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Bipartisan Romance: When Love Trumps Politics

The poster models for cross-political romance have long been James Carville and Mary Matalin — same pit-bull personalities, just polar opposites on the political spectrum. And all one hears — from anti-war, Prius-driving, smug-alert leftists to gun-toting, Coulter-reading, Ford-boycotting right-wingers — is shock and awe at how, oh how, James and Mary can co-exist without a homicide, never mind within the blissful bonds of matrimony.

I’ll theorize why it works in a way that you won’t hear from the lecterns at CPAC: They probably have great sex.

“He has these wonderfully unpredictable love bursts,” Matalin told Salon in 1997. Yep; I figured.

As a moderate rightie who has happily dated on the other side of the political spectrum, I can say that if you’re that passionate about the issues, it usually carries over into other aspects of your life. If you clash over the issues, at some point you’ve gotta make up. If you find someone who challenges you, you’ve got it made.

A colleague once put it so: There are smug liberals and sarcastic liberals, and pious conservatives and irreverent conservatives. Smug liberals and pious conservatives can’t stand each other. Sarcastic liberals and irreverent conservatives, however, easily get along, and can howl at the “South Park” episode lampooning George Clooney’s Oscar speech without getting offended. For the most part, it’s a highly accurate assessment.

While I’m definitely an irreverent conservative now, in college I was more of a bombthrower, writing more to piss off campus liberals than make reasoned, seasoned arguments. Yeah, it wasn’t journalistically sound, but it made for some interesting relationships — like my favorite leftist love, who, in deference to our debates over “The Communist Manifesto,” I’ll call Karl.

Our romance began as many college relationships do, over cheap brew and loud music while fraternity-party hopping on a Saturday night. Our romance then progressed as those college relationships do: back to his fraternity pad for hours of kissing. If it seemed by that point we were doomed to only about as much depth as, well, many college relationships, things took an interesting turn.

In the middle of the smoochfest, we talked about world and societal affairs; he described with a classic Irish temper his anger at hearing a table full of customers liberally drop the N-word at the restaurant where he waited tables. I was hooked: When it came down to it, a guy passionately promoting racial equality was hotter than a conservative ex-boyfriend who’d dedicated his entire campus existence to crushing the “libtards.”

Plus, the fact that Karl was a fantastic kisser didn’t hurt. I’m only human.

I ribbed him when he went to a state Democratic Party convention; he ribbed me when I went to an event called the Rush Limbaugh Picnic. We argued over the redistribution of wealth even as neither of us had any wealth to redistribute. Our discussions and banter only made the relationship more exciting.

But like the fractious wings of the Republican Party should be doing nowadays, in a cross-party romance you also have to focus on the things on which you agree. On everything else, you can enjoy quibbling and making up.

So if bipartisan romances are doable, are they also preferable?

There are high points. For starters, leftist boyfriends won’t criticize or act creeped out around your gay friends. And contrary to popular belief that they’re indoctrinated in a school of “impoliteness equals equality,” they hold open doors and pick up the check as often as their conservative counterparts. Liberal men also have the potential to take some of the identity politics, so to speak, out of relationships: Duties are shared rather than branded “women’s work,” and these guys seem to be less hurt or offended if a woman decides to keep her maiden name.

A liberal man may make a good match for more independent, free-spirited, career-oriented, driven women. Before meeting Karl, I had a conservative boyfriend who told me that women shouldn’t be police officers. I was a criminology major, so that went over really well. It soon became apparent that he was looking for not so much a partner in crime as a little woman to ring the dinner bell (literally — he was a farmer). Strike out!

But when it comes down to it, party affiliation may not have as much to do with compatibility as what kind of man he actually is. Later in life, I would date a conservative political player only to discover that he’d not been forthcoming about his personal life – namely, having a wife and kiddies at home. As most relationships teach you some sort of life lesson, this one taught me a political lesson as well: Neither party has a monopoly on values.

Of course, there are some values points on which those looking for the love of their life won’t compromise. Leftists also weigh their own dealer-breakers when considering love among us warmongering conservatives. That is, until they get tired of dating ecoterrorists — a real complaint I recently heard from a nice, eligible lefty guy.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.