I do not agree with many critics that the Red Blue problem in the US is overrated. It would be nice if the map were as purple as some say. Here is why I do not agree, and what I see as concerns for the future.
The Red/Blue problem is not simply a political problem about who votes for whom. It is a cultural problem. It is about how we define our America, and this is visible in the approach to Iraq.
Iraq is not Vietnam, but our approach to it does have some echoes of that earlier conflict. For better or worse we are now engaged in a ground conflict with insurgents. The people who are in charge and running this war are the same people who were fighting the last one, or protesting it. It should not be surprising that the responses we hear now echo those from Vietnam.
And what are the responses we hear? Well, Michael Savage and his people are calling for overwhelming force, damn the civilian casualties. You win the war then mop up. Be aggressive, brutal, and unmerciful against the insurgents, and after they are routed worry about nation building. Yes civilians will get hurt, but this is war, which sucks no matter which way it is run. Better to fight it as if to win it. In this view, Bush is sucking precisely because he is not going in strongly enough. This is certainly a reasonable approach to warfare.
On the other side, Neil Young has written a whole album of protest. He is at his best doing what moves him most. Midlife boredom does not make as good an album as righteous anger. The album is fun, and at one point calls for impeaching the president for leading us into war on a pack of lies. There are two points to note here. First, I doubt Mr Young was ever open to the idea of war in the first place. So the innocent citizen thing is a little disingenuous I think. But secondly is the call to impeach Bush. There is a little tit for tat going on here. You don’t like something my pres does, so you impeach him – well, I’ll do the same to yours.
So both sides are ramping up along the same battle lines laid down in Vietnam. The right –more power, more strength, more military. Savage’s example was Dresden(!) after all. The left, the same characters even, putting their moral outrage into the artistsic venues, but without much real approach to solving the problem.
Incidentally, I’m not sure which side has a more unrealistic version of the perfect world we are working towards. The right seems to want the US to be the global hegemon, in charge of the world, but not throwing much welfare to the smaller nations. Sort of a cross between the big bad daddy, and the older brother. We will kick ass if you get out of line, we will help you get yourself together so that you can help yourself, but it’s up to you to do it. In fairness, they do think this will lead to more peace and prosperity globally. But really. In pursuing this dream, we spend a shocking amount on military. Face it, most of our taxes are not going to welfare moms. They are not going to corporate bailouts. They are going to supporting the military. This is an acceptable cost pursuing this global vision. The right are Hobbesians. At home then, the Reds want you to be self reliant, and work for your rewards. American is a place where if you dream, and risk, and bust ass, you can accomplish almost anything.
The left seems to be out for Rousseau. If everyone was prosperous, and happy, the natural goodness of man would allow for everyone to just get along. We would use something like the UN to mediate conflicts. When there are problems, we can all get together and talk about it, make a compromise and everyone will live with it happily. At home, the Blues want the general prosperity to be shared with the unfortunate. To them, America is a place where the richest country in the history of humankind ensures that nobody starves, nobody has to live under a bridge, or out of their car, and nobody dies of stupid diseases because they can’t afford the medicine. Crushing poverty shouldn’t exist in this era of wealth.
To my understanding then, the Reds and the Blues are philosophically very different, they have two different understandings of what America is. In and of itself, this shouldn’t be that troubling. The problem is that in pursuing their own vision of America, each side is less likely to play the compromise game that is the beauty of our government. Rather than lose an election, each side sets up trying to impeach the other as soon as possible. They are increasingly less likely to use the rules and compromise to achieve their America. As I’ve said elsewhere, as a group the idealism of the boomers (as a group – not the individuals) is troubling. They are not fighting politically, they are fighting ideologically. And since they are fighting an ideological battle, the rules matter less. They perceive the stakes to be higher, so they act as if the stakes are higher, and then the stakes are truly, much higher.
Where does that point us in the near future? The Reds see Iraq as an expression of the clash of civilizations, and is not going to allow for the security of the US to be compromised because of a few leftover hippies. More Americans shall not die because the Islamo-fascists hate us. In the words of Nicholson’s character, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Since that is the war they think they are fighting, expect little compromise. Would you?
The Blues see nothing short of a hijacking of the United States to make large (esp military) corporations rich, to ensure the well being of our elites, and to control the world’s resources, all at the cost of regular citizenry both at home and around the world. Since that is the war they think they are fighting, expect little compromise. Would you?
Now that both sides are moving into higher powers in the government, things may be interesting in the near future. These are two competing ideologies, with two competing visions of America, and two competing visions of how to achieve their visions. They may not be willing to compromise. I expect more strife along the Red Blue lines before that conflict is settled.