Politics Makes for Strange Neighbors and Bedfellows

(Originally Published in Main Line Life on 10/30/08. Note how many observations still apply today!)
There is a part of me – the journalist part of me – that wishes this political campaign could go on forever. Oh, that’s right, it has.

It’s just that this particular campaign has offered so much in the way of electrifying drama, earnest pathos, wily back-stabbing, tactless remarks, disreputable behavior (remember John Edwards?), and astonishing surprises (remember, also that not-so-long-ago Friday morning when Sarah Palin was introduced to us and we all said Sarah who?) As they say in the writing biz – you can’t make this stuff up.

Nowhere is this Sturm and Drang more obvious than on a family and neighborhood level. It’s one thing to yell at the Fox News team on your own television, but at some point you’ve got to say hello to your neighbor, sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with your parents, and presumably occupy the same bedroom as your spouse. It was a long-ago essayist (we’d call him a pundit now) named Charles Dudley Warner, a contemporary of Mark Twain’s, who noted, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” None stranger perhaps than spouses who are divided in their political affiliations.

In the public arena there are those power couples who seem to be able to keep their differences in check. Mary Matalin and James Carville, and Arnold and Maria come to mind. Although maybe you’d have to be the Terminator to hold your own as an outsider in the Kennedy clan.

This is one instance where I will not use my own personal situation as an example. My husband is a true independent, and I like to think I am also. (I was married to a Republican once – enough said.) Even so, as independent as we both are, we have had our share of, shall I say, “spirited debates” on nearly every issue that has come up during these past, long months.

Assuming that married couples know the political affiliation of their intended when they get married, one also has to assume that true love and a desire for domestic tranquility must trump discussions of who one is voting for in an election. My own personal belief, arrived at after years of observing marriages of politically divided friends, is that each half of the couple truly believes in the beginning of a marriage – against all visible signals from their spouse – that they will somehow eventually persuade their other half to come over to their side. Kind of a “water dripping on a stone” theory – a theory that does apply to many other facets of a marriage.

Although I know couples married for fifty years who have yet to give an inch when it comes to politics, but have seemingly good marriages. Maybe if a couple learns to agree to disagree on this one thing it carries over into other parts of their lives.

What then is the proper etiquette then among friends and neighbors who disagree on politics?

What if you have a friend ask you, as I did recently, “Don’t you just love Sarah Palin?”

Unfortunately, I had just had a few glasses of wine, and I may not have responded in an entirely tactful manner. Is it best to avoid the topic of politics entirely? Is it even possible to do so when for the past year we as citizens have had, almost daily, to assess our own deepest convictions? Isn’t it natural to want to share those convictions? (I do not, however, recommend doing so after imbibing alcohol.)

One friend recently posed the question to me about how you should react when your neighbor puts up a lawn sign for a candidate. If you then put up a sign for the opposing candidate, will that be seen as having hostile undertones? My friend and her husband have opposing views on this election, so he brought home a lawn sign that read, “A house divided,” with both a donkey and an elephant on it. Maybe humor is the best way to handle this issue.

Since my column does not get printed until a week or sometimes two after I write it, this may be my last chance to opine in this space about the election. Believe it or not, we will have elected a new president on November 4th. Or maybe the 5th or the 20th if it’s close and there are widespread accusations of ballot fraud or other voter catastrophes. If that happens I say let’s just drop all pretense of decorum and just do an American Idol style phone-in vote.

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