Here’s a thought that’s been kicking around the back of my head for awhile: the assignment of “red” and “blue” to describe right-leaning and left-leaning political factions in the United States has stuck in part because it contradicts these two colors’ previous connotations, and to the benefit of the left and right alike.
Ahead of me already?
For most of the 20th century, the color red was associated with Communism, and for reasons that scarcely need explaining, it carried a decidedly negative association in the West: Better dead than red, after all. The American left certainly had its share of Stalinists, and anti-Communists on the right didn’t hesitate in extending the term. When I lived in Eugene, Oregon, the town daily Register-Guard was sometimes referred to as the Red Guard.
Likewise, the color blue is sometimes associated with nobility in Europe and the upper class in America, particularly in the Northeast — I refer to the term blue blood. The stereotype of rich, right-wing industrialists who cannot identify with regular Americans has probably been used against every Republican candidate since Lincoln. The recognition that this can be a political liability is what led Mike Huckabee to recently descrbe himself as “a blue-collar Republican, not a blueblood Republican.”
Meanwhile, witness the rapid adoption of the terminology. One of the rightosphere’s best-known websites is RedState; an online political firm founded by former Howard Dean staffers is called Blue State Digital.
It’s worth remembering that in elections prior to 2000, the colors were not standardized across the television networks, and they also switched colors between the parties. In 2000, chance might have had red assigned to Democrats and blue to Republicans. The prolonged attention to the electoral map might have given rise to opposite definitions for the terms, but would they have stuck?
I don’t think so. The vice versa could never have become political shorthand in this country because neither side would allow it. Reversed, the colors would draw attention to negative aspects of each party’s intellectual and sociological histories.
Therefore, the switch is serendipitous — by adopting the other side’s derogatory colors, each cancels out the other, and in the 21st century can accrue all-new (and perhaps more positive) political connotations.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here