Politically motivated Facebook posts cause frustration for many people. But recently I had an unusual reason for rolling my eyes at a friend’s post: He’d called me out for being someone who is always willing to talk even though we are “on opposite sides.” Considering the current state of the country where some people won’t speak to the other side, I know he meant it as a compliment. And while I appreciate the thought and the intention, I don’t like being relegated to just one side. My opinions are not One Side Fits All.
I have deliberately cultivated an approach that is best described as multipartisan. There isn’t a person I can’t find something in common with. I don’t think I’m alone, but I do think most of us don’t try. I have heard about fantasy football leagues that have dissolved over politics, and from people who are skipping Thanksgiving with their own family this year to avoid arguments and angst. So let’s fix that.
To quote Aaron Sorkin in the opening scene of “The Newsroom” (one of the best five minutes in all of television, in my opinion): In the past, “we didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.” For the record, in the last election I voted for a Democrat. And further down the ballot a Republican, and a Green Party candidate as well. Isn’t it awesome to have the opportunity to do that? Or are you mad at me now, for ticket-splitting?
I’ll admit that my personal situation is unique. My dad is a Republican; my mom is a Democrat — or a Libertarian, depending on the day and the issue. I spent the majority of my formative years arguing about politics and public policy with my favorite friend, who happened to be extremely conservative. (I drew peace signs on either side of my car with shoe polish to “protest” the start of Operation Desert Storm. He used his car to listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio during fifth-period lunch.) Those discussions taught me how to work through and articulate what I cared about and why, but I’ll admit — when we did agree, I occasionally took whatever side he wasn’t on just to continue the discussion. This had the unintended consequence of teaching me how to argue multiple sides of pretty much any issue, by understanding the merits of every side. And I’ll tell you, there aren’t many subjects where evidence and reason on both sides aren’t compelling.
Most people don’t do a public rundown of how they stand on multiple issues. Maybe just identifying as right or left saves time. Maybe there are people who do agree with “everything” on their chosen political affiliation platform list. Maybe people who have varied opinions and ticket-split like I do realize that being able to find common ground and agree also means that the likelihood of stumbling onto something to disagree about is higher, too. Maybe it’s hard to lay all your policy positions bare because being that open is scary.
So here’s a portion of my list: I’m not crazy about unions, I own a first edition of “Atlas Shrugged,” and I come from a military and law enforcement family. But I am also happy to pay taxes for public schools (even though I don’t have and won’t have kids of my own), am pro-choice, and support single-payer health care. I have no firm position on “gun rights/gun control” because I can see valid points on both sides of the argument. I like paying extra for transit in urban areas and extra for economic development incentives for rural ones.
Did you find something there that you agreed with? Good. How about shook your head and thought I was wrong? Good. Have both experiences with the same list? Even better. Because that’s my point. No matter whom you voted for — at the top of the ticket or further down the list — we can always find something to agree on. Taking a stand should not mean taking a side.
This is my challenge to all readers. If there is someone in your life whom you’ve had a testy relationship with since November, reach out to them and try to fix it. Don’t talk politics specifically or articulate that you’re trying to bridge the divide. Just find a commonality. If public policy is too controversial, try something else. Sports teams, invasive dandelions, the cost of a beer at a ballgame, sunset at 7 p.m. If you’re really desperate, the psychological merit of cute puppies. Stop assuming that if someone disagreed with your vote for president that the relationship is over. And if one side doesn’t fit all of your views, don’t assume one side fits all of theirs, either.
Shannon Watson, of St. Paul, is the founder of Definitely Someday, a firm that helps normal people prepare for a future run for office.