Vanity plates hardly rate as a societal ill

Vanity plates hardly rate as a societal ill
In an opinion piece written for the Sunday, Jan. 6 Washington Post, former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, 85, called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for violating the Constitution, legal transgressions, and lying to the American people.

"Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world," wrote McGovern. "These are truly 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' to use the constitutional standard."

The World War II veteran singled out the war in Iraq as "murderous, illegal and nonsensical."

I mention this as a springboard to what, at first, appears to be a completely unrelated topic: vanity license plates.

I know, I know. You're probably scratching your head, wondering if I've spent too much time sniffing the ink fumes from our press. But bear with me.

I've written in other opinion pieces that our life, liberty and property are not safe as long as the Legislature is in session. Are our lawmakers working to craft legislation on education funding, on economic development, on how to fix our crumbling infrastructure? Well, sort of.

But they're also frittering away their time (and ours) on legislation that, if approved, would eliminate vanity license plates in South Dakota.

This would be an outrage if, for no other reason, that I wouldn't know in advance that Cleo Erickson is approaching me in her car so I can give her a friendly wave.

The proposal that would ban vanity plates has been offered by the state Department of Revenue and Regulation.

Debra Hillmer, state Division of Motor Vehicles director, said in a recent Associated Press story it has become too difficult to keep track of all the terms that motorists want to put on their plates, which cost $25 a year for cars and $20 for motorcycles.

"Every state is dealing with this same thing because people are becoming so vulgar, and there's so many different connotations for things anymore," she said.

SB20, the bill to repeal personalized plates in South Dakota, was spurred by a flap last year over a plate critical of President George W. Bush. The plate – MPEACHW – brought a complaint to the Motor Vehicles Division, which told Heather Morijah of Rapid City that she had to turn it in because it slipped past a routine screening for messages that are offensive to good taste and decency.

I'll pause a moment to let that slack-jawed feeling you're currently experiencing fade a bit.

One of the primary reasons that Sen. McGovern was able to share his personal feelings about our president and vice president in his recent column in the Washington Post – feelings which, in essence are exactly the same as those Morijah indicated in her vanity plate – is the freedom of expression we all enjoy here in the United States.

Are there vanity license plates that test the boundaries of "good taste and decency?"

Yes. But not every one of them. The same can be said, at times, of movies, books, plays, rap songs, television shows, video games, art, half-time shows of the Super Bowl, episodes of The Biggest Loser (especially the scenes when the men think they need to strip off their wafer thin tank tops before stepping on a scale), anonymous blogs, nearly every American Idol contestant during the first two or three weeks of a new season, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Britney Spears attempting to sing, Britney Spears in a car, Britney Spears at home, Britney Spears shaving her head, Britney Spears in court, Britney Spears running away from court, and Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight who only has the ability to cover, you guessed it, Britney Spears.

We're surrounded, no, bombarded by this stuff daily. We survive. We're Americans. One thing you learn when you live in the land of the free is how to tolerate the bad now and then while enjoying the good.

Here in South Dakota, we put up with sub-freezing temperatures and snow in the winter, and heat and mosquitoes in the summer. We're hardy stock.

Vanity plates, at their best, are fun. At their worst, they're a slight nuisance. We can live with them.

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