Politics and relationships: One couple agreed to disagree—until this election cycle.
Karen and I always pointed out our divergent political views to friends and acquaintances. It was with distinct smugness that we noted how two intelligent people could have a healthy, successful relationship while respecting our differing stances. Even when we weren't asked how we did it (though sometimes we were), we'd volunteer our answer: "We agree to disagree."
I'm a social liberal, a product of my New England upbringing who thinks government can be run by professional Robin Hoods who redistribute wealth and carefully protect civil liberties. She is a fiscal conservative who thinks that the free market should be upheld at all costs. She's no war hawk, but she's no pacifist either. She thinks wars should be fought with hostile takeovers and marketing blitzes. I called her a robber baron, and she called me a socialist lite. They were like pet names.
It's our luck that we met during the reign of Bush. We were equally disgusted by the ruling executive. Sure, we had different points of attack: I was horrified by the assault on civil liberties, while Karen was more concerned by the fiscal incompetence and costly doctrine of interventionism (she was, and still is, one of the few true isolationists I know). But we had a common enemy, and that allowed us to overlook the differences. But it was just that: an oversight.
As the prospect of a new election arose, and a choice between the two parties-we-refused-to-agree-withentirely-but-still-voted-for loomed, without a common enemy it became clear that we had deeply divergent viewpoints. How could she condone the top 2% of the population controlling 99% of the wealth, I asked. How could I justify taking money from legitimate earners so it could be bound up in red tape, she asked. Lips thinned, arms crossed, we slept back to back.
And rightly so. We each were looking different ways. More: we were looking forward to different worlds. Hers full of freedom and rugged independence, brutal to me, mine of social harmony and cooperation, unjust to her. When politics are truly and deeply felt, it's about a person's entire ethical perspective. Karen accepted suffering in the name of innovation and freedom, while I'd see my taxes soar if it meant universal health care. When neither of us saw Bush bringing either world about, we could get along. We were in it together.
With the election growing closer, we discovered something very important. That when you agree to disagree, guess what? You're still disagreeing. Primaries onward, we had a little presidential debate within our own house. Her chips were on McCain from the start: she liked his reputation and had hated how Bush had push-polled him into oblivion. I had my own toss up. Obama seemed a perfect shining star but, like everyone else, I wondered about his experience. But I didn't for a moment consider stepping over to the GOP.
"Just dying for an excuse not to buy your own health insurance?" she asked about my health care stance.
"Naw, but I'd like it if I really were dying." I said in joking reply. But it wasn't really a joke. And it got less funny day by day.
"We could really use some Clinton surplus right about now," I'd say.
"We could use some Clinton cuts to welfare, maybe," Karen would reply.
"Reagan could have fixed the spending epidemic," she'd challenge.
"Too bad he didn't help with with AIDS epidemic," I'd respond.
It got worse. I don't even know if I was as liberal as I acted around her, but it got to the point where I'd start looking for places to start a fight. We'd fought before, but apologies and make-up sex would heal each wound. With our political views, however, we were unapologetic, and sex—make-up or otherwise—rarely follows any argument about John McCain's revised perspective on torture.
The last straw came with Palin's selection as McCain's running mate. I worked myself into a feminist rage over what I saw as her mom-at-home attitudes, anti-abortion stance and exploitation of her femininity to make sexist voters feel less threatened. If Karen voted for that ticket, she was a hypocrite, plain and simple. She accused me of the same, saying it was sexist to think I could know who a woman "ought" to vote for. She left for a friend's house that evening. She only came back for her things.
Love doesn't transcend politics—it is politics. Each person representing his or her own view, contributing, swapping ideas, compromising. Sometimes you can manage the bipartisan effort. And sometimes you need a two-state solution.