Red State, Blue State

carriage tour

“Charleston Carriage tour —Bigstock Photo

Ijust spent a weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, giving a talk about my research on Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who spent the war in Shanghai. I was barely a mile from Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began.

South Carolina is one of the reddest states, giving 55 percent of its votes to Romney. Now I’m back at home in Illinois, one of the bluer states, so safe for Democrats that Obama did not even campaign in his home state. Red state, blue state — what’s the difference?

If you widen your concern past elections, not much. The people I met in Charleston were happy about their unseasonably warm weather, over 60 degrees in early December, with flowers still blooming. On Saturday evening, my hosts took me to two neighborhood parties. Conversation revolved around local gossip, prospects for golf and professional football at one party, and a more academic set of topics at the other.

I met filmmakers and teachers, housewives and retirees, businesspeople and lawyers. People kicked back with mulled wine and chili, apple pie and beer, cheese and crackers. Except for the southern drawl, it would have been hard to tell that I was not home in Jacksonville or anywhere else in these United States.

Lately we have been inundated with political campaigning and reporting. Now that the election is over, stories about the heated negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” and other party political arguments dominate the news. Anyone who tried to understand our nation from the outside through the media might think that the Civil War, portrayed so briefly but gruesomely at the beginning of the fine new film “Lincoln,” was still going on: south against north, both coasts against the middle, cities against countryside, red against blue.

It’s not true. Americans in South Carolina and Illinois are thinking about the same things as Americans across the country. And most of those things have little to do with politics.
Certainly politics plays a role in nearly every area of life. The funding of Medicare will affect my mother’s financial future and my own. Moving the Social Security retirement age up a year or two would force millions of Americans to work a little longer than they planned.

Home mortgages, school funding, and tax rates will impact our checkbooks. Infrastructure investment and defense spending, not to mention dealing with the enormous debts of Illinois, and the even more enormous debts of the federal government, will have long-term effects on employment and interest rates. There is much reason to care about which party wins elections.

But the differences between the parties fade into the background when we face the real issues in our daily lives. How are our children doing? Are our parents healthy? Who is going to rake the leaves? Did our team win? What do we have to do at work this week? Have we bought Christmas presents for everyone on our list? What’s for dinner?

On the airplane back to St. Louis, I met an oil and gas man from Oklahoma. I’m pretty sure he voted for Romney, because he said that Obama’s policies were not good for the oil and gas industry. We had plenty to talk about: where we were going and why; the Chicago Bears’ loss in overtime; the drought in the Midwest; chasing tornadoes; fantasy football; our mutual interest in history.

I learned quite a bit about the obstacles to the wider production of electricity fromwind power. We didn’t exchange names until we landed, but we made a connection that transcended any political differences. When we shook hands, what mattered was that we were interested in hearing each other talk about things we knew, were respectful of the other’s opinions, and realized we liked each other right away.

Steve HochstadtIf you listen too much to political talk, you might come to believe that half of America thinks the other half is stupid, evil, and corrupt. But the few people who are signing petitions to secede from the U.S. are the same ranters who call everyone else traitors, who don’t let facts get in the way of their opinions, and who keep trying to convince some Americans to hate other Americans.

Let them form their own country. Soon they’ll all hate each other. We can then continue to find the good and true things that unite us as Americans.

Steve Hoschstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Wednesday, 6 December 2012


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    (1) I agree with Steve that despite the needlessly corrosive dislike- (if not actual hate)- mongering of the election campaigns, the overwhelming majority of Americans are good-natured and respect others.

    (2) I disagree with Steve’s needless and unsupported stereotyping of ‘people
    who are signing petitions to secede’. I haven’t encountered any such people,
    but I have no reason to believe that they are necessarily ranters, haters or
    promoters of hate. Here in California at times I half-seriously advocate our
    secession, for any of various positive reasons: more responsive government;
    fiscal flexibility; and collaboration based on having ecological, attitudinal
    and economic commonalities more with British Columbia than with the East Coast.

    (3) I utterly agree with Two Crows. Yes, more tautly urbanized folk – predominating in the Northeast as versus the South- try to reduce time spent with each strange person encountered – after all, there usually are far more strangers, but no more minutes in a day. To be sure, in some cases this behavior reflects a pathology, but for most urban folk this behavior is just sheer practicality, not unfriendliness.

    (4) I wish Steve had expanded his discussion to consider just why do basically
    friendly Americans tolerate corrosive negative and hate-mongering election
    campaigning – including pointless partisanship (red-vs-blue or other) and simplistic (and usually errant) all-good-vs-all-bad perspectives.

    In my opinion, that campaigning reflects a needless and nowadays very damaging aspect of our political systems, and apparently it’s tolerated mainly because people fail to realize that we could do things (i.e. make public decisions) differently.

    The villain is the use of adversarial most-votes-takes-all competitions as a
    device for selecting decision-makers. This approach rewards partisan coalitions and red-vs-blue thinking. But making of reasoned decisions – or selecting
    special people to make them – should rarely if ever be done in a manner which
    treats the different presented alternatives as being in total live-or-die
    competition (or which rewards a gaming perspective which so treats those

    We could do things quite differently. We could forego selecting special
    decision-makers at all and just let public decisions be made by many short-term
    deliberative juries of randomly selected ordinary citizens. Or, a far second-best but still better than currently, give each of the top 5 (say) candidates for an
    office a proportion of the decision-power proportional to votes received – so
    that campaign stakes won’t be anything like total victory versus total defeat.

  2. harry wood says

    You do not watch enough TV, such as MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, and others who actually use fowl words to defame people with whom they do not agree. You were not as bad as they, but are inching up on them.
    When I visit the NE and greet a stranger while walking in or out of a store, they do not return the greeting and appear to be miffed that I spoke. Southers on the other hand, will greet total strangers with a smile and a kind word.
    There are ding bats everywhereand I should know, I have lived almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere, several countries that no longer are countries.
    I could go on and on, but just ask you to watch the city government leaders from Detroit talking about how we tax payers need to send them some money and their good friend (POTUS) should be sending the money soon to rebuild their city.

    • two crows says

      I cannot, for the life of me, understand why you took umbrage with what Steve wrote.

      He found common ground with numerous people from a different part of the country from his own. He enjoyed their company even though he disagreed with some of their views. He recognized that they worry about their children, their parents, raking the leaves and what’s for dinner – – just as he does.

      You, otoh, found it within yourself to sneer at northerners as a group. You did not recognize their individuality.

      And you criticized Steve for finding that common ground while you refused to do so.


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