“This has turned into way more than it should have been.” - Billy Smith, Stickatude.com co-owner
“We’re here in the greatest country on earth, and we should learn to live together.” - Hinesville Mayor James Thomas
A Long County couple catching fire for an anti-President Barack Obama bumper sticker sold on their website wants to clear the air, while local political leaders say the message is unpatriotic, racist and a blight to the area.
Billy Smith insists that he and his wife, Paula, meant no harm and were not racially motivated when they posted the sticker, which has the Obama 2008 campaign logo with a red circle and line through it alongside a play on the phrase “Don’t renege” that is spelled in a way indicative of a racial slur.
Until this week, it was available for $3 on Stickatude.com.
The sticker was brought to light Saturday when Forbes contributor Roger Friedman published a piece on the magazine’s website and excerpts from an interview with Paula Smith, to whom Stickatude.com is registered.
On Wednesday, Billy Smith insisted that he and his wife meant no harm and did not see the potential for the item to hurt people.
“The website has been up for two years; we have not sold a single sticker until last Thursday,” Smith said. “I haven’t pushed the website. I forgot I even own the thing … I had no idea where it’s coming from. I didn’t push it.”
Smith, who owns the LPC Graphics and Designs printing company, said he also owns his own server, so he has not actively maintained the site.
“The sticker has been removed, and we’re pretty much tired of this, ...” he said. “This has turned into way more than it should have been.”
Smith said the design came from a black family friend who is like a son to the couple, and that he has never seen or experienced racial tension.
“That’s beyond us. We’re not racist by any means — I love all people, and there’s no reason for me to hate anybody, and again, I have no political concept in all of this …,” he said. “I have friends of everything. I don’t play the racist card —it’s not me. I have friends of every race and gender … I don’t understand the way the world thinks. I really don’t.”
However, the Forbes piece quotes Paula Smith as saying the couple “found it on the Internet and thought it was cute.” She did not speak with the Courier.
Liberty County Democratic Party Chairman Charles Frasier, who also serves on the Hinesville City Council, said Wednesday that the message on the sticker is both unpatriotic and has racial implications.
“You shouldn’t make an expression like that about our president, whether you’re for him or against him,” he said. “He is our president, and if you won’t like him, vote him out — that’s the democratic process.”
As for the choice of spelling on the sticker, Frasier said it sends a pointed message: “It means exactly what it means – don’t re-elect this n-person.
“We would love to think that race is not an issue today; Mr. Smith probably thinks that race is not an issue, but the people who bought those bumper stickers viewed it as a race issue — nothing else,” he said. “Everybody that read that thing read the racial overtones there.”
Frasier added that he does not understand why Smith could not foresee the outrage the sticker has caused. Frasier also has received many inquiries from people who want to know what is going on in Hinesville and Liberty County, because other media outlets have reported the Smiths and their business are based there.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said he is disappointed that Forbes and even Savannah media outlets have brought Hinesville into the issue.
“It is not a Hinesville issue, it’s a Long County/Ludowici issue … ,” he said. “This occurred not in the city of Hinesville, it was somewhere else.”
Thomas said printing such a sticker is reprehensible because “it denigrates an entire part of our population.”
While he acknowledged that everyone has a constitutional right to say such things, Thomas said “free speech only goes so far, and it doesn’t shield you from the humanitarian aspect of it.”
Thomas, Frasier and Smith each agree that the issue presents a learning opportunity.
Smith said he hopes “everything comes out right for everybody” and that the controversy taught him the world has not overcome race issues as he thought.
Frasier said he hopes the race issue does not detract from Obama’s current campaign.
For Thomas, the issue is a reminder that people always are learning.
“It’s a learning situation; it’s something that you learn every day. You learn to just get along. That’s the main thing; we’re all human beings, and we must get along with each other …,” Thomas said. “We’re here in the greatest country on earth, and we should learn to live together.”
Liberty County Republican Party Chairman John Wood did not return the Courier’s calls for comment.