Help! I’m Surrounded By [Insert Opposing Political Party Name]

My brother’s a Republican. In the mid-nineties, he wore a Rush Limbaugh t’shirt on a regular basis. Even before the Lewinsky scandal, he taught his infant daughter to say, “Bill Clinton is a bad man.”

I was too self-absorbed to be politically involved back then.

What I do remember about that time period is telling my mother (of my niece), pictured above during her parroting days, “Mom, I can’t imagine loving my own children as much as I love Sam. I would give an arm for her. My right arm.”

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Flash forward to this morning.

“Ugh. Another one of my Facebook friends has come out in favor of Romney!”

That was me talking to Andy during my morning surf. I went on, “Statistically speaking, I guess it’s not so bad — out of my five hundred fifty-ish friends, less than thirty have given Mitt the thumbs up.”

“You have nearly 600 Facebook ‘friends’? Do you really know these people?” he asked.

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Most of them I met in real life before we became connected online.”

Andy’s not on Facebook, so I think it’s difficult for him to imagine how life’s acquaintances snowball. “I’ll give you some examples,” I told him,

“Of my Facebook friends who ‘like’ Romney:

  • I worked with him in 1995,
  • I was in Sunday school with her back in the early 80’s,
  • I had lunch with him and his twin babies last year,
  • I sat behind him during eighth grade sex-ed class,
  • she’s the mom of one of my best friends,
  • he used to live in my parents’ guest room during college—

“Oh, my god I love these people and they’re all Republicans — this is KILLING ME!”

I came very close posting a status update to try and capture what I felt. The problem was  — and still is — I don’t know how to put it into words.

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Back in 2004, I campaigned for John Kerry. I wasn’t in favor of him as much as I was in opposition to the Bush administration. I operated under the premise that my civic responsibility was to discuss the issues with as many people as possible. I mean, I had friends who didn’t know that our fire departments (FIRE DEPARTMENTS!) were being underfunded (UNDERFUNDED!). How can we have so-called “national security” if you call 911 and get a busy signal!? I wanted to make sure my friends knew that the IAFF had endorsed John Kerry.

I wanted to be an engaged member of democracy. I wanted to do my part. I wanted to support justice and peace for all.

So I rehearsed my talking points.

And every single time I used them, an argument ensued that resulted with me in tears. Once, after a night of arguing with long time friends at a party, I said to a fellow Democrat, “I’m doing it wrong!” And I secretly wondered why she had sat quietly during the discussion rather than coming to my aid.

Now I realize there might have been a certain wisdom in her silence.

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It’s harder this year because Sam, my niece, is voting age. She’s no longer her father’s parrot. She’s a highly intelligent young woman. She’s got empathy off the scale. She’s . . . .

a Republican.

While I’m far more politically engaged than I was when she was a baby, one thing has not changed: I would give an arm for her. My right arm.

So what do we do?

You educate her, the old hippy aunt in me is insisting. Um, I’m not comfortable with that. That feels like a form of objectification. If this post makes it online, it’s because Sam has reviewed it and had given her blessing. I want to honor the permission she’s given me to write about her and our differences.

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Today, when I saw that Facebook “like” for Romney, rather than publicly expressing a blend of bafflement and contempt, what I ended up posting was a question. I wrote,

“Of my 579 FB friends, 26 have publicly shown alliance with Governor Romney, 97 have “liked” Obama. . . . Do your friends’ political affiliations affect your feelings and/or opinions of them?”

The answers my friends gave impressed me. The ones I agree with most are excerpted here. You’ll notice some of these statements contradict each other. Yes, I have conflicting views on the matter.

“I could have lived my whole life without knowing some people’s political leanings… and I could also have lived without knowing how ill-informed some of my FB friends are, and I could have lived without some of the hate filled invective as well. . . . I guess the bigger question is why people who would probably never discuss their opinions on politics, human rights, foreign policy, etc., at a party have no trouble doing so on a social network. Do we feel freer? Less worried about starting an argument?”

“If they support Romney, honestly we fundamentally disagree on the most important humanitarian issues. . . . A person who cares more about their pocketbook than those issues is someone I wouldn’t choose to be part of my life.”

“Many of my family support Romney. We just have to agree to disagree.”

“There is nothing on this earth that could sway me from my beliefs and I suppose they all feel that way too.”

“I have many friends who do not agree with 100% of either political party they are affiliated with.”

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Sam

Right . . . the more informed I become, the more I realize that some of my biggest areas of contention with the U.S. government are areas where the two main Parties collaborate.

Specifically, U.S. military spending exceeds that of all other countries combined — yet, our schools and fire departments (FIRE DEPARTMENTS!) are underfunded. While the U.S. rate of incarceration is the highest in the world (and mandatory minimums for non-violent criminals show proven racial discrimination), high profile financial and war crimes have gone unpunished. Don’t even get me started about the torture of Bradley Manning, and the drone missile attacks.

These are life and death issues. And when our “friends” and friends and family don’t / can’t / won’t see what we see, it’s more than disconcerting.

That Doug Wright quote that’s been circulating on Facebook really moves me. Have you seen it? It starts,

“I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye—-“

The thing is, I can’t imagine looking Sam in the eye and reading that quote to her. Because I don’t want to create discomfort between us. Does that equate me with a voter of Wallace, too?

I know there comes a time when, in order to make progress, citizens have to put the common good ahead of “me and mine,” and I do want to do my part. I think my idea of what to do may be evolving.

Today, I reviewed that list cross-referencing Romney supporters with Facebook friends of mine, and I imagined how I would greet each one of those people if they were to walk into the room. I imagined looking each of them in the eye.

I’m grateful for those friends — for the memories we share.

We have the luxury of disagreeing. We have the luxury of avoiding our disagreements. We have the luxury of complaining openly about our government’s policies.

I have the luxury of not having to give up an arm to keep my niece safe. And once every year or so, I have the luxury of looking her in the eyes, too.

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How do you handle your relationships with the people you love who are for “the other party”?

How do you navigate social media and differing political opinions?

2 thoughts on “Help! I’m Surrounded By [Insert Opposing Political Party Name]

  1. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like neither party reflects what I believe, though I’m certainly more uncomfortable with what I view as the greed and basic lack of empathy demonstrated by many Republicans. As a result, this year I’m throwing away my vote by voting third party–for a woman I respect and I feel reflects my own commitments and beliefs. So if I do ever bring it up (and I’m a little old school in that I’m not entirely sure I want to share my vote with the world), I’ll manage to piss off everyone. I think I can live with that.

    1. I feel the same way about the, “greed and basic lack of empathy.” It’s disgusting. I call it Me and My Syndrome. Ooh, if you’re so inclined, direct message me with the name of your third party woman… I bet I’d like her.

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