I don’t think it’s possible for two people of opposing political beliefs to date and fall in love. If Romeo & Juliet were written today, the beloved daughter of the Capulets would kick the emo son of the Montagues in the face before he made it over the balcony. It’s more likely that two people of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, or religions get it on than two people who belong to different political parties. Forget the obnoxious swirling graphics on cable news — politics is not a sport. It’s a bloodless war that decides how groups of people live with one another, and like any war, it’s a struggle to hold on to one’s humanity. But I think it’s almost impossible for a liberal to look at a conservative, or vice versa, and see anything but an enemy. This is great when it comes to a turf war between political mafias. But it’s bad news when it comes to love.
My dad loved politics and football, and I only inherited a love of one of those things. My folks loved each other passionately. So much so that they overcame the hurdles of another generation. My dad was white and the son of a Baptist preacher. My mother is a Catholic Mexican-American. I’m not saying that biracial couples today don’t have it tough — they do. There are still a great many people who frown on couples who choose love over religion or race. But my parents navigated the hostile waters of the early ’60s using their love as the north star. When my dad admitted to me once that he voted for Nixon instead of Kennedy, my mother chuckled. He defended his vote and there was laughter. The irony, of course, was that my dad made a living as a Democratic political operative. I was raised to respect politicians the way you’d respect a rattlesnake. They’re immensely powerful members of society. My dad use to tell me that Hollywood’s biggest star didn’t have a fraction of the power the most junior member of Congress has to change, for better or worse, the fortunes of millions of Americans. His point was: respect these people. They’re not clowns who dance for my amusement. In fact, they don’t even dance for me. It’s the other way around.
As a Southerner, I was taught never to discuss religion or politics in mixed company. This isn’t some nod to the inbred Dixie aristocracy of yore. This is because, in Texas, the surest way not to get shot at a bar is to not open your yaptrap about politics or religion. Down South, manners are a way to keep from being perforated. But today, it seems that people can’t help but talk about politics. It’s a secret handshake, a decoration that declares membership in a certain club. It’s obnoxious.
I don’t even care if I agree with the person’s political persuasion. It gives me a hard-off.
I have deeply felt political beliefs. I am not a fence-sitter and I understand that public policy deeply affects a great many people. But I also realize that compromise is not sexy. Emotion is sexy. Anger and hope and self-righteous indignation. Dating a punk rock alcoholic pyromaniac is exciting. But in many ways, politics has become the opposite of what it takes to truly love someone. Politics is about domination and control. It’s about using intimidation or seduction to convince someone that they share your self-interest. Politics is pushing and seeking resistance, and flattening that resistance. It’s about victory at any cost. Our system slathers the football of power with bacon grease so that it’s slippery. You can only hold onto it for so long. So the battle for it is especially vicious.
But, my friends, ask not what love can do for you, but what you can do for love. I remember my parents arguing about politics once. My mother wouldn’t divulge whom she voted for. It’s a secret ballot for a reason, after all. Because the forefathers knew what bullies the mob could be. Man, they bickered. But the outcome was this: they got over it. Respect is a gift. A free gift! Love’s first and only rule is to listen with your heart. Dear reader, I don’t know your political inclination. But I tell you what: I will give you my respect.
You know, maybe, somewhere in this country, the son of a Tea Party activist and the daughter of a hippie are making out in the woods somewhere. OK, probably not.