Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bled, Rue or Purple?

I confess, I enjoyed the Jesusland and Slave States maps. Chortled (not smirked!) like any commiepinkoelitistliberal at the IQ by State rankings. And dug into the data on the Generosity Index™ that lumped the Blue states on the bottom. (Liberals stingy? What's the catch? More on this another time.) They were all good visual one-liners, but humor works because it's unfair—both true and false. Labels can work that way, too.

Of course, states are really mixtures of Reds and Blues. Just drill down and apply a more refined level of abstraction: The diverse urban areas and inner ring suburbs are Blue; the fast-growing exurbs and rural areas are Red. Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman says the 2004 Presidential election was "actually a series of local landslides," and he quotes both academics and partisans who agree.

Nathanial Persily, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says his studies of redistricting show a trend toward communities growing more polarized, to the point where they become "echo chambers" of like-minded people talking mainly to each other and becoming more extreme in their views.

Sounds about right. But let's drill down another level. To the individual. Aren't we all a mix of Red and Blue, with a lot of in-between? How much of our personal lives and beliefs and aspirations were really represented in the last election campaign—or in any election, for that matter? And when the candidates' ideas were rolled up into HardWorkValuesWarFreedom or NotBushjohnkerry.com, how satisfied were we with the choice? "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America," by Morris Fiorina, Jeremy Pope and Samuel J. Abrams, takes this direction.

A voting both is a pretty blunt instrument for expressing individual thought, but that is what the pollsters are using to create their labels. Let's resist.


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