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The Ornery Observer
February 17, 2010

Blue and Red Teams: Wishing Both Would Go Away
by Paul Gottfried

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 Boise, Idaho.

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 died dyed.”

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 mechanism.

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.

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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 (Pennsylvania) Newspapers. 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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