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Conservatives Dating Liberals: A Guide for the Perplexed

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I, a McCain-voting, Rick Perry-supporting, longtime active Republican ever since I donned my first “I LIKE IKE” button, have fallen in love with a liberal.  We’ve been together for three months. She’s everything I ever dreamed of in a woman: very sexually attractive; highly intelligent (except for her politics); empathetic; kind; adored by my children (I’ve been a widower for two years, was married for 35, with four grown children) and loved by my grandchildren and we enjoy spending time together

Can this ever work in the long term?  If so, how?  Every time I see her Obama 2012 bumper sticker as her car recedes in the distance, my blood pressure rises 50 points.

Red Gent With Blue Lady in Austin, TX

Dear Red Gent,

Congratulations on finding the woman of your dreams — sort of. Since you were married for 35 years, you know that any serious relationship involves compromises, although at first glance, it isn’t easy to see what the compromise would be between Rick Perry and Barack Obama.  Maybe…The Donald?

But yours is a serious question, so here’s my serious answer.

Any of several approaches may help you to make a go of this.  The first three are guaranteed to fail.  Why mention them at all?  Because they’ll be the most tempting to do and the most important to avoid.  Following them will be six positive methods that might make this relationship last.  After that, I’ll discuss some of the factors involved in your and Ms. Blue’s political preferences that may, I regret to say, bode ill for a long-term commitment.

Three Prohibitions:

(1) The one that stands absolutely no chance of success is trying to persuade Ms. Blue not to like Obama.  If she ever comes around to that view, it will have to be with no help from you.  Depending on her personality, she could react by doubling down and becoming the last Obamaphile on Earth (other than, of course, Barack Obama), or resenting your efforts as disrespectful of her, or in a worst-case scenario, turning off you.

(2) Similarly, don’t mutter under your breath anything like, “You’re so smart.  How could you ever vote for him?”  See, women hear things muttered under men’s breath, and we take offense.  Just because you say it quietly doesn’t mean it can’t be heard as clearly as if you had used a bullhorn.

(3) And don’t let this difference become fodder for bickering.  You knew she was an ObamaGal the minute you first saw her bumper sticker, so you went in with your eyes open. Don’t pick fights over this, as tempting as that will be, or use it as a wedge issue to complain about something else about Ms. Blue you may not like.  Keep politics out of your conversations.

Six Positive Approaches

(1) You could view this difference the way many couples view friends: there’ll always be some whom one of you doesn’t like as much as the other does — or doesn’t like at all.  So, you could try to think of Obama as Ms. Blue’s friend whom you don’t have to like, just as she doesn’t have to like Governor Perry.

(2) You could also try to think of your political preferences as akin to having differing hobbies: you like to go duck-hunting, but you don’t insist that she join you.  She enjoys shopping at Whole Foods Market, but you don’t have to tag along and be irritated by their self-righteous belief that their business is, in fact, a major religion, far holier than any actual faith.

(3) Speaking of religion, you could view this as similar to a difference of religion.  You wouldn’t seriously consider trying to persuade a practicing Catholic to convert to your religion.

(4) Many couples differ on sports: either they root for different teams or one is a fan and the other would rather watch grass grow than watch a professional sports event.  This is not, ordinarily, a cause for divorce.

(5) Another analogy that may help is to imagine that Obama is a relative of Ms. Blue’s whom you dislike, while Gov. Perry is like a cousin of yours Ms. B. doesn’t like.  These aren’t deal-breakers in relationships, even in marriages.  You just have to make sure that she doesn’t to sit next to Gov. Perry next Thanksgiving.

(6) In the ’60s, there was an expression you may recall even if you didn’t use it yourself:  “giving each other space.”  It sounds as goofy today as it did then, but the idea behind it — that each of you has a part of your life that you agree has a “No Trespassing” sign on it — is a good one, if you can manage it.  You don’t intrude into her Obama euphoria, and she doesn’t encroach on your Lone Star principles.

* * *

As you’ve doubtless noticed, all six of these are based on a capacity that not everyone has: the ability to compartmentalize.  If you can manage it,  each of you would agree that your political preferences are off-limits for conversation, for teasing, for any mention at all.  This is because any mention will be demeaning to the other person.  There will always be an implication of, “How can you?”  and, referring to the 2008 election, “How could you?” You don’t want that poisonous undercurrent running through your relationship.

One problem that may make your social life with Ms. Blue particularly difficult is that her friends may be at least as Blue as she is, while yours may tend to agree with you.  How will you feel, and behave, at parties given by her friends, or over dinner with a couple of them? Have you already experienced the sense that you’re an outsider, never quite trusted because of the McCain 2008 sticker on your car? How will she feel around your conservative buddies, the sole liberal in the room or at the table?  I’ve discussed this here and believe that it’s usually an exercise in pain management. Here’s one example of how opposing political views can affect a relationship:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvgXnzwwZsM

The Inner Meaning of Political Preferences

The coping strategies I’ve suggested—no matter how seriously you try to apply them— may not work for you, because the choice of a candidate  reflects deeper issues, which, in the long run, could open up a schism that turns into a chasm that finally dooms the relationship.  I say this not to be negative, but merely realistic.

It would be different if you and Ms. B had met 40 years ago, and had had 40 years together during which one of you became less enamored of the core values of the Democrat Party while the other retained a belief in them.  But during those 40 years you would have also raised your children together and had four decades of shared experiences.  So even if, in 2012, you were to vote for different candidates, you’d still have had an accumulated lifetime of love and loyalty, not to mention 14,600 nights together.  That adds up to a lot of intimacy.  If, at the end of those 40 years, you had found that you were voting for different candidates, that would be a relatively small drop in a very large water tower.

The problem you’re facing is that the relationship is new and while there’s much to enjoy — not least, a woman in your life after two years of widowhood — what you and Ms. Blue don’t have is those 40 years.  You’ve been together three months, which isn’t trivial but it isn’t the massive sweep of four decades, or even one. For you and Ms Blue to favor such differing candidates as Rick Perry and Barack Obama is a much larger drop in a much smaller receptacle than if you’d had 40 years of shared experiences preceding a difference of political opinion.

And there’s another thing.  The fact that you wrote to me for advice implies that this difference is important to you, as it would not be to a man for whom voting for president is something he does every four years but doesn’t think much about in the years between national elections.  The fact that you read www.PajamasMedia.com suggests that following politics is part of your everyday life.  Politics is thus a far larger component of your daily existence than it is for a man for whom politics is like a white noise machine, whirring in the background of his consciousness, but that doesn’t rivet his attention 24/7.

Another important factor is this: one’s preference for a political candidate is a Rorschach test.  Where Ms. Blue sees a euphoria-inducing idol, you see an unending source of frustration and woe.  Where you see a governor who’s energized the Texas economy while the other 49 states have been mired in fiscal dyspepsia, she sees — horror of horrors — a man who is an outspoken Christian; believes that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion should become a matter for each state to decide; and believes that stem cell research under the Obama administration was “turning the remains of unborn children into nothing more than raw material.” What you admire, she finds anathema.

These opposing — not merely differing — interpretations of the same Rorschach test could cause serious troubles ahead, especially when the thrilling novelty of your relationship wears off, as it inevitably will.

Preferences for political candidates are not only based on party affiliation — although except for independents, that’s where they usually begin.  They also involve finding a candidate whose life story, values, and major choices resonate with yours.   Particularly since 1992, it’s also been helpful to have an internal BS meter that will ring a little bell in your psyche when you see a con artist.

The choice of a candidate involves (1) a connection, be it emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or even physical, alas  — the candidate’s appearance — or a combination of these; (2) your agreement with a majority of the candidate’s views; (3) your complete agreement on whatever your non-negotiable issues are — be they abortion or taxes, to name but two of a wide spectrum of all-important issues; (4) your admiration for the candidate’s life; (5) your gut feeling about his or her trustworthiness; (6) the weight you give to airy slogans (“Hope and Change,”) versus realistic assessments of, and specific plans for, the country’s future; and (7) your belief that in the most serious imaginable moment of crisis, the candidate has the character, the temperament, and the wisdom to do what’s best for the continued survival of the United States of America.

The Choice of Candidates in 2008

The election of 2008 couldn’t have offered a more stark contrast. It’s difficult to imagine two more different candidates than the war hero, the survivor of five and a half years in a brutal, torture-filled enemy prison, most of those 5+ years in  solitary confinement — during which he was hanged by his fractured arms for hours at a time — and his jejune, untested opponent. John McCain was (and is) the commander who chose not to accept his North Vietnamese captors’ offer of an early release because of his allegiance to the Code of Conduct that forbids abandoning even a single fellow Prisoner of War.

In the most dramatic contrast imaginable, the country was also presented with a young, inexperienced son of a Kansan socialist mother and a Kenyan anti-colonialist father. Obama had served two years in the United States Senate, had a string of “present” votes to his name in the Illinois state Senate, and had refused to make public his college and law school transcripts, his medical records and even his birth certificate. He never spent a day in the military, and for 20 years — part of them with his young, impressionable daughters in tow —  he attended the church of an anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel pastor whose hatred for Jews was exceeded only by his hatred of white Americans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfL-Oj1rQ-c

What, then, accounts for the victory of the man who won and whom the woman you love continues to support?

The short answer is that independents believed that the Republicans had made major policy errors and would likely have cast their votes for whatever candidate the Democrats put forward.

But then the question becomes: why did the Democrats put forward the man they did?  Despite the short memories of Democrats who now champion Hillary as a primary challenger to the incumbent, a majority of Democratic primary voters in 2008 found that Mrs. Clinton reminded them too much of Mr. Clinton, whose red-faced, epithet-spewing self was never far from the lens of the nearest TV camera and microphone. 2008 was only seven years after the impeached perjurer and philanderer had left office, and the stench was still in the air.

But why Barack Obama? In a word: excitement.

Excitement: who among us can forget, try as we may, when the then-61-year-old Chris Matthews revealed why he favored  Obama: the “thrill up his leg”?   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=no9fpKVXxCc Now there’s a firm basis on which to choose the leader of the free world. And the problem was, Matthews wasn’t alone.

What does this brief review of 2008 have to do with your situation? The problem that your love for Ms. Blue poses is that if you think along those lines, there’s a chance that, despite all you enjoy doing together, despite your children’s affection for her, and your grandchildren’s love for her, you may ultimately lose respect for her.  What does her continued infatuation for a proven failure in leadership say about her?

It says she’s loyal, which is a plus in a relationship.  But hers is a loyalty to a politician whose lack of leadership skills, whose lack of judgment, whose inability to speak to a class of sixth-graders without a teleprompter are reasons that might give a 2008 Obama voter pause in 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AzfeeXSVAs

Loyalty to Obama also betrays a troubling inflexibility and an inability to adapt to new information (new to her, easily foreseen by you and other McCain voters) — which aren’t such fine qualities in the long run. I’m sorry to say that if your idea of a great president is John McCain or Rick Perry, and Ms. Blue’s is still Barack Obama, I don’t see the requisite shared values to make this work in the long term.

What To Do Now

My advice is to tell Ms. Blue that if she can accept it, you’re going to attend Perry fundraisers and do some volunteer work at your local Perry for President headquarters, and, if you meet a woman whom you like, you’d like the freedom of choice to take her to dinner.  An election year is an ideal time to meet women whose political perspectives are in closer alignment to your own.  If I were you, I wouldn’t miss the chance to get to know some of them.

If this suggestion is too horrible for you to contemplate, that in itself may demonstrate to you that you really do love Ms. Blue and are willing to look beyond what you view as an error of judgment and see into the heart that makes yours skip a beat — in a good way.

Just don’t spend Election Night together. She might feel particularly despondent among your jubilant friends, as you might feel the need to conceal your overwhelming joy and relief at the End of an Error.

I wish you happiness, whichever way you decide to go.

—-Belladonna Rogers

UPDATE: A thoughtful reader, Robert A. Hall, author of the excellent www.tartanmarine.blogspot.com, just emailed to recommend Thomas Sowell’s classic and short book,  A Conflict In Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles  to anyone seriously interested in the topics addressed in this advice column. In a review of this book by Viktor Vanberg, now Professor of Economics at University of Freiburg in Germany, the book’s thesis was described as follows:

A Conflict of Visions… is an inquiry into the reasons why we so often find such a remarkable correlation in
people’s views across a broad array of issues. As Sowell conjectures, the
commonly observable correlation and clustering in political opinions cannot
be understood as simply reflecting some underlying structure of interests. A
more appropriate account, he argues, must be given in terms of certain
fundamental ideas or premises—referred to as “visions”—which, largely
unarticulated, are behind and give coherence to people’s particular political
opinions.  A “vision” in Sowell’s terminology is a “sense of how the world works,” a
“sense of reality and causation.” Visions are theoretical constructs but they
are much broader and more general than what we ordinarily refer to as
theories. They are the “foundations on which theories are built,” yet they
are much more remote from and only quite indirectly related to observed
reality. This makes them far less exposed to and vulnerable to potential
counterevidence, a fact that accounts for their apparent robustness and stability.

Do you have questions?  Belladonna Rogers has answers.  Send your questions about politics, personal matters, or any other matter that’s on your mind and Belladonna will answer as many as possible.  The names and email addresses of all advice-seekers will remain anonymous and confidential.  Send your questions to: [email protected]