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As Long as We Remember...

December 3, 2004

Red and Blue

Edward Lulie III

Post election political maps reveal that we are now divided into Blue and Red States. The division is not just a political one but also shows a significant cultural gap as well; the In-Crowd in the Northeast and California versus the Out-Crowd of flyover people everywhere else.

On the frontlines of this clash a similar division exists here in Maryland between the very urban to the formerly rural. Frederick County is squarely in the middle of this divide. Along with the challenges of sprawl and growth, Frederick has the additional stress of being a cultural and political battlefield, a red county bordering a very blue one.

Montgomery County, now a hotbed of leftist ideology and very Blue, was once much more rural than urban and more conservative than liberal. When my family moved to White Oak I was in 6th grade, there was no Beltway and there were still more farms around than subdivisions; but that would all rapidly change.

The elementary school I had attended a mere 20 miles away back in College Park was much further away in terms of culture. There the principal's office held a wooden paddle hung prominently on the wall over his desk. This was not just ornamental but frequently employed on the posteriors of rule breakers. In my new school, that paddle was as alien a concept as could be.

In the '60s Montgomery County was still in the process of changing over into an urban environment, but much of it was still rural. Each fall my father would gather our family together and we would happily drive off on an adventure into the forested countryside out past Rockville.

Our journey would take us through narrow winding roads lined with tall trees to "the Cider Barrel," an old Gaithersburg landmark. There we would admire the brilliant hues of fall foliage and buy fresh apple cider; a ritual of the fall that we all very much enjoyed. Today that spot is changed beyond recognition. The farms and forests are long gone, replaced by miles of townhouses, apartments and new roads.

In the late '60s Montgomery County "grew up." The Interstate 270 corridor became a path of widespread urban development from Bethesda to Gaithersburg. New shopping centers, roads, houses and office buildings were quickly being built in a huge construction boom; a process that has largely continued unchecked since that time.

Much of the building was directly related to the expansion of the United States Government; many of those new employees moved here and brought with them the liberal leanings of urbanized Democrats. The growth caused lots of problems and crowding; schools overflowed with new students.

That became the norm and - although new malls kept appearing - there seemed an almost endless supply of new customers that appeared as well. One power mad movie theater owner in Rockville began to insist that patrons not only had to wait in line to buy tickets but then had to line up again outside like cattle until he decided they would be allowed to enter the hallowed domain within. Until new competition forced him to stop, you could drive by the theater in all kinds of weather from snow to scorching summer heat and see long lines of miserable customers suffering until their wait ended. (Why they put up with him and his despotic rules continues to mystify me. The movie inside wasn't that good.)

As farms disappeared, newly arrived residents seemed to have no idea that once the region had been rural; to them that time was as distant and historical a period as the Revolutionary War.

As Montgomery County's population increased, it became politically more "progressive" and sanity and logic began to vanish with the farmland. The newly arrived government workers brought with them a solidly liberal Democratic tradition and this clashed at times with those of the old-line conservative Democrats native to Maryland.

Over time the newcomers gained political ascendancy and the culture changed from rural to cosmopolitan. Politically it left the map of the known world and ventured into a progressive fantasyland with "nuke free" zones and the banning of Santa Claus parades.

So it remains today, a bastion of far left lunacy, political correctness and a perfectly horrible place to live or raise kids. Many less progressive - but saner folk - responded to these changes by voting with their feet. They fled north and moved to Frederick.

This exodus of "refugees" was partly responsible for Frederick County changing from a "Democrat" county into a Republican one. Still one should remember that culturally a Democrat here in Frederick was closer in culture to Republicans here than they were to the more leftist Democrats in Montgomery County.

The "change" in Frederick was actually more of a reflection of the national Democratic Party moving away from the "traditional" base of the party. In that sense many former Democrats believe it was more of a question of the party leaving them, then of them leaving the party.

The increasingly leftist tilt of the national Democratic Party forced out many moderates. Since it has become more of a party of European Socialism, it has helped create a new political map. Areas in the U.S., where citizens regard themselves less as "citizens of the world" and more as Americans first, no longer feel comfortable with the unceasingly anti-American and anti-military diatribes of the Democratic Party leadership.

That leadership now shares the values of European socialists more than it does with traditional Democrats. This has really helped to split the country into wider political and cultural divisions. Voters outside of large Blue regions are increasingly less likely to vote for Democrats, and this continues to mystify the leadership of the party.

The cultural assault of the left attacking traditional values has further widened the gap. Many Blue state residents fear the religious faith of those in the Red states. Many in the Red states viewed the threats of prominent leftists, to leave the U.S. if Bush won re-election, as laughable. If those leftists truly believed their "citizens of one world socialism" they would have already moved to Paris.

Many on the left see the continued assertion of American power and ability to act without the blessings of the left in Europe as a symptom that America is culturally a backwater nation, unsophisticated and Neanderthal. They truly cannot understand how anyone could disagree with their socialist-political view of the world.

Red state voters wonder how those in the Blue states manage to feed and dress themselves each morning.

Frederick County is squarely in the front lines of this divide. The culture clash is already here. Witness the outcry over the use of the name Linganore "Lancers." The politically correct crowd recently lost this fight. The "Lancers" still exist but in Montgomery County the Poolesville "Warriors" were forced to change and abandon history for the sake of political correctness.

The politically correct still haven't given up, they are appalled at the sight of a gun rack in a pick up truck. They are still hard at work and loudly denouncing things like "Christmas." They are determined to bring Frederick to same degree of progressive purity that they left back in Montgomery County.

Compare their actions to the places that still exist in rural America where the start of hunting season marks a school holiday, not a time for protests and PETA rallies. One side sees hunting as evil and the other sees a normal healthy activity that's been part of their heritage and culture.

It may be that the left may be losing the fight. Take the last election, Republicans (and more traditional values) ended up prevailing in most places. They now run both houses of Congress, the presidency and the majority of statehouses and governorships.

Local left of center Democrats continue to cling to a misguided belief that newcomers to Frederick are potential allies rather than refugees. Their vision of Frederick County is that of a wasteland of backward rubes stubbornly refusing to embrace the glorious wonders of a progressive and socialist future.

Newcomers are assumed to be socialists and just itching for a chance to put these fred-neck locals in their place. This belief completely fails to account for the "refugee" syndrome. Instead of joining the socialist revolution these new arrivals come with a burning desire to avoid having to move again. They want to raise their kids where farms continue to thrive and traditions are valued, not attacked. They associate the disaster of living conditions back where they came from with the word "Democrat." (Note to local politicians of both parties they also equate this disaster with the word "growth," want to lose thousands of voters instantly, just tell them you are pro-growth and watch what happens.)

Many candidates for office now refuse to mention party affiliation; if they are Democrats that is. For the left it now requires camouflage to get elected. They avoid the words, "Democrat" and "liberal," and pose instead as moderates or even conservatives. For example consider Sue "Conservative" Hecht who tried to pretend she wasn't a liberal (although leftist is a more accurate description). Even a gerrymandered district designed specially to help get her get elected wasn't enough because her disguise didn't fool the voters.

Is this refugee syndrome unique to Frederick? Probably not, but it remains to be seen if the trend begins to erode the left's traditional base in the cities. There are indications that the cultural values of some minorities have made them increasingly uncomfortable with the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.

Will this trend mark a change back to the political center for the Democrats or will they continue to ignore it and find themselves falling farther from power?

At the moment the true believers of socialism are still firmly in control of their parties' destiny; the chance that more sane (more moderate) leadership might emerge and alter the party's direction and avoid more disasters like the last election) is unlikely at best. This bunch is more likely to believe that next time they can avoid the accident by driving even faster.

Frederick County is squarely on the edge of the Red/Blue battlefield. Frederick has a history of being a border county in a border state. Our historical legacy is that we have survived wars, revolutions, droughts and depression; not that any of those were comfortable or pleasant experiences.

For the foreseeable future we will get front row seats to watch as cultures and politics clash in unpredictable and sometimes bizarre ways. At the moment traditional values seem poised for a comeback, but then it is the holiday season. Even in Europe Christmas is still celebrated as a time for hope and optimism.

Yet, you might be forgiven for wondering if that still holds true down in Montgomery County.

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