"On the Lighter Side" by Dan Gura *
After thirty-five years and a couple billion miles, my beautiful wife Sandy was retiring as a flight attendant with United Air Lines (UAL) and I joined her on her last trip to Honolulu. (Photo: Sandy Gura wearing a vintage UAL uniform on her final flight for UAL)
Since I had no interest in the in-flight movie, I passed the time by watching the seemingly endless Rocky Mountains and thumbing through a dog-eared copy of Hemispheres. In the center of the free airline magazine was a map of the United States which showed every route United flew; I held it to the window and tried without success to figure out where we were. I mean, one majestic snow capped peak pretty much looks like the next from 50,000 feet and I quickly realized that, with the exception of the pilot and navigator, no one on board had the slightest idea which mountainous state we were flying over.
A light went on over my head (not Divine Providence, but the reading light in the overhead compartment--which should be opened carefully because the contents may have shifted during take off) and I noticed every state was clearly identified with its name in bold letters (except for the really tiny little New England states like Rhode Island which were abbreviated).
That was when I was awestruck with a brilliant idea, one which would benefit every geographically challenged passenger soaring through the friendly skies. The federal government should erect colossal letters spelling out each individual state's names--and not some little letters mind you, but gigantically enormous ones, huge enough to be seen by every airliner flying from sea to shining sea. From that day forward, passengers would be able to look out the window at the awesome alphabetical tableaux spread out across the amber fields of grain and fruited plains and say with confidence, "Well lookie there Mable, we're over Eye-O-Way."
After we landed, I discussed my idea with the captain and he thought letters a mile long by half a mile wide would do the job just fine. At that size, my mammoth state identifiers would make the landmark H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign, with its puny 45' high by 30' wide letters, look like the runt of the litter. Of course, each letter will be illuminated so brightly you'll be able to read them whenever the weatherman shows a satellite view of our country on the nightly news.
At first I thought the state's names should be color-coded, according to how they voted in the last presidential election; red lights to delineate God-fearing states where marriage means one man and one woman and life is sacred from conception to natural death, and blue lights warning of the states where the spirit of Sodom and Gomorrah reigns supreme. (Map: 2004 Presidential election results)
But, as I gazed across the purple mountains majesty, I realized the media was wrong. The blue state and red state labels, first used in that context on NBC's "Today" show about a week before the 2000 election, are as artificial as the lines on a map which divide our states. In fact, from the air it is nigh impossible to tell where one state begins and the next one ends. Oh sure, you can spot geological features like the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, but the artificial, man made lines between Utah and Colorado exist only on paper. And the higher you go, the more our country blends together; from where I sat, there was no question that we truly are one nation under God, indivisible.
The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that we had been lied to by the media. Their highly touted state-by-state maps--which colored the New England states, upper Midwest and west coast blue, while the majority of the country was red--did not prove how divided our country is any more than Richard Nixon's landslide win in 1972 (1) and Ronald Reagan's landslide victories in 1980 and 1984 (2) proved that America was united under the GOP banner.
Princeton University's Robert Vanderbei gave a more accurate perspective with a map that blends the colors representing percentages of voters (by county) for each party. On his map, individual states are not solid red or solid blue--they are hundreds of shades of purple. And that purple does a great job of representing the unity of the world's melting pot. Case in point: In 2000 Al Gore won New Mexico by just 366 votes. That made it a blue state on the media's old staple. Vanderbei's map more correctly shows it to be a cornucopia of magenta colors.
The 2008 presidential election is still over a year away. Heck, neither party has even picked a standard bearer. Yet the pundits at the 24/7/365 cable news stations, when not reporting on OJ's latest foibles, are already harping on the red state-blue state divisions. They call it healing the rift. I call it trying to create conflict where none exists.
And thanks to the Internet there's more...much, much more. I Googled "red blue state 2008" and found 2,210,000 hits, including articles with cutesy names like "One state, two state, red state, blue state," "Blue Grass, Red State," and "Don't it Make my Red State Blue." There are bloggers championing every color of the rainbow--provided the spectrum is limited to two hues: Republican red and Democratic blue--who wax endlessly on how to convert one color to the other.
For those who can't get enough of the red/blue non-sense, www.electoral-vote.com includes a map that rates how each state leaned-strong, weak, barely--in the last election. Far more informative is their listing of hundreds of 2008 presidential polls (updated daily). They even tracked two Brown University polls for Rhode Island--that electoral vote gold mine--which put Hillary ahead of Obama (35%-16% up from 35% to 8% on January 27th).
In closing, the only thing I can promise with a 100% degree of certainty is you will be sick of hearing the phrase "red state-blue state" months before Fred Thompson is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America.
(1) Sandy only evacuated one airplane during her career, a charter for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, who went on to lose to Richard Nixon, who received the most electoral votes ever, 520, versus McGovern's 17. Curiously, that map showed the Republican states in blue.
(2) In 1980 Reagan received 489 electoral votes while Jimmy Carter received only 49. In 1984 Reagan shattered Nixon's 1972 record by received 525 electoral votes, while Walter "Fritz" Mondale only carried his home state of Minnesota with a mere 13 electoral votes.
* Dan Gura is a contributing editor to RFFM.org.