Puce America

I once had a girlfriend who, after we parted ways, went through a number of, let us say, transitions in her sexual self-image. She explained it to me like this: “First, I thought I was red. Then, I thought I was blue. Now, I realize that I’m purple.”

We’ve all seen, and have grown weary of, the wide array of red/blue/purple political maps. The purplish tones are supposed to show us, I guess, that even a “red state” is a mix of red and blue people. It’s not binary: all red or all blue. Yes. I guess. But the thing that gets in my craw is the fairly widespread assumption that individual people are either red or blue, which is just silly if you think about it for a millisecond.

Now, I’m a guy with an extremely “blue” sensibility. I choose an urban lifestyle. I have my metrosexual moments (to mention another moribund sociological notion). I am not a man of faith. I like gay people (yes, all of them, on principle) and think they ought to be able to get married if they want. I am, as they say, “pro-choice”. The Ten Commandments should not be posted in courthouses. You should be able to burn a flag. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll? You betcha!

But I have a fairly “reddish” Iowa background, of which I am fond. I do not find it at all difficult to identify with God n’ Guns conservatives, and in many ways admire their ethos of faith, family, work, and responsibility. Their rhetoric comes more naturally to me, stirs me more easily, even if I’m sometimes embarrassed by that fact. I helped a little bit in the Pat Robertson campaign in Iowa in ’88, because my best friend’s family was involved in it, and I liked the idea of it at the time. I find I generally get more viscerally aggravated by liberal moralizing than conservative moralizing, which, for some reason, I tend to find comical or surreal.

I am, like my open-minded former paramour, purple. No, in fact, I reject the spectrum. I’m brown, dammit. (And what can brown do for you?) It’s just very very weird–well not weird, normal, but annoying–that people should suddenly actually integrate into their sense of identity this redness or blueness–colors meant to represent a damnably artificial left/right political spectrum. One of the reasons I dislike politics, and especially our winner-take-all system, is that it creates a pressure to pick sides in a way that does damage to authenticity. I resent being asked implicitly to join my intellectual urban fellows in therapeutic anti-red scorn-heaping excercises, as if “red” and “blue” actually means something interesting. Let’s all just stick to hating the stupid and pompous, qualities that know no hue.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center