Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Showing Our Primary Colors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Showing Our Primary Colors

Article excerpt

There's a joke about a retiring sea captain who tells his successor, "There's one critical bit of information that's really the secret to running the ship. It's on a slip of paper in the upper right hand drawer of your new desk." The new captain opens the drawer and finds the slip. On it he reads, "Port is left. Starboard is right."

Through this election season I've been clinging to a similarly critical bit of information: "Red states go Republican. Blue states go Democratic."

I think I'm not the only one. Newbies on the political circuit have been talking "red" and "blue" as if the colors had been assigned after a coin toss between Jefferson and Adams. But this is really only the second presidential cycle in which the phrases "red states" and "blue states" have crystallized into an accepted shorthand. Time was when one could flip the dial, as we used to say, on election night and see different color schemes on different network maps. In 1992, the networks settled on red for Bill Clinton and blue for George H. W. Bush. By 2000 they had - dare I say it - flip-flopped, and the victories of the scion of the House of Bush were colored red.

Not everyone finds the new standard color coding intuitive. One has to resort to little mnemonics: Republicans go for red meat and Democrats go for blue cheese? Hmm. The putdown lines for privileged liberals have generally referred to brie, not blue. But at least they both start with "B."

Maybe the simplest thing is to etch in thought, "R = red = Republicans," and let the Democrats have the one that's left over.

Part of the problem here is that red, as a political color, is seriously oversubscribed. It's the royal red of George III's Redcoats during the American Revolution and of Royal Mail postboxes in Britain today. But it also is - was? - the color of the Communist Party and the left generally. …

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