There is still over a year and a half remaining before Americans go to the polls to elect the next president, but the campaign silly season has already begun. We’re seeing stories about such weighty topics as which candidate will pick up the highly esteemed endorsement of the Santa Clara County (CA) Assessor. If coverage holds true to form, it won’t be long before we see stories about the cultural preferences of the various candidates — who likes what food, follows what sports team, or vacations where.
I’m not going to knock reporters for writing those kinds of stories during a period of the presidential campaign when most voters are very far from making a selection. Actually, I want to join in the fun by suggesting my own question. It’s the official state question of the State of New Mexico: "Red or green?", as in what kind of chile do you prefer to have with your traditional Southwestern dinner.
Now, this should not be implied as some kind of endorsement of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s candidacy, although it is true he should have no difficulty answering the question. Nor should it be viewed as an attempt to give an unfair advantage to Hispanic presidential candidates — after all, when Westword posed the "red or green" question to Colorado’s four candidates for Senate shortly before the primary election in 2004, Pete Coors, Mike Miles and Bob Schaffer had no more difficulty than did Ken Salazar in coming up with an answer. (Coors and Schaffer chose green, and Miles and Salazar chose red — making this possibly the only issue where I sided with the two Republicans over the two Democrats.)
The real reason I’d like to see the candidates answer the "red or green" question is to try to shift the cultural center of gravity in presidential campaigns. In the last election, we had one presidential candidate sponsor a team on the NASCAR truck racing circuit, while another tried to organize Nashville "Music Row Democrats" to push country listeners to support him. In previous years, George H. W. Bush sent Loretta Lynn out on the campaign trail for him, and Ronald Reagan famously opened his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the murder of three civil rights workers in the 1960s. At the root of all of these gestures is the idea that Southern white culture is the mainstream American culture that all candidates must show they understand and embrace.
If the Rocky Mountain states are going to be more than just flyover country in this election, we are going to want the candidates to understand that the region isn’t just a low-humidity version of the South. Ask the candidates to choose red or green, and we’ll find out who is taking the time to learn our local culture.