By Patricia H Kushlis
As I watched a news clip of the Pope’s address to the Joint Session of Congress last Thursday, I couldn’t help but notice that House Speaker John Boehner was wearing a very spring green colored tie. I thought, hum, that’s unusual. What might that mean?
It wasn’t the regulation Republican red that I’d become used to seeing him and others from his party wear in front of the television cameras. Or the light blue that he had on for his official House photo.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like green or that my father’s family didn’t have a special fondness for the color when they wore it proudly on St. Patrick’s Day, put to rest their religious differences with the Catholics for a day of Irish patriotism, and brought out the whiskey, revelry and fidelity to the motherland which, in their case, had been forsaken sometime well before the Civil War - the US one, that is. And our Irishness wasn’t really all that strong anyway since it wasn’t as if the rest of the ancestors had even come from the Old Sod. But it did carry over into children’s names, the gift of gab, a penchant for letting the good times roll and for a few of us, interest in politics.
Color Sends an Important Signal in Politics
But my point is that colors are extremely important political symbols that send messages to supporters in ways that speeches, platforms, and candidates don’t. I’ve read, although not on Wikipedia, that this can be traced at least as far back as Byzantium when the three factions in the Hippodrome were distinguished by red, green and blue.
These same colors represent the colors of today’s Greece’s three major parties: the blue is the color of New Democracy (the conservatives), the green of PASOK (center left or social democrats) and red (the Communists and the far left.) Another way of thinking about it is blue is the color of the sea and the sky, green the earth and its life giving vegetation and red the color of revolt. Although in the UK, red is the color of nobility as witnessed in the upholstery of the House of Lords and green (the House of Commons) of the merchant class.
Colors then - centuries later - still take on an ideological and sometimes social class cast.
I’ve found it rather peculiar that the Republicans somehow adopted red as theirs given it’s more recent historical significance as the flag bearer of worldwide Communism and the Republican antithesis to anything that might even represent more economically progressive thought than John Locke’s Wealth of Nations in the 17th century, and the Republican mistaken conflation of the mixed economic systems of social democracy with that of authoritarian or totalitarian Communism.
Social democracies, after all, are among the most successful countries in the world. And even the Chinese have all but in name renounced the Communist economic model while retaining an authoritarianism which is likely more related to Confucianism than to Marx. But even they retain the red banner - a kind of Chinese red with a yellow hammer and sickle which, in reality, might better be replaced with the symbol of China overlaid with the RMB. Let’s face it, no single theoretical economic model really works when it comes face to face with the messiness of the real world.
Of course, green not only represents Greek social democracy and the Republic of Ireland but it is also the color of Islam so it’s peculiar to see the stark black and white of the ISIS banner which supposedly represents the restoration of an Islamic caliphate that never was as the colors of choice of this dysfunctional and dangerous variant of Islam. It reminds me of the anarchists or perhaps a pirate flag - which I suppose that’s what these people really mostly are.
Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah - Free at last
But good for Boehner - the color choice of his tie did not come easy as Frank Bruni pointed out in his September 27 column “The Republican Party Implodes” in the New York Times. Boehner, according to Bruni’s sources, “reportedly agonized aloud over the neckwear he’d chosen, saying that he’d been inclined toward a blue tie but had listened to his staff and gone with green.”
I suppose a blue tie - even a light blue one - for the occasion would have been just, well, too iconoclastic since it is, after all that of the Democrats - but at least wearing of the green is a good start.