Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Joseph R. Reisert
I'm glad the election is over. Who isn't? Who isn't grateful to be free of the TV ads, the email, the robo-calls, the junk mail, the horserace news coverage?
Except for the people paid to produce the stuff, probably no one in America misses any of it.
In our house, however, we're especially glad the election is over, because the only candidate my wife and I both voted for was the guy running unopposed for county commissioner.
For president, US Senate, House, state Senate, state House of Representatives -- every time a Democrat ran against a Republican, I voted for the Republican. And all down the line, I'm pretty sure that Susan voted for the Democrat, or for the "independent," who surprised no one by deciding to caucus with the Democrats.
Ours is definitely not a "purple" household, made up of two swing voters who just happened to break opposite ways this time. I'm bright red and she's deep blue. If we painted our house to match our ideological colors, it would hurt your eyes to see it.
We're both middle-age, over-educated, thoughtful people who have settled on the basic principles that define how we view the world of politics and how we vote.
Unfortunately, those principles are totally different. And we're both sure that we're right. We both have what we think are excellent arguments for our own point of view. And we're used to speaking our minds. At length. To an audience.
Which means that during the campaign, we've had some very interesting dinner conversations.
On a few occasions, these have grown sufficiently heated that the children have wanted to leave the room, because disagreement makes them uncomfortable. We insisted that they stay, however, because we both think they should see how two adults who respect and love one another can nevertheless disagree fundamentally about how the country should be governed.
We don't often set out to talk about politics, but during the election season, there are so many provocations that we end up in intense conversations we don't really intend to start.
Perhaps she's just heard a story on the radio featuring a Republican saying something stupid and insensitive. I just cringe and hope the story will blow over. The provocation is too much for Susan, however, and she says something about how horrible the Republicans are. And I feel obliged to respond, and, in a moment, we're talking -- disagreeing -- heatedly.
I have to admit that I was more often the instigator in these conversations. In my defense, let me say that we usually have NPR on in the kitchen when she's cooking and I'm cleaning up from dinner. Though they try to be balanced and impartial, the NPR reporters rarely do a convincing job of presenting conservative positions fairly, by which I mean the way I would present them.
So I end up talking back to the radio. Occasionally shouting.
Susan responds. And then we're off, talking about taxes and spending, or entitlement reform, the national debt, the merits of our preferred candidates.
We rarely end up persuading one another, but we usually do come to a better understanding of the other's positions. Each of us is to the other a constant reminder that people on the other side of issues we care a lot about are not stupid or evil. Wrong, yes. But not stupid or evil.
It's an important and even sometimes painful lesson to have to learn and re-learn. It's only human to want to believe we're smarter and better than people who don't agree with us.
It's wrong, though, and it's counterproductive, because all us reds and blues still have to live together in one country, and we still need to find a way to work together.
If you don't have the good fortune to be married to someone on the other political team, find someone who disagrees with you about politics -- a real person you can sit with, not a face on TV or a voice on the radio -- and listen.
Try not to interrupt. Believe me, it will be hard.
Just listen. And learn. And accept that we live in a big country full of lots of good people with a lot of different ideas about how to make it a better place.
Joseph R. Reisert is associate professor of American constitutional law and chairman of the department of government at Colby College in Waterville.