Friday, September 08, 2006

Red states

With the flurry of yahoos scrambling for office on TV, the radio, and at my train station, I found myself discussing politics with a friend of mine the other day. It started with a heated discourse over the pandemic war on terror abroad, which of course degenerated into picking apart the wherefores of the US's current leadership. One term from that discussion, in particular, keeps popping back into my head: "Red states".
In my youth, no self-respecting American would have ever described their state as "red". Red states were the enemy. They mostly loomed on the right side of that clunky Mercator projection wall-map, while we steadfastly defended the left and what was right. That war, though lengthy, behaved itself. Battles were waged in classrooms and by lonely chameleon polyglots in foggy cities, sometimes spawning open-war in far-off places where the outcome didn't affect the price of anything.
Then, like settling into a still pond after days of hiking under a heavy pack, we won. I know this. I remember it. My father keeps a graffitied piece of the Berlin Wall on his mantle, and I've seen an inordinately larger piece on display at a location that does not exist in Langley, VA.
So, I find myself today wondering, where is the brave new world? Wasn't the victorious end of the Cold War supposed to usher-in a utopia of technology, democracy, and free-market riches for all?
I take classes for my graduate degree with a healthy contingent of active-duty military folks. From them, I hear repeated again and again the phrase, "America is the only remaining superpower". When I was much younger, I believed this, too. It may have briefly been true.
In reality, this sentiment over-simplifies our situation. It is an anachronism, declaring a continued universal victory that is predicated on 1970's political thought. How can this definition of a superpower persist in an environment of the economic superpowers of the European Union, or India, or China? Can we continue to claim military supremacy in a world where stateless theocrats raise transnational kamikaze? At the end of the 18th century, another group of stateless ideologues used ersatz weapons, abhorrent tactics, and the quiet aid of a legitimate state to squarely defeat a military and economic superpower.
Moreover, we now risk forfeiting our status as an ideological superpower. Wealth ebbs and flows. Military might is a long race in many stages; the favored competitors are bound to trade the lead on any given day. But the strength of this state lies in its commitment to the ideals of fundamental rights and freedoms.
As we look south to a remnant of the old red states and our enclave there, we must ask, who in this fight is being defeated?

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