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January 3, 2005

Color This System Confusing

Alan Imhoff

Since before our latest presidential election, everyone seemed to take to the "color code" of political parties. Please don't paint all Democrats with the broad brush of "liberal," just as many Republicans would prefer not to be branded as "ultra-right.".

And let's not forget that one of the fastest growing "parties" is not a party, but the proverbial "independent," a.k.a. "undeclared." What should their "color" be? Oh, yes, and where it still exists is the "Green" Party.

In a lot of ways I find the growing trend to define a person as coming from a "red" state or a "blue" state rather amusing if not down right funny. (For the record, when this process was first used by NBC the color designations were reverse of what they are today.) Perhaps what we need to do is define the appropriate shades of each color in various grading scales.

Why in a country where there are hundreds of models of cars - and what seem to be at least 17 brands of wheat flakes - we seem to have only two political choices? Even these are further defined as ultra-left or ultra-right by certain people or interest groups and definitely by most media. Individuals, when running for political office, are automatically branded at the very beginning red or blue and by definition ultra-something.

The thundering herds of party faithful accept that branding as correct and no matter what, the individual branded has a very difficult - if not impossible - task to change that branding.

Maybe we could all agree on a color pallet drawn from a paint section in any hardware store for blue and red descriptions to define the degree of branding a particular candidate should be labeled. Perhaps "flaming sword" red, or "phantom blue" or how about "Geneva blue" and "drum beat" red - courtesy of Glidden paint strips?

In many circles, issues seem to be defined in "black" or "white." You are either for something or against it. (You can determine whether "black" means for or against, which by definition then means "white" has to be the opposite choice.) As a former quality inspector, I learned many years ago that even in the "black" and "white" grading scales there are various shades where "gray" begins to show up.

If we add color designations used in everyday speech, like "green with envy" or "purple with rage," we could begin to paint the individual candidate in some rather fanciful descriptions.

These color descriptions have been part of our everyday speech for decades. Remember when (about 50 years ago) being described as "red" meant you were a communist or at least favoring communism. You never want to use "yellow" as that is associated with cowardly acts.

Will individuals and the media continue to use these types of descriptors? "You betcha."

Just imagine what it would be like if there were a few individuals, maybe even a portion of the "thundering herds" mentioned above, that would be willing to hear a candidate first-hand and engage in a civil discourse during a campaign. Imagine the novelty of having a candidate stand on a tree stump in Baker Park or any town park in the county where people could hear first-hand and question the speaker without the aid of any electronic enhancements.

But then, look at where we are. We have to have a "Civility Code" promoted by local one organization to bring back honest dialog between "red" and "blue" politicians. We have ordinances against campaigning for public in public parks. And we have scores of pollsters and media consultants manipulating what candidates say and do based on what we allegedly want to hear.

So, for the next election we could develop a standard scorecard with the issues condensed into one-word descriptors with the appropriate color highlighted in a dot to the right and its associated description to the right of that. An example:

Candidate: Clem Kiddlehopper (sorry Red!)

Property Taxes: Yellow Dot, Sunbury

Schools: Red Dot, Drum Beat Red

Roads: Blue Dot, Phantom Blue

Trash: Red Dot, Flaming Sword

Police: Blue Dot, Geneva Blue

Medical Insurance: Black Dot

Social Security: White Dot

It might even help if the candidate could dress with an appropriate sash like those used in scouting that would have the number of white and black patches with the one word descriptor in the center, that way we could readily see if the candidate is really for something or is always against everything.

But back to reality; somehow I believe the business of politics will continue to evolve around the stereotyping we so readily accept and in some cases, expect.

I guess it is easier to let someone or some group define a candidate for us, because we are so busy needing to earn the extra money it will take to pay our ever increasing tax burden so we can live in a "red" county, influenced by a "blue" state legislature and all handled by the "gray" cadres of bureaucrats who are always "green with envy" at what others get that they don't.

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