Red or Blue?

Much has been made since the '04 election about the "red" and "blue" states - so much as to make an oxymoron of the term "United States." But overlay a map of the country with proportionate distributions of red and blue - each county color-mixed in proportion to that county's votes - and you'll see undulating purple. Oddly, the "gray faith" would have us see black and white when it suits them, but the reality is a continuum. Of course the results of an election - selecting one candidate over another - reinforces a contrast. The switch is on or off. But on an individual basis, how many people are completely red or blue? Nearly none, or just a few on the margins of a bell-curve. The vast majority are conflicted, with our choices often countered by a nearly equal inclination to the opposite. 51% to 49% sounds about right many times. So when it comes to a choice between A or B, the result seems artificially stark.

Pundits tell us the country needs mending - the victorious right must reach out to the downtrodden left - fairly goading the humility of the classic good sport. But both sides must reach, and the bridge between must be forged in the recognition that both sides have advanced the cause of the United States. Unfortunately, here's where we fail. The liberal perception of conservatives and the conservative perception of liberals have devolved into grotesque caricatures. Founded in ever-more-outrageous posturing for political gain, the conflict of left vs. right drives a stake through the heart of our nation and thus injures the world. Take the conservative notion that there's no such thing as a violent situation to which the liberal solution isn't appeasement, or the liberal application of gay-marriage-rights as a litmus test for intelligence; these are patent absurdities. Yet liberals and conservatives within their own spheres laud the individuals and institutions that foment these and other far more belligerent caricatures - the "Extreme Games" and "Air Americas" of the world, each with their own rabid advocates and nary a concession between them - as if our left and right hands were unable to clasp.

Whether through ignorance, neglect, or willful manipulation, we've cultivated a culture where trying to win by fanning bigotry has risen above all else. And the standard response from the losers is to revile the winners because they're uninformed, inhuman, spineless and wicked. But there should be no "pass" for knee-jerk ideologues.

Conservatives are not homophobes, bigots, rednecks, or stupid. Liberals give us no credit for the accommodations we've come to. But along the way we also recognize the need for some boundaries. The liberal ethos begs the age-old question, "Just because you can do a thing, does that mean you should?" And liberals are not innately evil. Conservatives must acknowledge that liberals are often at the leading edge of social evolution and safeguarding the planet. But taken to extreme, liberalism puts temptation before reason in what has become a confrontation of nearly Biblical proportions.

This is what conservatives are rebelling against and a big reason why George W. Bush won reelection. As a culture, we've been tempted very nearly beyond our capacity to reason. Dissent framed by well-informed reason should always be welcome, but our context is all out of balance, so the pendulum swings.

We're long overdue to put grudges aside and take stock of our culture. Liberals and conservatives should rightly cherish their unique accomplishments, but they must also recognize that while such accomplishments may arise from conflicts between us, the victories are often mutually beneficial. Liberals have taught conservatives much about love and compassion - caring for the disadvantaged and the different. And liberals need to learn from conservatives that not all permissiveness is good - that some Truths about Life defy choice. Individually we know this. As a culture, we need to release the machinations of institutionalized anger and consider the mix of red and blue (and white, for that matter). The color is purple.

Copyright 2005, NetScribe