Color Theory: “Red America” and “Red Dawn”

· Edgewise, Paleoblogs, Republicans

Edgewise readers are probably familiar with the story of the Washington Post Online’s new right-wing blog, “Red America,” written by a 24-year-old sometime Republican speechwriter named Ben Domenech, who also runs the site. Various writers at Daily Kos & eslewhere have detailed the various aspects that make his hiring so egregious — that a party functionary has been hired to “balance” a working reporter (Dan Froomkin), that he feels no need to support his assertions with links or other references, that he’s such a chickenhawk his website sells Cafe Press coffee mugs drooling about Marines killing Bad Guys (coffee mugs! you can’t make this stuff up), plagiarism, etc., so I won’t rehash all that here.
Instead, I’ll just note that his blog demonstrates how completely the political connotations of “red” have been reversed in the last 20 years or so. In his inaugural column (no link, as a matter of principle), Domenech cites the 1984 movie “Red Dawn” as some sort of cultural/political touchstone. I haven’t seen it, but it’s apparently a fantasy of gun-totin’ American resistance to a Soviet invasion. That is, “red” in the movie title refers to communism, and in the blog title it refers to Republican voters. A red dawn was a Bad Thing, back in the day, but a red America is now a Good Thing.
The similarities between the radical Republican impulse toward single-party rule and communist totalitarianism have also been discussed elsewhere, and IMO somewhat exaggerated. But it is fascinating how enthusiastically those who a generation ago said “better dead than Red” have embraced the new color symbolism. I suspect that when the TV networks first used red/blue color coding to denote which party had gotten a state’s electoral votes, they assigned blue to Democrats because assigning red would have looked like overt red-baiting. The symbolism works for Republicans in the same way that it worked for communism, by evoking a powerful emotional response. Red is the hot color, blue the cool color. Red is the color of blood, of life, of sex; blue is the color of dispassionate discourse. We can’t break that association, of course, but maybe by bringing it to light we can detach it from our political parties.