My more conservative friends are still amazed that I am engaged to an unabashed liberal. "Don't you fight like cats and dogs?" they ask. Probably less than they do. Besides, it's not like we spend all our time discussing deficit reduction. Trust me, we spend more time planning the week's menu. My girlfriend has a saying that helps us manage conflict: "Do I want to be right or do I want to loved?" I, too, have a saying: "Yes, dear."
I might never have believed such a relationship possible if not for the enduring example of Mary Matalin and James Carville (married eighteen years and counting). During the 1992 presidential campaign, Matalin was the political director for President George H.W. Bush, while Carville was Bill Clinton's top strategist. "People look at us as if we're opposites," Matalin once said. "We're actually very similar people. We're both advocates. We're both passionate. We both like a good, fair fight. My opposite is someone who doesn't have a philosophy of life, someone who doesn't get fired up about anything."
Unlike Matalin and Carville, we have never been offered an Alka-Seltzer commercial, nor do we shy away from political discussions at home. We discuss, debate and argue (civilly) pretty much all the taboo subjects: party politics, religion, thermostat settings.
My fiancée hails from a very religious military family, so she is used to my family's right-wing rants. I sometimes attend her union or social justice get-togethers -- not as a participant, but as an amused observer looking for column ideas and free beer. She promises to behave if I ever take her to a Tea Party rally.
By and large, we want the same things; it's just that our ways of getting there take us in different directions. At the political crossroads, she takes a hard left, whereas I plow over anything in my way. I'll give you an example. We both believe in helping out our fellow man -- whether he deserves it or not. I do so by holding tightly onto my wallet and encouraging self-reliance and personal responsibility. This, however, did not prevent me from driving all over North St. Louis helping her deliver Christmas gifts to the "100 Most Neediest Cases." My father, a gruff old fogey, scoffed when he heard this, and said my liberal girlfriend had brainwashed me. But, a week later, my mother had him out delivering hot meals to the homeless for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Ah, the touchy-feely things we do for love.
ONE OF THE benefits of being engaged to a lovely liberal lady is being introduced to her liberal friends, all of whom I regard as potential debate opponents. A lot of conservatives tend to isolate themselves from those on the left, or even those in the center, preferring to live their lives inside a vast echo chamber. They watch only FOX news, read only Glenn Beck's books, and associate only with those of like mind. (The same applies equally to those on the left, of course.)
I can certainly understand this. Sociologists say we are most comfortable with people of our own race, religion, socio-economic and educational background. Outside that comfort zone, we feel uneasy. No doubt, the same goes for political beliefs. As for me, I like to get out of my comfort zone. Among conservatives, I find myself taking the position of devil's advocate just to make things more interesting. Again, this often leads to accusations that I have been brainwashed by my fiancée.
I find this doubly insulting. First, there's the implication that my opinions and convictions are not deeply held. Second, that it would be me -- and not my fiancée -- who would succumb to brainwashing. While I know countless men who have switched their religious denomination -- even their religion -- in the interest of marital harmony and family unity, I don't know anyone who has switched political ideologies. (Party switchers, like Arlen Specter, who morphed from a Democrat to a Republican back to a Democrat, only change parties, not their political convictions.) It could be argued that men are more likely to forsake God and family than their political beliefs.
There is no moral here. I don't mean to suggest that if the Carvilles or my fiancée and I can get along then Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together. True love, after all, is transcendent, while party politics is debasing. Happily, we've learned to disagree without being disagreeable. In Washington, that would make us sell-outs. Here, at home in the Midwest, we've managed to transcend all that.
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