As I wrote in today’s issue of Cherwell, the midterm elections held this week in the United States marked a turning point for the government. The establishment of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives means the legislature is divided; it remains to be seen what the country’s newly elected leaders will do once in office. I hope, as do most Americans, that whatever they accomplish will be in the area of putting the economy, and thereby the American people, back on track.
Being here in the United Kingdom when the election happened, I was able to compare the buzz surrounding these pivotal midterms with the frenzy erupting last May when Britain had its own general elections. Although they weren’t quite the same, as America was of course not electing a new President this year, I was struck by the similarities and differences in the general mood. One particular point of contradiction, though, was more visually striking than the rest – the colours and emblems embraced by each of the parties, and their counterparts across the pond.
Throughout the election season, right up until the voting booths closed, various media outlets published virtual maps of the races in each state for the Senate, the House, and governorships on their websites. Every day the colour each state was shaded would reflect whether it was solidly tilted towards one party, leaning that way, or a complete tossup. Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats, and something else for independent candidates; there were a few who had a real shot in this election. With their states highlighted in yellow or orange or green, Lincoln Chafee will be the new governor of Rhode Island, Charlie Crist was defeated by Marco Rubio for a Senate seat in Florida, and the outcome of Lisa Murkowski’s write-in candidacy in Alaska remains unclear. But for the most part, blue and red dominated the map.
I grew up in a world where those two colours were so closely identified with the parties they represented that to separate conservatism from the crimson family or liberalism from an ocean of blue was impossible. But here in Britain, it’s the opposite – Labour dons red and the Conservatives blue. When I was watching the elections last year, the variance in colour scheme amounted to a seismic shift in my political perspective. I’ve learned now to be careful to mind my American tongue when discussing red states and blue states, because the effect of colour on how others construe my stated opinions is quite important, and easily mistaken.
And then there are the elephants and the donkeys. In America, Vineyard Vines prints ties with rows of each animal marching diagonally in miniature, in the patriotic colours of red, white, and blue. Even citizens who don’t consider themselves all that partisan may sport them occasionally. Well, Britain’s flag is dyed with those same colours; I have yet, however, to see any of my fellow students or other residents of Oxford marching about the city in a tie stamped with little airbrushed trees or roses or doves.
Of course, nothing gets murkier when I attempt to explain my own views. You see, I’m not red or blue; I’m purple. I am not sure how you mash up an elephant and a donkey, but if you could, I guess that would be my symbol. And I’ve realized the best thing of all – whether in Britain or in America, if you’re part of that moderate, reasonable centre, you can consider yourself the same. We’re all purple together, in the middle of the political spectrum and the Atlantic Ocean itself.