ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — When asked at a recent party whether I was
for the “Red team or the Blue team,” I responded that I
would be rooting for Penn State in the Capitol Bowl the next day.
Of course, I knew what my interlocutor meant, and I could have engaged
him in polite conversation about current events. But I was not going
to dignify what I consider a silly usage. There are indeed social and
cultural differences among American voting blocs; and no intelligent
person would mistake the political views of Kansas Evangelicals with
those of ACLU members in New York City. There is also a tendency for
people of different persuasions to cluster in places where like-minded
neighbors are available.
Residents of Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury, for example, are
likely to express more radical opinions about inherited social institutions
than farmers in North Dakota or Old Order Amish in Lancaster County.
Exceptions are obvious, such as Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn or college
faculty just about anywhere. These groups tend to stand out from others
in their area, by being in the one case more conservative and in the
other case more liberal. But regional association offers at least some
clue to ideological affiliation; it is safe to assume as a generality
that residents of Washington, D.C., are further left than people in
Where the Red-Blue distinction is less helpful is the way ideological
distinctions get used. It is certainly clear that different regions
contain different groups of politically motivated people, who can be
identified with the Right or the Left. But it is another thing to insist
that worldviews have to coincide with the changing interests of national
parties. Why should being associated with “Red states” or
with the Red team (and I shall admit to being socially on the right)
oblige me to support whatever the Republican Party National Committee
is advocating? While a traditionalist might prefer voting for McCain
rather than Obama, he should not have to be a party-line Republican.
Nor should he have to listen attentively to a GOP news channel to know
what to say.
Bill Kauffman (of Batavia, New York), a political localist who opposes
centralized parties as well as centralized government, and a brilliant
essayist to boot, has called attention to the deterioration of political
debate since the 1960s. Kaufmann notes that when he was young, “politically
interested folks often had eclectic views.” However, “Today
a distressing number of such folks, having spent too much time being
drained of vital fluids in cable’s morgue, parrot the inanities
of the Hannitys. Go team Red! Go team Blue! Those are the people who
If anything, Bill may be understating the “draining of mental
fluids” caused by the Blue-Red team-competitions. Those terms
increasingly refer to Democratic and Republican party members who are
plugged into opposed inspirational agencies. Each side knows what to
say because there are “news sources” that furnish the necessary
tag lines and sound bites. Political views have become so completely
prepackaged that it no longer pays to talk to most people about a topical
issue, once they have announced the name of their packager.
I recently heard speeches by Senators of both national parties on
the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.
While Harry Reid and other Democrats praised Lincoln for emancipating
slaves and keeping the Union together, the GOP Senate minority leader
Mitch McConnell decided to turn the occasion into a celebration of
Lincoln for having inaugurated the civil rights movement. I have no
doubt why the Republicans behaved this way. It was for the same reason
that Karl Rove got Bush to lean on American bankers in order to make
sub-prime rate loans available to Hispanics. It was a vote-getting
My question, however, is: When McConnell spoke about Lincoln, did
he represent the Red team or the Blue team? And when Bush, on a visit
to Senegal in July 2003, apologized for the American role in the slave
trade (conveniently ignoring the part played by the local African tribes
in the same unpleasant practice), was he acting as a Red team-leader?
One could only imagine how the Red team would have exploded if President
Obama or someone else on the Blue team had said the same thing. One
gets the impression that what is otherwise considered Blue behavior
often gets a pass from the Red team, providing an authorized (i.e.,
Republican) leader does it.
The point is that national parties are vote-getting, patronage machines.
The attempt to beautify them and their operations by attaching philosophical
labels is nonsense. The only way we can have the kind of discussions
that my friend Bill Kauffman wants is by forgetting the shifting interests
of our two parties and their opportunistic labeling. Otherwise, there
is no escape from the exchange of prepackaged sound-bites.
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2010
by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster
Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Reprinted with permission.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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