Last year, when I wrote about my decision to keep my newfound conservatism under wraps in my bluest of blue communities, I got three types of responses. The first came from people who could completely relate to my concern about verbal attacks and social isolation. The second came from people, braver than I, who urged me to suffer those slings and arrows. I admire these people, but that’s not my temperament. The third response came from people who assured me (always politely) that I was just being silly, and that my political reorientation shouldn’t affect my relationships within my community. I wasn’t so sure about this last viewpoint, and I’m even less sure now after reading today’s Best of the Web.
There, I learn that the New York Times ran an article today about social divides due to politics:
FOR years, Sheri Langham looked at the Republican politics of her parents as a tolerable quirk, one she could roll her eyes at and turn away from when the disagreements grew a bit deep.
But earlier this year, Ms. Langham, 37, an ardent Democrat, found herself suddenly unable even to speak to her 65-year-old mother, a retiree in Arizona who, as an enthusiastic supporter of President Bush, “became the face of the enemy,” she said.
“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, a stay-at-home mother in suburban Virginia.
The mother and daughter had been close, but suddenly they stopped talking and exchanging e-mail messages. The freeze lasted almost a month.
As part of the same piece, Best of the Web points to Josh Trevino’s observation that, although the NYTimes article is anxious to show this divide as being bipartisan, the fact is that “every person in the piece who actively rejects a friend or family member over politics is a Democrat.” That is, while the piece riffs on both Republicans and Democrats who drift away from tedious, polarized social situations, it also speaks of some Democrats who are so very angry they actively sever relationships:
The red-blue/50-50 nation thing has been done to death, not least by peddlers of reductionist theses like David Brooks, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to it. This Anne Kornblut NYT piece on the fraying of friendships and relationships between Democrats and Republicans has both the ring of truth and a rather troubling subtext: every person in the piece who actively rejects a friend or family member over politics is a Democrat. This coincides rather well with my own experience, but that means nothing, as no Republican friend is going to eschew me for being Republican. And I have more than a few longsuffering Democratic friends, not the least of whom is my own wife, who continue to tolerate my active espousal of things wrongly abhorrent to them. Bless them all.
Still, if the subject at hand is not truly quantifiable, we can nonetheless discuss it and try to draw some conclusions. Chief among them here is the observation that the American left — which we’ll posit as synonymous with Democrats here — is sincerely angry, and the anger goes beyond reason in a surprising number of cases. The conservative view of politics holds that it does not encompass all spheres of human activity. (As an aside, the apolitical realm is not the “private” sphere advanced by the modern left.) There is no sound reason, for example, to reject association with like-minded parents, or friendships with co-workers, or the company of one’s own mother, on the grounds of political disagreements. Yet we see emphatic Democrats doing all these things in Kornblut’s piece. Why? We can only hypothesize, with the caveat that perhaps, if the tables were turned, Republicans and conservatives might behave the same way toward their family and neighbors — even if, in the last comparable period, from January 1993 through January 1995, it doesn’t seem they did.
A core leftist tenet may be expressed in the old feminist cliché, “the personal is political.” This gets muddied a bit by the left’s predilection for espousing “privacy,” as found in some metaphysical emanation or penumbra of the Constitution; but the net — and discrete — effect of this espousal is not a depoliticizing of the “private” sphere. Precisely the opposite: where “privacy” is invoked, it is toward a definite politicized end, be it the legitimization of arbitrary couplings under the rubric of marriage, or the breaking-down of the social structures necessary for the maintenance of a conservative order. In this context, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to maintain relationships with people with whom one disagrees on political or ideological grounds.
There is an internal consistency here, but it’s pitiable nonetheless. The spectacle of a grown woman rejecting her own aged mother over their conflicting opinions on the Bush Administration, to take just one anecdote from Kornblut’s piece, is at best an affront to piety borne of a monumental lack of perspective.
As I wrote a long time ago, I vote my conscience, but I live in my community — and I’m not going to make my day to day life a potentially unpleasant experience when I don’t have to.