By Patricia H. Kushlis
Ironic isn’t it that the GOP now garbs itself in red when not wrapping itself in the American flag. That the electoral map of the US pits the red Republicans against the blue Democrats. That Sarah Palin’s $150,000 supposedly-borrowed-designer-wardrobe comes in red and black: red shoes, red leather jacket, black suit, black skirt.
I never thought too much about the color significance before – but once upon a time in Europe and elsewhere, red represented, and still represents, the color of the Communist Party – the GOP’s particular whipping boy – even though far too many Republicans fail to understand the ideologies of and differences among the hated “left” preferring to paint the Democrats in sweepingly and erroneous extremist terms.
When I lived in Moscow in the late 1970s, the banners that festooned city streets on the weeks leading up to “election day” or decorated Red Square on major Soviet holidays were red. Red served as a splash of life against a landscape of dead mud brown streets and filthy black-specked snow. Only in summer did the late leafing green trees and their signs of life provide a much needed relief and respite from the starkness of the long winter.
When I visited Vietnam in 2003 during Tet, the red banners of the Vietnamese Communist flanked the doors of the local party headquarters while Chinese Red trimmings and candy wrappers dominated the food stalls on Hanoi’s streets.
The importance of color in politics
Color is important in the heat of the political debate. Identification of a particular color with a particular political faction dates at least as far as back as the Byzantines who divided into three political groupings: red, green and blue. Don’t ask me to explain it, but even today in modern Greece, the reds are the Communists, the green represents PASOK - the Social Democrats - and the blue is claimed by the center- right New Democracy.
So how did the rightist Republican Party become associated with the color red when red is normally associated with the political left elsewhere in the world? GOP leaders must have known about this connection – or maybe not - when they wrapped themselves in the red of the red, white and blue.
Seething – not Beautiful - Red
In Russian, the word for red and beautiful come from the same root – hence the name for Moscow’s Red Square which was given the name well before the Communist Party had seen the light of day.
Yet this year, the Republican red has no relationship to beauty. It is an angry red as red bleeds to purple and then, dare I say it, blue on the electoral maps as November 4 approaches. The depth of this anger houses a belligerence I’ve not seen in a long time seething just beneath the surface and erupting at the McCain and Palin campaign rallies among the most faithful – or should I say – fanatical of their supporters. This troubles me. The emotions that the McCain campaign has unleashed are far beyond the pale for a healthy democratic society.
Democracy's about losing as well as winning
Because, well, democracy is all about power sharing and power shifts. It’s about losing as well as winning. The Republican right and the GOP leadership need to learn that losing as well as winning is part of what helps make this country strong and that Democrats as well as independents and Republicans who support the Democratic ticket are also loyal Americans who very much want to see this country recover from the disaster of the Bush administration’s years. They just think that Senators Obama and Biden will do a better job and are more qualified than Senator McCain and Governor Palin.
So please John McCain, Sarah Palin, and behind the scenes master puppeteer Karl Rove, stop the lies, lower the decibels and the red heat of venomous emotion and turn the final days – at least - into something the candidates and party can, in the future, be proud of.
Winning by any means possible is not the only thing. Waving the red flag of bigotry, lies and half-truths is the worst possible way to attempt to generate support. Besides, if the polls are right - it’s not going to work.
Photos of Hanoi by Patricia H. Kushlis - 1) Neighborhood Communist Party Headquarters (2003); 2) Old Town Shop (2003). Photo of Moscow's Red Square during May Day Celebration by William J. Kushlis (1980).