Monday, October 30, 2006

Polarizing Politics...and People

Interesting article in the New York Times (h/t to Ann Althouse). It seems that the old saying about not discussing religion or politics is coming back into vogue.

The article starts with a Democrat SAHM who hates George Bush and quit talking to her mother (who's a Republican) because of it:

“Things were getting to me, and it became such a moral litmus test that all I could think about was, ‘How can she support these people?’” said Ms. Langham.

The woman quit talking or e-mailing her mother for about a month before finally deciding she should act like an adult and follow Commandment No. 5: Respect your mother.

“Finally, it hit me that if one of us got hit by a bus tomorrow, I don’t want my final thought to be, ‘She supports George Bush,’ ” Ms. Langham said.

But they don't discuss politics or exchange those "cute" jokes one's friends like to send.

I have sympathy for Mrs. Langham, since I had a similar situation for years with my own red-blooded Republican parents when I was younger. Back in high school and college, when I thought I knew everything, I took enormous delight in my weekly bouts with my father over the content of 60 Minutes, which I insisted was playing it straight but my wise ol' dad knew better. We used to argue politics the way boxers box: a jab here, a jab there, then an uppercut when the opportunity struck.

Over the years, as I grew up, started a family, and began to scrutinize those left-leanings, my dad's love of Rush Limbaugh and FOX News became endearing quirks. I stopped arguing politics with my dad after my mother died, not so much because I agreed with him but spending loving time with him meant more to me than the politics. Eventually, with Bill Clinton's various scandals and abuse of the executive office, I became a Republican myself. Probably nothing made my dad happier (graduating law school might have been a close runner-up).

The interesting thing about the NYT article is the number of Democrats quoted as giving up hobbies and friendships because of politics. Before last week's dust-up with Echidne, I would have written off such behavior as anecdotal. But now, I realize that there are a whole lot of liberals (and maybe a few Republicans, although I haven't run into that phenomenon) who simply cannot debate and discuss politics without it devolving into name-calling, including accusations of being paid political operatives. Most telling was this passage:

Many people said they are simply tired of debating the policies that have split the country so thoroughly. They know where they stand; they know where their friends, neighbors and colleagues stand. Rather than shift their views or even play along in a show of tolerance, many said they have opted for retreat and the safe harbor of friends who agree.

This certainly seems to be true in the blogosphere, particularly on the left. Echidne once told me that righty blogs are just as bad, but I pointed out numerous examples for her of blogs that do not ban people for simply disagreeing with the host. She had no comment for that. My observations at her site and others leads me to believe that among the left, the idea of eviscerating one's political opponent has displaced exchanging ideas and debating. I'm now experimenting with new lefty blogs to see if my theory is correct. Stay tuned.