There was an interesting graphic in the Times recently, showing how various US districts have moved to the Left and Right over the past few elections. This year, of course, it's a glare of red stars moving Right.
These charts remind me of the Doppler effect as seen by astronomers. When a star or galaxy is moving away from us, its light is shifted down the spectrum so that it looks more reddish; if it's coming toward us, the light is shifted toward the blue. The 2010 map is red, red, red, which feels appropriate to me: the country is moving away from me and my personal beliefs, leaving the map awash in a bloody glare. For now, anyway.
It's not universal, though. There are a few glints of blue here and there – districts that actually became more strongly Democratic this year, defying the trend. They're all over the country. And some are even here in New England.
Rhode Island – wizened, scrappy, scrawny little Rhode Island - is still one of the bastions of Blue State America; only the District of Columbia has a stronger Democratic presence. Politics themselves are blue-shifted here: Republicans, to be successful, have to be far meeker than elsewhere in the country, and Democrats can be as fiery as they like. Entitlements, pensions, state-run disability plans – they're facts of life here.
I'm a Democrat, of a sort, but I yearn for a wider spectrum of representation. I was stupid enough to think, in this election, that we might begin to see an end to the Democratic-Republican polarization of America, and the birth of a couple of viable third parties. The local ballot was full of third-party candidates: plain Independents, one Cool Moose, one “Hour with Bob” candidate, and a full slate of Moderate Party candidates, with their own logo and website and everything. I voted for two third-party candidates, in fact. One of them actually won: Lincoln Chafee, our Governor-elect, a former Republican who ran as an Independent.
But nationwide, third parties were a non-starter. Gail Collins has consistently maintained the superiority of the two-party system, saying that it's hard to govern with a majority if you're elected by a 37% vote. I think it's a shame. In systems with three or four or five parties, you are forced to form coalitions, and compromise. No one is deluded into believing that his party's platform is going to be voted into law as one huge chunk. And you can belong to a party that more properly represents your own beliefs.
I know the flip side of this coin: it only works if everyone agrees to play. If the liberals shatter into three parties, they'll split the left-wing vote, and the monolithic Right (which is anything but monolithic, really, but which pretends to be monolithic for campaign purposes) wins the election. But I'm beginning to wonder how comfortable the Tea Party people are feeling as members of the GOP, and how soon it will be before they create their own intransigent little party.
But Rhode Island – ah. Not a single Republican in high state office. Both US Senators, both of our US Representatives, the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General are all Democrats; the new Governor is an Independent. It's the Worker's Paradise!
I wish it were. We manage to foster quite a bit of scandal and corruption here. Here are a few of our greatest hits:
- Ed diPrete, Governor. Republican. Bribery, extortion, racketeering. Went to jail.
- Brian Sarault, Mayor of Pawtucket. Democrat. Bribery. Went to jail.
- Fernand St. Germain, US Representative. Democrat. Helped engineer the savings and loan crisis of the early 1990s. Didn't go to jail. Probably should have.
- And everyone's favorite: Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Mayor of Providence. Democrat. Racketeering. Went to jail. (Did lots of other stuff too, including torturing his ex-wife's boyfriend with a lit cigar and a fireplace log.) Now out of jail, and working as a political commentator on local radio and TV. He gets everything completely wrong, but he has a devoted audience, and I know people who quote him all the time.
All hail the Worker's Paradise!
But I like living in a blue state, in blue New England. We Rhode Islanders aren't genteel Democrats like the ones in Connecticut, or wild-eyed socialist cheesemaker Democrats like the ones in Vermont, or hard-headed baseball fanatic Democrats like the ones in Massachusetts. We have our own ways. We putter around our pocket-sized Utopia with a sigh and a shrug and a roll of the eyes. Nothing's perfect. And – hey. Things could be worse. We could be living in Wyoming, after all.