The completely implausible victory of a Republican candidate for the open Massachusetts Senate seat provides as good an opportunity as any to consider the myth of the "red state" and the "blue state." Conventional wisdom goes that the "blue" states generally support liberal causes and candidates, while the "red" states support conservative causes and candidates. This myth has the advantage of being extremely straightforward and simple. It is not even incorrect; states do generally vote in a similar fashion over time. It is precisely the general correctness of the theory that makes it practically useless and dangerous. Any theory that is "usually" true but breaks down in extreme situations is worse than no theory at all, because it lulls its followers into the false sense that they "understand" the essence of a situation when they have in fact not gotten past a simple unification of a series of experiences into a cohesive set of not-yet-essential appearances.
Two politically opposite examples of this same point are the victory of President Obama in the 2008 elections and the present election of Scott Brown that we are now considering. In the 2008 elections, the Republicans not only accepted but embraced the entire "red state" mythos. Their presidential candidate was a fighter pilot POW and their vice presidential candidate was a gun-toting "hockey mom" (whatever the devil that meant). They ran a gleefully anti-intellectual campaign calculated to appeal to the masses of "red" voters who supposedly drove trucks and owned guns and hated the "liberal elite." When it came down to the election, the McCain-Palin ticket found itself derailed not just in the blue states, but in many of the red states as well. What happened?
In Massachusetts just yesterday, the opposite event occurred. Martha Coakley seemed like an ideal blue state candidate. She was extremely "progressive," well-educated, and would have been the first female senator from the state (if I am not mistaken). While arguably she ran a relatively uninteresting campaign, she did this precisely because Democrats don't need to campaign for national office in this state--they always win. Yet she lost, and to precisely the sort of person who one would expect to win in a red state, a truck-driving national guardsman whose biography, as Jon Stewart observed, seemed tailor-made for a nighttime TV drama and not a Massachusetts senator. How could this possibly have happened in one of the bluest of the blue states?
The answer to this question lies in the overcoming of the belief in the actual division of the population into partisan political factions. Not because this belief is incorrect, but because it fails to explain that which is most in need of explanation in a practical theory of political psychology, which is the sudden and incalculably unexpected upset. The fact that red states and blue states only retain their chromaticity in the everyday situation should already suggest to us, who are (hopefully) more penetrating observers than most, that there is another force at play here...