Published on Saturday, November 6, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State
by David Potorti
|Question: why is New Mexico, where 48.9 percent of voters chose John Kerry, called a "red state"? And why is Michigan, where 49.4 percent of voters chose George Bush, called a "blue state"? Why is a country which was nearly evenly split between the two candidates described as "a nation transformed," and the wishes of 51 percent of voters seen as a "mandate?"
Those are questions worth asking as the media, politicians, and even those on the left, give life to two lies: that America is hopelessly polarized, and that Kerry voters were mere hangnails to history. The lies are reinforced by graphic representations of the winner-take-all electoral college, which paints America as uniformly red with a few stray fringes of blue waiting to drop into the sea (or float into Canada). But this is one case in which a picture isnšt worth a thousand words, and in fact, oversimplifies to the point of conveying an opposite meaning.
As now being engaged, the red/blue debate serves as just another means of marginalizing the left, and this argument is already being internalized by newspaper columnists and letter writers-- from Maureen Dowd's "little blue puddles," to Thomas Friedman's "two nations under god," to those who earnestly write the editor with tales of waking up November third in a nation they no longer recognized, commanded by those whošve never seen a bagel or a homosexual.
But more destructively, the alleged red/blue divide serves to suppress whatever inclinations we might have to reach out to those with whom we disagree. Would you be more likely to engage with someone as their equal, from a place of common ground, or as a fringe minority, waging a hopeless battle to enter "the red zone?" The map tells those on the left that engagement isnšt worth it, while telling those on the right that engagement isnšt necessary.
But engagement, more than anything else, is what is so sorely needed today. Understanding where "the other" is coming from doesnšt mean surrender, and conversation doesn't require conversion. It does, however, require remaining open and teachableand in this regard, those on the left are just as guilty as those on the right of refusing to understand the motivations of those with whom they disagree. Not the fanatics, who arenšt interested in rational discussion, but with the majority of people who arenšt fanatics.
How would it change the perspective of a right-to-lifer if they understood that anti-war activists were acting out of their own concern for the sanctity of innocent life, even the lives of innocent kids in Iraq?
How would it change the perspective of an anti-war activist if they learned that some supporting the war were driven not by hatred and ignorance, but by a sincere belief in their duty to protect their families and their country from harm, regardless of the cost?
And how would it change the perspective of everyone to realize that we all have values, and that those values, however differently expressed, are almost identical?
Changed perspectives might not advance anyonešs agendas, or lead either side to "victory," but it would make living alongside each other a lot more pleasant, and a lot safer. The terrorism of September 11th taught us that violence doesn't follow the divisions of red and blue. Republicans and Democrats, investment bankers and undocumented workers perished on that day. In fact, 20 percent of the victims in New York City were foreign born, representing 164 different countries. If there is another terrorist attack, wouldnšt you like to know that the family across the street, with the Bush or Kerry sign on their lawn, would open their door to you?
We live together, work together, and die together. Recognizing this reality is, in fact, the biggest fear for anyone holding power, for when ordinary people find common ground, it will be a lot harder to make them act against their own self interests. True security begins with our own attitudes, expresses itself in our own communities, and knows no boundaries.
That the politicians, and their dutiful press, have already divided us into red and blue, suggests the true sources of our polarizationand tells us that any common ground will have to be found by us, not them.