“Obama is a Socialist!” We heard such slogans shouted and banded about by U.S. Republicans in the waning days of the American Election of 2008. Arizona Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the respective Republican candidates for President and Vice-President, used the S-word in an attempt to fire up conservatives and scare the hell out of mainstream moderates. Few bit, however.
First, most Americans realize and accept they have some form of mixed economy where free market capitalism operates inside a container of government regulation and control and that was what saved us from the Great Depression and the Second World War. Yes, many Americans also realize their economy has a tint of socialism in it, but unlike Communist regimes the U.S. does not spout Marxist rhetoric or squash liberties and freedoms or slaughter millions of it own people like the Communist states of Soviet Russia, Red China, the Khmer Rouge, or North Korea. So McCain and Palin’s claims of “Socialism!” fell flat. Many people yawned, and many Republicans felt embarrassed.
It’s hard to yell “Socialist!” when you identify yourself as a Red Stater. Hey, hasn’t anyone else noticed that the U.S. Republican Party identifies itself with the term “Red State?” Has anyone else noticed that ultra-conservative Republicans identify as “Reds?” It must drive a conspiracy theorist wacko to think hey, the Communists actually won the Cold War after all by infiltrating and silently taking over its archenemy those U.S. Republicans.
The same right-wing anti-communist conservatives not that long ago called the Soviet Empire, the People’s Republic of China, and their allies Red states. Cuba is a Red state. So is North Korea. Communists are called “Reds,” right? There’s a famous 1981 movie with a star-studded cast about American Communists who got swept up in the Russian Revolution called Reds.
Red has traditionally been a color of revolution and the blood spilled as a sacrifice to liberate the common people from tyranny and despotism. Tyrants were associated with conservatism back then, especially kings, queens, and emperors who sought to maintain the status quo of imperialism, feudalism, and eventually capitalism. Communists embraced the color red around the planet and by all manner of “regular” leftists everywhere from socialists to liberal progressives.
In fact, the color blue, associated with the U.S. Democratic Party, has traditionally been the color of conservative parties in nations as diverse as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The title of this article could’ve easily have been “What the Heck are the Democrats doing calling themselves Conservatives?” by associating with the term Blue Staters.
Truth of the matter is neither major political party in the United States of America associates with an official color. The Green Party, for example, as a third party embraces the color green to represent its focus on environmental issues. Both Republicans and Democrats embrace the old-fashioned red, white, and blue colors of the American Flag. They didn’t want to get automatically drawn into the way Europeans “did politics.”
The Red State – Blue State divide is ripe with multiple ironies. Republicans, before being hijacked by intolerant Fundamentalist Christians and then the secular Neo-Conservative cabal, were traditionally the party advocating small government, individual liberty, low taxes, non-intervention in foreign wars, domestic unity, pro-business, pro-capital, and pro-free market and a strong national defense. The Republicans, however, became so dominated by Fundamentalist Christians and Neo-Cons with an aggressive big government approach that led to world wide military adventurism in the name of patriotism and the systemic dismantling of the U.S. Constitution.
This process accelerated tremendously under the Bush-Cheney regime, especially after the terror attacks of 9/11. For many Americans, especially of the Blue State persuasion, the Republican Party and the Bush Administration became synonymous with authoritarianism. We had an embryonic, creeping dictatorship on our hands. President George W. Bush actually gave himself the power to declare martial law, suspend the Constitution, and even suspend elections; a power not authorized the Executive Branch by Congress, the Supreme Court, the States, or the Constitution.
Somehow the party of individual liberty and low taxes and business entrepreneurs turned into a party of religious fanatics, realpolitik warmongers, and greedy tyrants. No wonder the Republican Party, even with two “mavericks” like McCain and Palin at the helm, lost the Election of 2008. Americans don’t like Communists, even if they call themselves Republicans and Red Staters.
Of course, U.S. Republicans are not really Communists. Far from it. The seduction of power, however, corrupted all that was good. The Bush Administration became synonymous with abuse, corruption, incompetence, paranoia, and heavy handedness. And to be fair, the terms red states and blue states were not invented by Republicans and Democrats but by the mainstream mass media. Color-scheming to mark different states going for different political parties and candidates harkens back to the Election of 1904.
During the 1960s color television grew as a widespread technology as did color print in what had been black and white mediums. During the various elections of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s different primary television news networks used different and competing colors for different parties and their candidates. Some used blue for Republicans while others used blue for Democrats, and vice versa for other news networks using red for Democrats or red for Republicans.
The controversial and divisive Election of 2000 which included the so-called bloodless Republican Coup led to the designation of states that went Republican as “Red” and those states voting Democrat as “Blue.” Tim Russert, a television journalist for NBC, and a man voted by Time Magazine in 2008 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, solidified the widespread use and acceptance of the Red state – Blue state paradigm during the Campaign of 1999-2000.
For many the divide of America into Red and Blue states was a loud alarm. It demonstrated a disturbing degree of polarity and animosity that some feared was a prelude to civil war and that the so-called “culture wars” would eventually turn violent and ugly. Increasing polarity between American states over a number of issues preceded the division of the nation during the first Civil War of the 1860s.
On old maps the Northern states were often colored “blue” and the Southern states “red.” As open war erupted the Northern Federals made blue the color of their uniform. Perhaps remembering the lessons of British Lobster Backs and Red Coats from Colonial and Revolutionary times, the Southern Confederates instead chose butternut and gray for their martial colors.
For better or for worse the American Presidency is not chosen by popular vote but by State delegates in the Electoral College. Thus an entire state will go “red” if the bulk of its delegates vote Republican and “blue” if Democrat. In reality, Americans of a wide range of political affiliations, including those who don’t vote at all, live scattered amongst themselves.
A better way, perhaps, is to view the counties of all 50 states as well as population density. In many states the urban areas trend blue and the rural regions red. In Washington State where I now live the urban areas with the greatest population density went so blue it threw the whole state blue, but from a perspective of acreage the larger but less populated rural counties went red. Many regions are actually “purple,” what many call the mix of blues and reds in the same area. It can be a relatively small number that tips a particular state delegation one way or another within the Electoral College count.
This color schism became so ingrained under the Bush-Cheney Regime that it took a half-White half-Black Kenyan-Kansan senator from Illinois born in Hawaii named Barack Hussein Obama to call for all Americans to get over this red-blue color divide and go purple. He reached out during his acceptance speech election night as the President-elect of all Americans. So too did George W. Bush, ironically enough, after the much more divisive Election of 2000.
Many Americans, however, felt Bush’s ascension to the Presidency was the result of a bloodless coup, was unconstitutional, and thus Bush was not their president. There were even bumper stickers proclaiming “He’s Not My President!” and then after the equally contentious Election of 2004 “He’s Still Not My President!” That is an unusual situation in American history.
The last time large numbers of Americans refused to accept the President, as their President was when Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln, also of Illinois was elected in November 1860. The landslide nature of the Election of 2008 prevented riots, martial law, and possible civil war. A repeat of 2000 and 2004 would have triggered an explosion of protest and violence among Americans.
We are not out of the woods yet. Our planet’s environment is in a state of chaotic and dangerous flux. We have polluted and plundered it to the verge where we tempt fate with our own extinction. Our economy, divorced from environmental reality, is collapsing. A possible second Great Depression seems likely. Religious fanatics run rampant around the globe as racist militias experience resurgence in our own country. Corporations and bank cartels still control governments at all levels in many areas of the world. Terrorist groups, drug gangs, imperial cabals, failed states, and volatile nation-state regimes present a graveyard for hope and change.
The so-called Euro-American Global Empire has a unique chance presented by the election of Obama to the U.S. Presidency to shift away from imperial ambitions that serve the Central Banking System, the Corporatocracy, and the military-industrial-intelligence complex to serving a new global community of fair trade, freedom, liberty, equality of opportunity, social justice, environmental stewardship, green energy, local businesses, tolerance, plurality, and peace. These are tall orders. Together we can do it. If we fail we risk social-political-economic collapse at the planetary level where everything local is global. We risk death, destruction, and yes, as a species our own Anthropocene extinction.
“Red states and blue states.” Wikipedia. 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_states_and_blue_states>.
McCain, Palin hint that Obama’s policies are ‘socialist.’ Election Center 2008, CNN Politics.com. October 2008.<http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/18/campaign.wrap/>.
“Reds (1981).” IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082979/>.
“Tim Russert.” Wikipedia. 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Russert>.
William Dudley Bass
First written and posted 22-23 November 2008
Revised and reposted15 December 2011
NOTE: This was first published as “How in the World did Republicans become Communists?” on one of my old blogs, At the Brink with William Dudley Bass, at http://atthebrinkwithwilliamdudleybass.blogspot.com/2008/11/how-in-world-did-republicans-become.html on 23 November 2008 and revised and re-published here in December 2011. Thank you.
Copyright © 2008, 2011, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.