When I turned 18 and was looking forward to voting in my first presidential election, my father gave me a bit of advice: “Don’t ever tell anyone who you are voting for.” I smiled politely, the way teenagers do when they think their parents have no idea what they’re talking about. Of course, I didn’t take his advice. I told anyone who would listen that I was voting not for Reagan or Carter, but for John Anderson. And then I learned a valuable lesson: My father was right.
This place used to be a Republican stronghold. Our county was part of a very strong, powerful Republican machine that loomed over us like a monster. You wanted a job, you had to register as Republican. Wanted a favor? Register Republican. So telling people you were voting for John Anderson was like wearing my teenage rebel idiocy on my sleeve. No adult took me seriously. Instead, they took me aside and lectured me on the virtues of voting party line.
That was my first experience in dealing with people judging you over your politics. I was branded a liberal, a hippie, a free thinker who was going to be the ruin of this country. But I was 18, I wanted to be those things. I wanted to be an outsider. And I really didn’t care what most adults thought of me.
It wasn’t until many years later that I found out people will not just chastise you for your political beliefs, but they would literally cut you off from their lives. I saw it happen in 2004. People who had been friends for years were parting ways over the election. I was dumbfounded. Here were people who forged friendships even though they had different ideals — their views on religion, abortion, taxes, guns were completely different, they had maintained a friendship through all that, and suddenly, a vote for a president tore them apart.
I lost a good friend in 2004. I lost touch with some interesting acquaintances, too. We had shared interests that kept us together. We had kids the same age. We watched the same television shows. We loved the same foods and listened to the same bands. Superficial things, but enough to form a friendship over. But it all fell apart. I could understand why people would question the way I was voting. I could understand their trying to talk me out of it, even. What I couldn’t understand was the way they used our friendship as a threat: Either I vote their way, or it was over.
It was over.
And so it goes. I’m seeing it now. I’m feeling it now. The look of disdain when I say, against my father’s advice, who I am voting for. The eye roll, the disbelief, the “how could you?” lecture. I feel people slowly backing away from me after, of course, telling me all the reasons that I was insulting them by voting against their candidate.
This isn’t about you. My vote against your candidate is not a vote against you. See, I still like you. I still want to have lunch with you and talk music with you and have you over for coffee. We still have a lot in common. But you are insisting that my vote is somehow an affront to you personally and I’m trying to remember when I took your feelings into consideration when making my choice.
Oh, I didn’t. I cannot possibly take into consideration the feelings and views of all my friends when I go into the voting booth. It’s insane to ask anyone to do that. And really, are you considering my views when you vote? Of course not. So why should I consider yours? Can’t we just make our choices and move on, and go see a movie or watch a hockey game together when it’s all over?
In 2004, I lost a few friends and a lot of acquaintances over my vote. About a year later, when I publicly stated that I regretted that vote, many more people dropped out of my life. And here we are in 2008 and I’m getting emails from people who question my intelligence and my sanity, people who once again “threaten” me with the loss of friendship if I vote the way I’ve hinted that I am.
Once again, I am not taking my father’s advice and keeping my vote to myself.
A vote for Obama is not a vote against you. It doesn’t mean I think less of you. It just means that I’ve weighed my options and I took into account my own life, my own situation, my family, concerns and he turned out to be the best candidate for me.
Anyone — on any side of this election fence — who takes a vote so personally that they would dismiss a friendship over it is really not worth the time and patience I give to friendships anyhow. But it still saddens me to see them go. It saddens me that the political discourse in this country has become so volatile and divisive that people are afraid to say who they are voting for. It saddens me that there are an awful lot of stories like mine out there — too many people who have felt a loss over politics.
It happens with friends, at work, within families and it saddens me to know that there are way too many people out there who believe that anyone who doesn’t think exactly like they do are idiots. There are no shades of gray with these people. There is no room for differences. There is just this line they draw and if you cross over it, you must be a complete idiot with no redeeming qualities whatsover. Because if I had any other redeeming qualities you cared about, I would still be your friend. Right?
We can talk about politics, and question each other’s choices in a mature, sane way and we can go back and forth on our pet issues. There are some friends I have that are intelligent enough to be able to separate politics from everything else, and concentrate on our shared interests. Hell, I live in a house with four voters, and I’m the only one voting Obama. Yet we still manage to co-exist pleasantly, without threats of abandonment. Go figure.
Yes, I am voting for Obama. And if this for some reason makes you walk away from whatever kind of friendship we have developed, be it a close, personal relationship or one based on IM chats and forums, then so be it. Just know that I am not judging you on your vote. But I am judging you on your behavior.