October 27, 2010

Personal Politics Revisited

Monday's post generated a fair bit of controversy. And I got called a hypocrite. A lot. Specifically, lots of folks thought that because I'd made a judgment about my incredibly disappearing conservative neighbors based on their bumper stickers, I'd done the same thing that they ended up doing to me. Not true. And because this is my little corner of the universe and I can say whatever the fuck I want, I'd like to defend myself.

Here's what I said:

A year or so ago while we were pulling into our neighborhood, we found ourselves behind a minivan. Not a remarkable moment aside from the fact that the rear end of the minivan was littered with stickers proclaiming allegiance to the Bush/Cheney ticket, support for our states ultra right-wing governor and his cronies, a love of the NRA and a "Don't Tread On Me" snake. To top it all off, the license plate was a vanity job with the NRA seal in the middle and a custom plate number that spoke to some of those core NRA values. I turned to Beth and said, "well, there's someone we'd never get along with."

I didn't say oh look, there are bad people or we'll never let our kids hang out with theirs or let's avoid them at all costs and try our best to shun them from the neighborhood consciousness. No. I made the judgment - the incorrect assumption - that these were people I wouldn't get along with. I made a comment. I did not take action. My personal biases didn't stop me from doing the right thing and recognizing that people are more than their political beliefs.

These neighbors are people who are entitled to their own opinions about anything. So while I might have pre-judged and assumed, my personal beliefs did not prevent me from meeting these folks, liking these people, playing with their children, having them in my home or enjoying their company. Theirs did.

Throughout college and beyond most of my friends seem to be conservative Christians. I don't share their beliefs but I admire their faith. And I enjoy talking about their beliefs so long as the discussion is founded on the understanding that their job is not to bully me into accepting theirs.

And I am clearly in the minority.

We are reaching a very critical, very scary point in this country. A point at which opinions become labels and labels create outcasts. It is quickly becoming a country of us versus them, right versus wrong, and black versus white in which there are no shades of gray. And I'm sorry but life is one big gray area. People are labeled by their ideologies. Liberal is a bad word. Candidates fail to understand the contents of the Constitution. It is a point at which it becomes much easier to throw up your hands and say fuck it than it is to express yourself in the hope of making some meaningful change merely to get shouted down in the process. And if that mentality is ever adopted by the majority, we're really and truly screwed.

There's been a lot of talk about bullying in the media. But everyone seems to be missing the obvious. Sure, the big kid in the school yard who wants your lunch money is a threat but there's no greater example of institutionalized bullying than the American political process. Candidates, the media and those who tow the party line are all guilty but none more so than the if you're not for us you're against us crowd who can't see the subtle variations of belief and instead see binary, yes or no, black or white, right or wrong, liberal or conservative.

What do you make of the political state in the US?

Posted by Chris at October 27, 2010 6:41 AM

In a word? Scary.

Posted by: Leslie at October 27, 2010 7:45 AM

I would say the political state is terrible. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, seems to have some type of agenda apart from trying to help this country. It almost seems like it is going back to the 40's type of campaigning. You know, vote for me because I'm not a Democrat, vote for me because I'm not a Republican, instead of vote for me because I will____________, and really mean what the blank is.

I would like to add, as a Conservative Christian, I would still have liked to have been your friend. I might have made fun of the Obama stickers, but never in a mean or bad way. Just a little friendly razzing. I'm sure you could have made fun of me because of Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, you know, easy jokes. I'm sorry they have made you sad. We all don't base our friendships on political or religious beliefs. Heck,I have a friend who believes the trees are the true rulers of the mind...don't even pretend to understand,because I sure don't.

Have a good and blessed day.(Had to do it...)

Posted by: Becki at October 27, 2010 8:02 AM

its a fine line but I think you were close to making the same judgment on them. Just sayin!

Posted by: linda at October 27, 2010 8:44 AM

The ability to make judgments is not a bad thing. It's one of the things that separates us from our monkey cousins. If you put a Palin 2012 bumper sticker on your car, you are telling the world something about yourself.

Posted by: COD at October 27, 2010 9:05 AM

I'm not up to speed enough on the American political situation to actually give an opinion on it. It does sound scary, though.

And as for the point you made in your post, about life being a gray area and people being perhaps too black and white? Hear, hear!

Posted by: Hannah at October 27, 2010 9:16 AM

I think you pretty much said it all. I can't believe people were giving you grief for what you posted on Monday.

Posted by: Fraulein N at October 27, 2010 10:02 AM

Your last two paragraphs are the most important that you have written this year.
The incident with your neighbours is not surprising considering reasonable political discourse has been crushed by extremist voices whose opinions are layered with undercurrents of violence, unrestrained rage and misinformation.
It frightens me to think of where it might end.

Posted by: Wackado at October 27, 2010 10:16 AM

Oh my gosh, seriously? You just made my freaking day! SO WELL SAID. AMEN!

Posted by: Holly at October 27, 2010 10:20 AM

Yep, that's exactly how I feel. It's like arguing with a child who says "nuh uh! YOU're just stupid!" without any facts, debate, and no hope of collaboration. I hope Jon Stewart's rally to restore sanity is a huge hit this weekend. We need some sanity.

I think we humans go through growth spurts of evolution, but we also slide backward now and then. We're in a backward slide right now and I am hopeful that it turns around soon.

Posted by: Brad at October 27, 2010 10:28 AM

But you didn't throw them to the ground and stomp on their heads or handcuff them for doing their jobs. You didn't paint ugly names on their sidewalks, break their windows, slash their tires, or shoot them while they were in church.

You didn't even shun them. The way I read your post, it was the other way around and it's sad.

It's human to make snap judgments and you didn't act on your first thoughts. That's important and seems to be out of fashion these days.

I have voted in all major (and most of the minor) elections since 1960. I have even voted for a couple of opposite party candidates and an independent. I know there are many shades of gray and even my best local friend and I don't agree on everything political even though we met at a local moveon.org event. It may have been this bad before, for example the McCarthy years and during Viet Nam and the Kent State murders, but even then I don't remember this degree of animosity and even hatred.

I've always tried to find common ground and I believe Proverbs 15.1 "a soft answer turns away wrath but a grievous voice stirs to anger" or something like that. It's more difficult this year. We of the soft voices are feeling overwhelmed.

Posted by: Ann Adams at October 27, 2010 10:45 AM

Hugs. You know better than to listen.

Posted by: alektra at October 27, 2010 10:47 AM

I think we're living in an ever-growing, impersonal and isolated time. With the advent of blogging and facebook and twitter, we're being fooled into thinking that the world really does revolve around us and that all of our followers are hanging on our every update - 'cause people not only WANT to know what I had for breakfast, they want pictures! It creates a false sense of community.

At the same time, we're constantly being told that our REAL community is scary and evil. We watch people's personal tragedy and suffering daily and rather than reach out to help, we immediately look for someone to blame, even if it's the "victim" for making the wrong choices. It seems we're moving into a time when our own personal lives are the only thing that matter and they must be protected from everything and everyone at all costs. Parents are especially vulnerable to and targeted by this messaging.

This brings us all to draw our lines in the sand - to label ourselves and our personal spaces with signs and stickers and likes and dislikes to show who we are, rather than actually having to speak to one another in community. And generally, one can make a pretty adept judgment about you based on how you choose to label yourself. In my estimation, if you are so passionate about your politics that you feel the need to plaster them on your car, I won't last more than 15 minutes in conversation with you unless we can get past that to something deeper. It seems in this case that you were able to do that with your neighbor and it is sad if that's the reason your relationship went sour. It might be worth it to reach out and see.

I just wish that people could remember that there's a difference between discrimination and discernment.

Posted by: Amanda at October 27, 2010 11:12 AM

Nothing motivates your voter base like good old fashioned hate. Divisive politics will surely accomplish that. So, if you have not only get your constituents to agree with you, but also HATE the people who disagree, then you are golden.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the voters in this country are just too damn stupid to realize what is going on around them.

Posted by: Jon (was) in Michigan at October 27, 2010 11:17 AM

It seems to me that a lot of what is going on now is of the "I am right so you have to be wrong" type. I have groups of people that I never talk politics with because they are incapable of rationally explaining their positions without shouting and name-calling. I usually try to get people to take me to a place if understanding their position even if I don't agree with it, but unfortunately people sometimes take my willingness to listen as an invitation to "convert" me.

Posted by: Sue R at October 27, 2010 11:33 AM

I don't think you said or did anything wrong. You didn't make a judgement, you made an observation. There's a HUGE difference.
The neighbors (and some readers) judged you. Stick to your guns!

Posted by: LaineyDid at October 27, 2010 11:46 AM

What??? You mean I can't just waive a flag, yell at everyone that I am a Patriot and a Christian and this doesn't automatically make me RIGHT??


Posted by: Debbie at October 27, 2010 11:46 AM

I am totally with you. I come from a very conservative family, where "liberals" and Democrats are villianized and turned into terrible people who are either stupid or malevolent. Or both.

And while I agree with some conservative principles, the Republican party embarrasses me.

Unfortunately, I can't completely identify with Democrats either, for some of the same reasons. Democrats tend to vilify Repubs/conservatives by turning them into biggots, control freaks, and power mongers.

So I'm an independent. Which doesn't mean much in this country because you have to vote for one or the other. But at least I can choose based on what I think would be best for the country and not because the "other guy" is "trying to take this country to hell in a handbasket."

Posted by: Go Ask Your Dad at October 27, 2010 11:50 AM

it's a scary, scary time. i mean, look what happened to that woman in kentucky - rand paul's people beat her and stomped her in the head for having the audacity to disagree. if this doesn't stop - SOON - something terrible will happen. i hope to all things holy that it doesn't get there.

Posted by: magnolia at October 27, 2010 11:50 AM

This society is one big 30 second sound bite. What is scary to me is how readily people take at face value what is said- no matter how outrageous. It takes time and intellectual curiosity to delve into the grey.
Starting to feel like McCarthyism out there a little bit.

Posted by: greenie at October 27, 2010 12:11 PM

AMEN!! (Coming from a somewhat practicing Catholic)

I totally agree with your post. How can we control bullying in schools when that is all the children see from adults and politicians who they are supposed to look up to and try to emulate?

We are in a sorry state when everyone says vote for me, agree with me or you are WRONG!

I did not think you said anything wrong in your post and I do not believe that you were the one to make the judgment. You made a comment to your wife in the confines of your own home/car and did not act on your statement...they acted on their beliefs even after they got to know you as a person. It is definitely their loss.

Posted by: Krush at October 27, 2010 12:26 PM

You judged them based on political bumper stickers. They judged you on the same. You welcomed them into your home and were open-minded and open-hearted to attempt to get to know them better and see beyond your differences. They did not.

That's the problem. With your situation. And with the sort of "politics" shown in the media. Some people can't see beyond labels like political parties, religion, race, sex, background, etc. Maybe it's ignorance, maybe it's closed-mindedness. It's very sad.

I think the state of American politics is no different than it has ever been. There is a lot of dialouge in the media especially this time of year-and that is a good thing. There are a considerable number of mainstream media outlets that report politics irresponsibly and that is a huge problem. Many media outlets/politicians instill a sense of fear in their reporting/campaigning. In my opinion, I think most Americans expect instant results and easy resolutions of very complicated issues (health care, social security, economic policy) and then lack the understanding and patience that major change shouldn't be rushed--because its then we end up with a mess. Bottom line, in politics, it seems that Americans have a short attention span and face a lot of fears--and that could be a recipe for a very unfavorable political scene in DC.

Posted by: laurs at October 27, 2010 1:02 PM

You are quick to assume that the reason (at least the only one you can assume) your neighbors shunned you is because of your political beliefs. Have you ever considered calling them up and asking them what happened? It could be something wholly and completely different that caused them to disappear into oblivion. Politics may not have played a role at all. Suck up your pride and pick up the phone. It could possibly salvage a friendship that, from what I've interpreted, you'd like to have with this family.

I couldn't agree more with the rest of your post. Our country is in trouble. Serious trouble. I don't know what the answer is to help solve our problems, but something needs to be done. Fast. Because right now, it seems America is teetering on the brink of disaster.

Posted by: Patience at October 27, 2010 1:11 PM

Once again you read my mind. How can we be tolerant and protect against bullies when we watch reality shit on TV that only perpetuates such behavior for entertainment? Is it any wonder that our children are imitating what they see on TV and the media? Not to mention the politicians who brand free thought and critical thinking as un-American. As NPR proved last week, they are not immune either in going the other direction. When did our country become an "either/or" place and not a "yes/and"? Until we stop considering intolerance and rudeness entertainment, things will only get worse.

Posted by: Amy Scott at October 27, 2010 2:23 PM

I think this is more of a human thing than a political thing; when under stress, we retract down into this sort of "my camp, your camp" mentalitiy. And brother, have we been stressed. If you think back pre 9/11, we didn't have this level of background stress. Since then:
One major psychological blow ( 9/11 ), anthrax scares, invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, loooooooong occupation process, constant level of "terror alerts", pain in the butt to fly, one contentious election with questionable results, then more looooooong occupation, then the complete and utter meltdown of the entire global economy, another contentious election, and here we are.

We collectively need a spa day. For a year.

Then, we can talk like rational adults. Until then, hope your tribe wins and keep fighting the good fight.

Posted by: metawizard at October 27, 2010 2:34 PM

Sadly, I wish there were more people like you and me. With a credit to you, I'm posting your last paragraph on my facebook status. I think it says an awful lot.

Posted by: Heather at October 27, 2010 3:11 PM

i am just awestruck by the ignorance and hatred and misrepresentation and deception displayed by so many people (apparently more than 50% of us in many places). i am very worried and sad for us.

Posted by: kati at October 27, 2010 4:14 PM

I don't think you were a hypocrite, you would have been if you had treated them in the same way as they treated you, but you didn't, you got to know them and discovered you actually quite liked them.

As a Brit, all I can say is that I'm disappointed that these Tea Party people don't spend all their time actually having tea parties. Maybe they would calm down a bit if they did?

Posted by: Katherine at October 27, 2010 4:54 PM

Posts like this are why I read your blog. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Caleb Gardner at October 27, 2010 5:43 PM

I don't think there's anything to be done about it. 20 years ago, the school you went to - and therefore your friends - were based just on geographic location. You had a friend who was a jock and a stoner and a math geek and while you may have never all hung out, you figured out your differences and enjoyed what you had in common.

These days, you can have Facebook friends you've never met and you can verify in advance that they love Twilight, hate Justin Beiber, have the same favorite color and politics and iPod. People don't have to learn how to get along with people who are different than them. It's possible to live isolated from every kind of diversity at least some of the time, and it makes us more poorly equipped to deal with differences when they come up. We can have unpleasant clients email us, or at worst, "do a call." If the guy who runs the local hardware store is a Clan member or a Democrat, we can just order from HomeDepot.com.

To some extent, we're all out of practice, and without a pretty unforseen paradigm shift, the issue will get worse before it gets better. Having real friends and doing things IRL has taken on meaning that it probably hasn't ever had before. Interesting times, I wouldn't miss it for the world, but surely not all good.

Posted by: robert muller at October 27, 2010 7:05 PM

Join us at the National Mall in DC on Saturday at noon.

Posted by: Laura Gato at October 27, 2010 8:25 PM

I'm surprised you were called out on that post (well, not really -- people online like to argue about everything), but the way I read it was that you were setting yourself up to be the fool. You said, "We would never hang out with these guys," and then BOOM -- in the next paragraph we learn that your actions speak louder than your words. That is very different than enjoying someone's company, and then dismissing them because of a belief.

Posted by: Neil at October 27, 2010 10:14 PM

Definitely scary.

Posted by: Heather at October 28, 2010 12:53 AM

Well-spoken! (err...written!)
I think too often peoples' opinions, belief systems, etc become more important than actual people.

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