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Jul 14 Published in Philosophicalpolitical musings by Purple
How I Came To Be Purple
Combine my South Dakota upbringing, west river and as red as it gets, with my adult life in Santa Cruz, California, as blue as it gets, and one receives a deep, rich, intoxicating purple.
People in South Dakota are overwhelmingly Republican. With a state of under a million, politics remain personal. Senator E.Y. Berry of my childhood sent cookbooks to his constituents when they married. In South Dakota one can simply stroll into the Capitol Building-no guards, locks, or passes. When I was in high school, my father, a sign painter, painted his Volvo with Reelect the President, referring to Richard Nixon. Even now I receive The Pioneer Review, my home town paper. In addition to my mom's social column, announcements of the topics for Sunday sermons, coverage of high school sports, prices fetched for stock at the sale barn, and special ads for birthdays and new babies (which tell the baby's lineage back to great grandparents), the paper also contains Legislative Reports. And even though he's a DEMOCRAT, Senator Tim Johnson's illness was front page news.
I like to think it is an independent streak in South Dakotans that has produced Senator Tim Johnson, Tom Dashell, and George McGovern, but my brother David says that they are the result of "Minnesotans with South Dakota addresses."
Folks in South Dakota are Republican partly because they are brought up that way. I still feel old conservative principles lurking in my soul and coursing in my veins-ideas like the importance of hard work, fiscal responsibility, and freedom from governmental meddling in my personal life-ideas largely abandoned by modern Republicans. If my long-dead father could be resurrected, I wonder if he would drop dead again at the shock of a Republican like George W. Bush.
But most Dakotans have been riding a Republican continuum. They have no perspective from which to view the shift in their political party. As a group, they are remarkably homogenous. Whenever I am on a plane flying home, I have the unsettling sensation that all the people on board could be distant relatives. I once thought so strongly that a passenger might be one of my 15 nieces that I almost asked her, but sanity managed to check me.
As a child, I remember wearing "I Like Ike" buttons and making Poppy posters for Veterans Day. In my home town of Philip, Memorial Day isn't just a three-day weekend; it is commemorated with a 21 gun salute in the single cemetery on the edge of town. It's a place where people truly do help each other out, so why do they need the government? (The good citizens have a blind spot about farm subsidies.)
If I can forget about politics, which by my very South Dakota nature is nearly impossible, than I genuinely like South Dakotans. I recently ran into one at a bar in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. He was amiable, generous, and earthy. But when the conversation turned to politics and Hilary Clinton, he said, "I think we have a season for her."
Since I marinated in this scarlet red brew for 18 formative years, how did I ever become purple?
The morning after delivering a Valedictory speech at my high school graduation, I jumped in an old panel wagon and left town. I had been "farmed out" every summer since I was nine to my older brothers and sisters and thus had spent time in Wyoming, Colorado and California. The provincial Philip where people could tell my parentage by looking at my face, and so assumed they knew all about me in a blink, grated ironically on my independent South Dakota nature. I headed to northern California.
But I didn't make it. The old Chevy threw a rod outside of Flagstaff. Since Woodies were collectors' items even then, I was able to sell it and I bought a bus ticket to Southern California instead, where two older brothers lived. I ended up spending the next five years in Orange County, California, another bastion of conservatism. However, in 1978, I finally headed north to enter a masters program at San Francisco State University. It is fair, then, to say that I've spent nearly equal portions of my life in red and blue, and as a result I am now a Barney shade of purple.