You are not your Outback

Three deer, a female and two fawns, wander into our Jeep’s path. We aren’t far from the Yosemite Falls parking area. No other vehicles are in sight on this two-lane, one-way street. We stop near the creatures and kick back for a few seconds inside my Significant Republican’s Jeep Liberty (complete with an American flag “There’s Only One!” tire cover).

The SR and I have just finished a short hike to the falls. This time of year it’s barely a drizzle trickling down stupendous hunks o’ granite. Kids were scrambling up the dry riverbed over granite boulders smoothed by the previously pounding water.

Now we watch the deer without talking. One fawn nuzzles its mom’s back. They tiptoe gracefully across the pavement.

We honk. Honk, honk, honk.

We look back. A Subaru Outback careens toward us at breakneck speed, blaring its horn. I consider leaping out of the Jeep and standing in front of the deer. Let the impatient outdoors-lover hit me.

I’m sure the driver has a great excuse to be racing through Yosemite National Park on a Saturday afternoon. A medical emergency, perhaps.

Because people who drive Subarus are people who value the outdoors. People who vote Democrat. At least that’s what a market research firm studying the relationship between car ownership and politics found before the 2004 elections.

The Republican National Committee hired Scarborough Research to survey 200,000 car owners about political affiliations.

Democrats drive Subarus, Hyundais and Volvos. A New York Times story quotes Slate writer Mickey Kaus, who calls the Subaru “unpretentious.”

“You don’t buy it because you want to show you have money,” Kaus says. “You buy it because you have college-professor values.”

(College-professors, of course, share exactly the same values. That explains the utter lack of eye-gouging conflicts between academics.)

Scarborough reported that Jeep Grand Cherokee owners skew Republican, 46 to 28 percent. No word on the Jeep Liberty, though when we drove the Republi-van to San Francisco, the SR ended up debating Iraq with a parking attendant.

Are you what you drive? It’s reassuring to know that market researchers have Americans figured out—our demographics (age, race, gender) and psychographics (hobbies, values, ideologies) splayed out for political manipulation.

The goal? Better, more direct propaganda. Ads that cut through the clutter. Our lifestyles, habits and values are studied so marketers can discover who we are. Then they can tell us who we are so we can learn how to better fit the caricature. When we know who we are, we can consume (or vote) accordingly.

Vicious cycle. Doubtful whether this helps us better understand one another—let alone reach consensus on anything.

We can resist being reduced to cardboard cut-outs. You are not your Subaru Outback, your hybrid or your BMW.

Perhaps we liberals think we’re immune to this type of posturing. To test this assumption, drive to a Hillary supporter meet-n-greet in a Jeep Liberty with flag-festooned “There’s Only One!” tire cover.

No, you can’t wear a disguise.At Yosemite, the deer don’t die. The Subaru driver brakes in time, and the animals wander off the road—oblivious survivors.As we travel through the park, we encounter visitors of all ages, sizes, ethnicities and probable political persuasions sharing awe at the likes of El Capitan and Half Dome. We are those who John Muir referred to as the “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people [who] are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.”

We take photos of couples from Los Angeles, Montreal, San Francisco. They return the favor. Congenial strangers. Briefly friends.