By virtue of the title alone, Living Blue in the Red States — a collection of 21 "creative nonfiction" essays — seems right up my alley. Here I am a liberal yet a lifelong resident of a state where, in its 118 years, 25 persons have held gubernatorial or Congressional office who were not Republicans — and two of those 25 were appointed to fill vacancies in seats already held by Democrats. Since supporting FDR in 1936 , the only time the state voted Democrat in a presidential election was the Johnson-Goldwater race in 1964 — and even then Goldwater got more votes than John Kennedy four years before.
Ultimately, though, the reason Living Blue in the Red States tends to succeed is because it tries to rise above politics and political labels. Many of the essays directly or indirectly emphasize the first word of the title. As such, the book may not only provide succor to the "blue" but insight for the "red."
While editor David Starkey breaks the essays down into the broad regions of West, Midwest and The South, his overarching aim was to pull together essays that "would be just as readable and relevant fifty years from now as they were the day the book was published." As a result, aside from the introduction, words such as George W. Bush, Iraq, neocon or New Orleans don't appear for more than 100 pages (although two of the last three essays specifically address Katrina and New Orleans). Perhaps because a number of the contributors are primarily poets, "blue" ideas and philosophies arise in contexts such as observing wild bears in Alaska, raccoon trapping in Nebraska and the life and death of a swamp in South Carolina.
This approach demonstrates that personal beliefs that make one blue in an artificially dichromatic America don't — or shouldn't — exist simply in the context of political campaigns. Rather, for better or worse, they also help shape our approaches to daily life without ever being in the forefront or a battering ram. In fact, several contributors challenge or find fault with the concept of a blue-red distinction.
As Wyoming poet laureate David Romtvedt points out in "Red Politics and Blue in Wyoming," such categorization "tells us very little about the people with whom we are passing our lives. This kind of simpleminded labeling is degrading. It isolates us from one another and forces us to lead lives that are intellectually and emotionally impoverished." Likewise, in "Rescue the Drowning, Tie Your Shoe-Strings," Sidney Burris observes that those of us who live in red states don't necessarily feel overwhelmed or like a species on the verge of extinction. Why? Because when it comes to everyday life, political parties and politics tend to be abstractions.
[W]hile I'd like to believe that certain abstract principles like liberty, justice, and equality govern my life, I know that I am perfectly capable of going through an ordinary day without once considering those principles. I also know that not thinking about these principles is a luxury - it is only because these principles are already in place that I'm able to disregard them.
Many "blues" who live in red states are well aware that daily life and contributing to our communities does not require sharing with everyone we meet the political positions that may result from our personal application of such principles. Politics simply are not relevant to the overwhelming majority of everyday tasks and events we share with people who may hold diametrically opposed political views.