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Rough Draft

A Student of the Blues

Field guide to Washington's far-from-silent majority

By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page W11

The inauguration of a red president took place in the bluest of cities, blowtorch-blue, with only a few reddish or purple-ish patches on the fringes (McLean, some cul-de-sacs in Alexandria, Karl Rove's house near Arizona Avenue in Upper Northwest). The president knows he's in hostile territory, which is why he rarely ventures into the surrounding city, choosing to remain in a narrow corridor from the White House to the Capitol -- what the administration calls "the Green Zone."

During the inaugural week, red journalists from around the country came to town and got a close look at blue values. For months, the blues have been considered irrelevant and pathetic and slightly subhuman. All anyone has wanted to talk about is how people who live near cows vote Republican. Go back and switch 60,000 Ohio votes from Bush to Kerry and you'd have everyone in America obsessed with the moral values of Greenwich Village and Inner Bethesda.

(Richard Thompson)

What the visiting journalists surely discovered this past week is that being blue is very complicated. There are many shades of blue: The deep blues know little about the pastel blues, and the cyans don't even speak the same language as the ceruleans. Blues often dislike their own leaders. Two political parties they can't stand are the Republicans and the Dem-ocrats. The latter they will tolerate in a pinch.

Blues are uncomfortable with uniformity. They will say things like: "Synchronized swimming is just a little too fascist." They will join an organization primarily for the purpose of forming a splinter group. Blues tend to be wary of anyone who professes to know the absolute truth. The blue position on absolute truth is that it may exist.

Blues sometimes exercise their right to avoid marriage and other traditional social constructions. They are proud not to breed. Those who do start families tend to have between one and three kids, but never four, unless there's a fertility-clinic misadventure. Many blues believe that a child is so precious that one is the perfect number. And their nannies agree.

In some families, two blue children use the equivalent resources of 10 red children. A blue child gets his or her first credit card at about the time he or she learns to read. In the blue version of The Runaway Bunny, the mother bunny lures her offspring back home with a gift certificate to Claire's Accessories. Blue children believe the only thing worse than war and hunger and epidemic disease is their own physical discomfort. Simply in terms of BTUs used, of thermal emissions, blue American children are the hottest offspring in the world.

Blues are worried about gay marriage, because there's so much pressure to buy the right present. Gays have excellent taste, and do not hesitate to use it to tyrannize the heteros. (You walk into work and your gay colleagues give you that lacerating look that says: "Khakis again? Do you own a pair of black pants?") Many blues do not think that marijuana should be legalized, but they do think it ought to be cheaper. Paradoxically, a lot of blues think ordinary cigarettes should be treated by the law as the equivalent of assault rifles.

Some blue towns have named themselves nuclear-free zones. You can be jailed for possession of even a minuscule amount of enriched uranium.

Younger blues, under 25, change hairstyles promiscuously and try to disfigure themselves with tattoos and frightening piercings of the lips, nose, eyebrows, tongue and tonsils. They routinely pierce internal organs, such as the spleen.

Many blues get nervous if you take them more than five miles from the nearest Starbucks. For the most sensitive, merely the sight of a cornfield or a particularly dense patch of woods will make them say something like, "Getting creepy around here . . . reminds me of 'Deliverance.'"

Blues generally concede that hunters have a right to own a rifle but think they look ridiculous in camouflage. Some blues think that meat is murder. (A few of us, however, think that a soyburger comes very close to manslaughter.) Blues know the names of 147 different types of imported cheese (emmenthaler, mimolette, boorenkaas, etc.) but can't name any NASCAR drivers other than Dale Earnhardt, who for some reason has completely fallen out of the latest rankings (did he retire?).

Blues believe in All-American things like baseball, Mom and apple pie, but the latter may also incite a few nutritional concerns. Blues have taken a stance against carbohydrates, particularly anything made from that devil's concoction known as flour.

Blues are, ultimately, peaceful and forgiving people. Let that be a message to the president: You are surrounded by your fellow Americans. You should get to know them better. Come out with your hands up.

Joel Achenbach, a staff writer for the Magazine and the Style section, also writes the Achenblog for Washingtonpost.com.


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