, every time we as a nation go about picking those who will represent us — and in particular when the presidency is at stake — the papers and the TV become infested with stories about people whose campaign signs have gone missing.

Or gone up in flames.

I’m sure some of these instances can be explained as pranks — the work of vandals who are wholly ignorant of politics.

I don’t condone such crimes but I understand what compels people to commit them. Everyone, I think, has an innate inclination to at least occasionally thumb his nose at society’s definition of acceptable behavior.

Even the straightest arrow, after all, can be overwhelmed by the urge to heave a rock at the window of an abandoned warehouse just to see the glass shatter into splinters.

Making off with a campaign sign is by comparison quite a bit quieter, and less messy, and so probably is even more seductive as a result.

Yet even accounting for mindless stunts, it seems to me reasonable to assume that a significant percentage of the sign thieves and arsonists are indeed motivated by political partisanship.

These people baffle me.

Some of them must truly believe that by taking or defacing a sign they are tipping the election in their favor, presumably by pilfering votes from the candidate they oppose.

This sort of mentality, though troubling when it manifests in an adult, has about it an element of childlike fantasy that tickles me.

The sign-stealers remind me of a five-year old who dumps his lima beans down the garbage disposal and still thinks he’s getting ice cream for dessert.

What a simple and innocent notion — if I make the thing I despise go away, then it is invisible forever after.

Most people, of course, figure out the fallacy of this concept around the time they master the one-digit multiplication tables.

(Or else they discover a slightly more subtle tactic, such as feeding the lima beans, in ones or twos, to the dog.)

And yet political signs, these shoddy constructions of paper and flimsy metal rods, continue to cause people to regress.

It never ceases to surprise me when I realize that certain adults — people who probably have a license that entitles them to drive an automobile — have concluded they can really put one over on the voters by swiping or torching some signs.

Voters, I submit, are as wise to that type of tomfoolery as parents are to the lima bean-down-the-drain guise.

The bottom line here is that stealing or burning signs could significantly influence elections only if a lot of voters chose candidates based on the signs they see, or don’t see.

I don’t believe this is so.

The truth, of course, is that all but the most reclusive of voters are bombarded with information about candidates and measures, and lawn signs are neither the most prevalent nor the most conspicuous of these propaganda salvoes.

(Actually, in dim light I sometimes mistake campaign signs of a certain hue for shrubs or napping dogs.)

You have, perhaps, noticed an occasional campaign ad on TV.

Senate candidates Jeff Merkley and Gordon Smith, to name just two, get more air time on Oregon stations these days than Oprah does.

According to the latest estimates, Merkley’s campaign, along with groups that endorse him, have together shelled out $13.7 million for television ads.

The pro-Smith forces trail by the price of a pretty nice house, having spent $13.4 million.

This onslaught of televised sniping presents a serious conundrum for the zealous partisans on both sides.

There’s quite a few more TVs around than campaign signs, for one thing — and besides, busting a TV brings up that noisy glass-breaking dilemma that I mentioned earlier.

You might be able to slink away unnoticed from the neighbor’s yard, clutching an armful of signs, but not many homeowners are apt to miss a person who shows up in their living room brandishing a sledgehammer.

And even if you could silence all the TVs there’s still the Internet to contend with. Which pretty much ends the game right there.

The Internet is more a force of nature than it is a medium.

It’s like gravity, almost.

Gravity can be suppressed, of course.

You can go to the moon, for example. Although not easily or cheaply.

Except I’ll bet that even if you made it to the Sea of Tranquility you’d find, besides Neil Armstrong’s bootprints, that the place has free wi-fi.

Which leaves me to wonder: How many light-years would you have to travel to get beyond the reach of, say, Obama’s newest tax plan and McCain’s latest homage to that bald plumber who looks to me an awful lot like Mr. Clean?

The nearest black hole, maybe.

As for people who have been victimized by a sign thief, I sympathize, and offer by way of condolence this reminder:

Your candidate’s name might have disappeared from your property, but I’ll wager that the ballots are yet intact, which are after all the items that truly matter.

And Americans, I’ve noticed, tend to turn right mean, in the manner of a long-abused dog, if anyone tries to get between their pen and their ballot.

Although some people can be pretty protective of those little garden gnomes.

Jayson Jacoby is the editor of the Baker City Herald.