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‘Political rage’ hits home in Auburn

Presidential election has taken on a sometimes hostile tone
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Everyone has heard of road rage, but how about “political rage?” That’s the term Mark Rosen, vice president of the Auburn Area Democratic Club, used to describe two instances reported to the Journal in a month of a person being harassed for their Barack Obama bumper sticker. In one case, Terry Davis, a regional director of the Sierra Club and Auburn resident, said he returned to his car after a club meeting at the Placer County Library in Auburn to find two profanity-laced notes, one calling Obama a racial slur and the other saying “you need to leave just like him.” In the other case, a man claims he and his wife were given the middle finger on the highway for their bumper sticker. Supporters of both parties said the level of animosity between the Republican and Democratic camps has reached a point they’ve never witnessed in past presidential elections. “I don’t know how any normal person would react other than to just be appalled,” Rosen said of the two harassment reports. “It’s scary and it doesn’t do any good. If anything, something like that is going to encourage us to be more polarized.” With the first presidential debate tonight, polarized viewpoints will be brought to the forefront nationwide. Dianne Foster, vice president of the Auburn Area Republican Women, said she’s never seen such hostility surrounding a presidential election. She said she hasn’t heard of any supporters of Republican candidate Mitt Romney getting harassed and suggested people are acting out because of fear for where they think the country is headed under Obama, citing problems ranging from the economy to foreign affairs. When asked why this specific election has taken on a hostile tone among voters, she said this is the first time the United States has ever faced the reelection of a “socialist” president. “When you see … people expressing hostility on people’s cars, I think that is unfortunate and wrong,” Foster said. “People are so upset and angry, and they vent toward that person that is voting for Obama. They see that person as a threat to their own living style.” Davis said he doesn’t have a problem with people who oppose Obama because they believe he has socialist ideals, but when it takes on racial undertones – or a blatant slur in this case – that it really strikes him as “abhorrent.” The notes shook his perception of his hometown, which he said he has come to know as a place with small-town values and differing political views but never outright racism. “For that to happen at our library, it almost feels like kind of a blow to the innocence of the town itself – that we harbor racists, that we’re not just all good folk,” said Davis, director of the Sierra Club’s Mother Lode chapter which encompasses 24 California counties. Davis said he had “mixed feelings” about making the notes public, but a friend encouraged him that “this needs to get out.” “People need to be aware of this and this is a subtext to this election,” he said. “And we need to admit that this underlying racism does exist in our own town.” Heidi Van Zant, an Auburn resident of 13 years and vice chair of the Sierra Club Placer Group, said learning about the notes on Davis’ car has made her evaluate how she expresses her political endorsements. “It makes you concerned,” Van Zant said. “Putting up something in my window at home – you might think twice about that now.” In Alan Shuttleworth’s case, when he said he received a middle finger while heading east on Interstate-80 near Rocklin, he thought maybe he had made a driving mistake but after discussing with his wife they could only figure one possible cause. Going the speed limit while in the center lane with no other cars around, the Obama sticker is the only reason they thought would have caused a man to pull alongside them and lean over his passenger seat to flip the bird and repeatedly honk his horn, said Shuttleworth, a Sierra College English professor and Colfax resident. He said he can’t be 100 percent certain that was the man’s intention, but it wouldn’t be the first time his Obama-supporting Beetle received a negative reaction. Before the highway incident, a different man approached his wife in an Auburn parking lot to point out the sticker and say, “I feel sorry for you,” he said. “I just don’t remember people being as aggressive and angry about an election before,” Shuttleworth said. “I never cared a lot for George W. (Bush), but never in a million years would I have done something so aggressive.” Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com.