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View Garbage

Do lawn signs help win elections?

I sure hope not, but I fear they must, otherwise politi­cians wouldn't waste money littering area roadsides with them.

A few years back, I drove the freeway across South Dakota with a visiting Brazilian student. He couldn't believe all the tacky, tattered billboards for Wall Drug, Reptile Gardens and other tourist traps.

In broken English he said, “Do they not have law here against view garbage?”

View garbage! I still love the phrase. It describes elec­tion-time lawn signs to a tee.

I keep hoping a courageous politician will announce that he or she will refuse to use lawn signs and will instead use the money to publish a detailed explanation of his or her governing philosophy and policy proposals.

I suspect I hope in vain.

“Vote for Johnson,” tells me nothing, even if the sign goes on to explain that Johnson is in favor of a better tomorrow.

The theory behind lawn signs, I suspect, is that if peo­ple see enough of them on enough pretty lawns, they will get to thinking they had better join the crowd and vote for the person everybody else is voting for.

Or, people think that if the Nelson family endorses Bing Johnson for auditor, they must know something about him. The Nelsons surely wouldn't let just any doofus put up a sign in their yard.

But in most cases, I look at lawn signs and think “ugly.”

The sheer volume of lawn signs could be a sign of a politician’s tenacity and determination, I suppose.

You can't drive across the Polk County line without knowing within seconds that Barb Erdman is running for sheriff. Ms. Erdman has utterly blanketed one of the largest counties in the state with lawn signs.

If Ms. Erdman is half as good at defending the county from crime as she is at distributing lawn signs, I suspect she'll be a pretty good sheriff.

Early on last summer, Ms. Erdman's opponents put up some signs in area yards. However, it wasn't long before “Erdman for Sheriff” signs showed up on some of the very same lawns!

That's persistence. That's tenacity. What more do you want in a sheriff?

Because I live one mile south of the county line, I don't have to decide whether to vote for Ms. Erdman. However, her name is seared in my subconscious in black and gold, probably forever.

I know nothing of the issues at stake in the Polk County sheriff's race. But if I were to step into a voting booth in Polk County next month and contemplate the sheriff candidates on the ballot, I suspect that the decid­ing factor would be, much to my shame, lawn signs.

The reason? Sheer, mind-numbing repetition.

Look what repetition has done for Wall Drug: After realizing that travelers would pull off the highway for a free glass of water, the store built its reputation putting thousands of signs and billboards up all over the world.

What does Wall Drug promote, you ask? Cheap drugs?

No, Wall Drug has nothing more than a reputation for repetition. When you finally get to the store you wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s just a big gift shop full of gift shop junk promoting Wall Drug.

Most visitors don't realize that they have been taken in by a subliminal scam. The endless, hypnotic repetition of Wall Drug's signs convinced their subconscious that there must be something there to see.

Most visitors don't remember that the signs promised nothing more specific than free water. They aren't offended there isn't anything to see, and nothing to do.

They're so relieved to be a part of the crowd that they buy Wall Drug junk to prove that they were there.

View garbage works.

The same psychology applies to lawn signs. When vot­ers see a ballot full of obscure candidates running for obscure offices, they go with the flow and vote for the familiar name.

Few things make a local candidate's name more famil­iar than a flood of lawn signs. Bored drivers in these big open spaces are a captive audience.

So, there's a very good reason we don't have laws against view garbage: Most lawmakers wouldn't be law­makers without it. ¥¥

Eric Bergeson’s website is

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