by ANNE E. KORNBLUT ( The New York Times : October 29, 2006 )
He was very lonely and extremely depressed about his struggling career.
JONATHAN BRANDIS : 1976 – 2003
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, Miss Langham, an ardent 37 year old 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 could she support these people?’ ” said Miss 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.
“Finally, it hit me that if one of us got hit by a bus tomorrow, I don’t want my final thought to be : ‘She supports George Bush’, ” Miss Langham said.
They resumed contact but have agreed not to discuss the administration and the war, or even forward each other humorous political e-mail messages.
JUDITH WEISS :
THIS WOMAN IS A 37 YEAR OLD ADULT WITH A CHILD AND SHE FREEZES OUT HER CHILD’S GRANDMOTHER OVER POLITICS. NUFF SAID.
JOSH TREVINO :
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 ANNE E. KORNBLUT’S PIECE, IS AT BEST AN AFFRONT TO PIETY BORN OF A MONUMENTAL LACK OF PERSPECTIVE.
With Iraq locked in seemingly endless violence and a contentious midterm election just weeks away, a similar silent treatment seems to be spreading across certain corners of society. People who once feistily shared their convictions about politics now report biting their tongues around – or even completely avoiding – friends and relatives who disagree, trying to avoid fights over the Bush administration and, specifically, the war.
The simple image of a “polarized nation”, with a great divide between entirely red and entirely blue states, was never quite accurate. Many metropolitan areas, in particular, support a mix of both parties, with Republicans and Democrats living and working peacefully, for the most part, side by side. Those people have always car-pooled, had play groups and shared elevator rides and adjoining cubicles, often forming friendships through bonds that have nothing to do with politics.
But as the fissures that opened after the 2000 election have become more extreme over the last six years, the divisions are playing out in small and personal ways, influencing friendships, acquaintances and even family dynamics. In some cases, the divisions have caused painful rifts. In others, they have simply produced a wary quiet.
Many people said they are simply tired of debating the policies that have split the country so thoroughly. They know where they stand; they know where their friends, neighbors and colleagues stand. Rather than shift their views or even play along in a show of tolerance, many said they have opted for retreat and the safe harbor of friends who agree.
That instinct for self-selection has created a certain awkwardness in some environments, as people tread carefully on the subject of politics for fear of discovering that a neighbor is of another stripe. One result, said political experts, is that public discourse seems to be dimming, with people returning to the manners of an earlier time when discussing politics was considered rude rather than enlightening.
“Over 40 years ago, when I was a sorority girl at the University of Wisconsin, there were three things you didn’t talk about in rush, and those were religion, sex and politics,” said Charlene Bramson, a personal shopper in Chicago. “And then I went through 40 years of my life where those were dinner party conversations. And now, I think there’s a lot of talk about politics, but you know who you’re talking to before you start to have the conversation. You are having the conversation with people you agree with, not people you disagree with.”
Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who conducts focus groups nationwide, agreed, saying, “In most parts of this country, it is very difficult to have a civilized conversation between two people that fundamentally disagree.”
Which, while invigorating for television ratings, is less so for the nation’s social fabric.
Silvy Brookby, an algebra teacher in Kansas City, Mo., was once amused by the liberal banter she heard at the school lunch table from her colleagues and often countered with a Republican perspective of her own. But as the debate has worn on – and in Missouri, has grown more fierce against the backdrop of a fiercely contested Senate race – Dr. Brookby, 35, said she has grown tired of it. “Recently, I have withdrawn,” she said. “I’ve been like: I can’t do it anymore. Let me sit here and eat my chicken tetrazzini.”
That, she said, is a dramatic change for her. “I used to stand up for myself and fight it.” said Dr. Brookby who still supports the Bush administration over the war in Iraq. “Now that there’s no one in my corner, I don’t anymore. I just let them talk and I just let it go.”
She said she is grateful that her young son has made friends with a child whose parents are also Republicans, just so she can talk politics over playtime in relative comfort.
JUDITH WEISS :
ANOTHER THING THEY ( DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS ) DO WHICH MISS KORNBLUT DOESN’T GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF, BUT WHICH WE ( REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES ) ALL HAVE EXPERIENCED : THEY ALWAYS START POLITICAL CONVERSATIONS.
NONE OF US DO. WE HAVE LEARNED THAT NO ONE WANTS TO ARGUE ISSUES ON THEIR MERITS, THAT THE ROOM GETS VERY QUIET AND UNFRIENDLY, THAT PEOPLE START SCREAMING AT YOU OR RANT THE MOST LOOPY BELIEFS AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES. WE JUST ASSUME THAT POLITICS IS NOT A TOPIC ANYONE CAN TREAT IN A DISPASSIONATE MANNER.
BUT THEY ( DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS ) ALWAYS PROVOKE POLITICAL CONVERSATIONS. WELL, NOT CONVERSATIONS WHICH WOULD BE ENJOYABLE AND ENLIGHTENING. THEY MAKE PRONOUNCEMENTS AND THEN LOOK AROUND THE ROOM TO SEE IF ANYONE NOT ONLY DOESN’T AGREE BUT DOESN’T AGREE ENTHUSIASTICALLY.
AS A FRIEND DEEP WITHIN THE CLOSET IN THE THEATER WORLD PUTS IT : YOU CANNOT JUST SIT QUIETLY AND WAIT FOR THE TOPIC TO CHANGE. NO, YOU ARE SUSPECT IF YOU DO NOT VOCALLY ENDORSE THE OFFICIAL OPINION OF THE GROUP. YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE IN A PROJECT MEETING OR A COFFEE KLATCH OR A DINNER PARTY AND ALL OF A SUDDEN, IT HAS TURNED INTO THE COMMUNIST YOUTH LEAGUE SELF-CRITICISM SESSION.
AND THEN, AFTER THEY HAVE ASSUMED, BECAUSE NO ONE IN THE ROOM HAS FANGS OR HORNS, THAT A POLITICAL SUPPORT GROUP IS WHAT EVERYONE WANTS ( AND THEY DO, EXCEPT FOR YOU ) – IF YOU EXPRESS YOUR DIFFERENCE OF OPINION, THEY ARE OFFENDED THAT YOU SPOILED THE INTIMATE FEELING IN THE ROOM BY BEING OTHER THAN THEY ASSUMED BASED ON THEIR SUPERFICIAL READING OF YOU.
IN OTHER WORDS, THEY ( DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS ) BROUGHT UP POLITICS BUT THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO GET TO PLAY. IF YOU ( REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES ) JOIN IN, YOU ARE THE ONE WHO SOURED THE CONVERSATION BY BRINGING UP POLITICS. BECAUSE THEY WEREN’T TRYING TO START A POLITICAL DISCUSSION. THEY JUST WANTED TO COMMISERATE WITH FRIENDS. YOU PARTY POOPER!
Bob Schwartz, a Democrat in Columbus, has had a similar visceral reaction to his Republican friends. He recently quit his monthly poker game after 25 years. He had become so fed up with hearing his Republican partners praise President Bush at every gathering.
“It finally got to the point where it was me and another guy who were the only Democrats in there, and we said : ‘That’s it, folks! We don’t want to play anymore.‘” said Mr. Schwartz who is a retired electrical contractor.
JUDITH WEISS :
BOB CAN’T STAND TO PLAY WITH BUSH FANS EVEN WHEN HE ALREADY HAS A DEMOCRAT PAL TO KEEP HIM COMPANY!
The narrative is playing itself out over and over : Susan Freed, 32, a Democrat and a lawyer at a major firm in Des Moines, said she no longer raises politics at dinner parties where she does not know the other guests well because it “can be so touchy”.
JUDITH WEISS :
SOME OF US DISCUSSED THIS ARTICLE AT A PARTY I HOSTED YESTERDAY EVENING TO EAT CHILI AND PACK GOODIES FOR THE TROOPS IN IRAQ. AN UNEXPECTED AND WELCOME VISITOR WAS THE TWENTY SOMETHING DAUGHTER OF ONE COUPLE WHO WAS IN TOWN FOR A VISIT. SHE WORKS IN AN EXTREMELY LEFTY-LIBERAL INDUSTRY, LOOKS THE PART, AND IS MATTER-OF-FACTLY IN THE CLOSET ABOUT HER CONSERVATIVE POLITICS.
MOST OF US ARE IN THE CLOSET OR WE GET TREATED LIKE THE PEOPLE IN THIS ARTICLE.
Jim Coffman, 40, a Democrat in Chicago, said he and his wife have not pursued a friendship with another couple whose three children are the same ages as theirs after seeing photographs of President Bush on the other couple’s refrigerator. He said they have discussed with other friends “being so amazed that we could have so much in common and yet be so diametrically opposed” when it comes to politics.
JUDITH WEISS :
YOU SURE DON’T WANT YOUR CHILDREN TAINTED BY THE DEMON CHILDREN OF BUSH DEVOTEES!!
Chris Murphy, 32, counts himself among the few Republicans in Boston, where he works in the media relations department at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. In an environment dominated by Democrats, he said he is constantly amazed at people’s presumption that he shares their views, putting him in more than a few awkward positions.
“People just assume you’re a Democrat, and then turn and look at you and say : ‘Can you believe what this nut in the White House is doing?’ ” Mr. Murphy said. “And then you can say : ‘I voted for him twice.’ Or you can nod and move along.“ Often, he said, he chooses the latter.
JUDITH WEISS :
THIS ARTICLE EVEN CAPTURES THE MOST IRRITATING PRESUMPTION THAT IS WORSE THAN SIMPLY ADVOCATING FOR ONE’S VIEWS.
PEOPLE JUST ASSUME YOU’RE A DEMOCRAT. BOY, DO THEY!!!
Peter Mead, a Democrat who works with Mr. Murphy, said that at a recent dinner with another couple – Republicans – at a new French restaurant in the Back Bay, the subject of Iraq arose before they had ordered the appetizer course, “A discussion began and it wasn’t going to a good place. And I said: I tell you what. We have so much to talk about, but let’s not discuss anything they’re talking about in Washington so we can have a great dinner,” Mr. Mead, 60, said. “And we did.”
JUDITH WEISS :
NONE OF US LIKES TALKING GLOBAL ISSUES WITH THOSE WHO SIMPLY AGREE WITH US. IN FACT, WE DO DISAGREE WITH EACH OTHER ON THE LIST ABOUT MANY SUB-ISSUES.
WE REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES WOULD RATHER HAVE GENIAL OR ENLIGHTENING CONVERSATIONS WITH INTELLIGENT PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE WITH US BUT DON’T PERSONALIZE EVERYTHING AND DEMONIZE US.
WE ALL HAVE BRUISES FROM PAST ENCOUNTERS WITH FRIENDS, FAMILY AND BLIND DATES. WE NO LONGER EXPECT CIVIL BEHAVIOR ANYMORE.
WE HAVE MADE SOME CLOSE FRIENDS IN OUR COZY CLOSET AND HAVE A LOT OF FUN BY OURSELVES. WE HOPE IT IS A TEMPORARY BUNKER UNTIL THE HOSTILITY DIES DOWN.
Stephen Viscusi, 46 of Manhattan, said the divide has made DATING even more fraught. Mr. Viscusi, who is gay and a Republican, said he has been rejected by Democratic suitors once they learn his political views.
JUDITH WEISS :
GEE, I THINK IT’S EVEN WORSE FOR THEM THAN FOR FORTY-SOMETHING SINGLE NEOCON JEWISH WOMEN IN NEW YORK CITY.
Where people were once amused by the marriage of Republican consultant Mary Matalin and her Democratic husband James Carville, now they are fairly bewildered. These days, it is almost impossible to imagine a similar union springing up in Washington or between any two people on opposite political sides.
JUDITH WEISS :
I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT I WOULD HAVE HAD MORE SEX AND MAYBE A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP BY NOW IF THE SOCIAL ARENA WAS NOT SO POLARIZED.
SPIRITED ARGUMENT IS SEXY TO ME. A MARRIAGE WITH SOMEONE WHO DISAGREES WITH ME ON VARIOUS ISSUES SOUNDS ENERGIZING, PLAYFUL AND ALWAYS INTERESTING.
BUT MOST PEOPLE DON’T FEEL THAT WAY ANYMORE, AT LEAST NOT LIBERALS.
ALLEGED CHAMPIONS OF DIVERSITY, THEY WANT LOVERS AND FRIENDS JUST LIKE THEMSELVES.
I KNOW ONE COUPLE WHO BROKE UP OVER POLITICS. ( WELL, THE WIFE TELLS ME THERE WERE DEEPER PROBLEMS AND POLITICS JUST EXACERBATED THEM. ) BUT I ALSO KNOW SEVERAL COUPLES WHO JUST AGREE TO DISAGREE AND IT’S CLEAR THEY ARE A TEAM.
POLITICS IS JUST NOT A GOOD ENOUGH REASON FOR ESTRANGEMENT.
In the wake of hostile debates during the last few election cycles, P. M. Forni the director of The Civility Initiative at John Hopkins University compiled a tip sheet on how to avoid angry confrontations with participants across the aisle. ( His top three pointers : don’t assume anyone shares your views; don’t point out another person’s politics in public; don’t ask people to share their political affiliations. )
But Dr. Forni, who is the author of “Choosing Civility : The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct”, and whose institute assesses the importance of manners in society, said the dialogue has grown muted and not necessarily for the better.
“In previous elections, there was more openness,” he said. But now, he said, “The intensity of the feelings of displeasure with one or the other end of the political spectrum is such that many people realize there is a real danger in disclosure and discussion.”
“The workplace is perhaps the most perilous minefield for political activists,” he said. “People don’t want to alienate their bosses. They don’t want to alienate their co-workers. And very often, they are reluctant to disclose their views because they’re afraid of being tagged. Tags will survive and be with them after the election.”
“An election season can turn into an equivalent of the office party. You will say and do things that you regret the day after,” Dr. Forni said. “And there are those who, being aware of that, simply have decided not to speak about these issues or to do that only with a very, very small circle of trusted friends, very often of the same political persuasion, in order to enforce their values and validate their choices. Because they have given up the hope that anything good will come through political confrontation.”
JUDITH WEISS :
THAT DESCRIBES MY LIFE. I EVEN STARTED AN E-MAIL LIST TO CREATE A SOCIAL LIFE WHICH WOULDN’T BORE OR ENRAGE ME. IT HAS GROWN IN 2 YEARS TO 140 MEMBERS WHO ARE ALSO LOOKING FOR A SAFE PLACE TO TALK ABOUT THINGS THAT MATTER TO THEM AND TRADE HORROR STORIES LIKE THE ANECDOTES IN THIS ARTICLE.
Miss Langham, the stay-at-home mom, gave up hope of changing her mother’s mind well before 2006. And she said that their cold war had as much to do with events in Iraq and the political landscape as it did with her mother’s fondness for combative conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.
“There was no one precipitating event. It was just everything,” Miss Langham said. “I’d finally had enough of the presidency and the lies and the slants and everything.”
“She was the one person I knew who still believed in these people,” Miss Langham continued. So she said, “for a month we didn’t call each other, didn’t e-mail, and she did sense something was wrong.”
“I had to explain to her finally where I was coming from,” she said. “In a way, she was relieved. But I think she probably now views me as even more of a progressive nut job than before.”
JUDITH WEISS :
MAYBE IF MISS LANGHAM ACTUALLY ASKS HER MOTHER ABOUT HER OWN VIEWS AND LISTENS, HER QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED.
NOTICE HOW ALL THE SHUNNING IS BEING DONE BY LIBERALS AND DEMOCRATS. GIVEN THAT THIS IS MOST OF THE NEW YORK TIMES’ DECLINING READERSHIP, I DON’T THINK THE ARTICLE WAS WEIGHTED TO MAKE THEM LOOK BAD. I THINK ANNE KORNBLUT JUST COULDN’T FIND ANY EXAMPLES OF CONSERVATIVES AND REPUBLICANS DOING THE SAME THING.
WE ( REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES ) ARE GIDDY THAT OUR EXPERIENCES HAVE FINALLY BECOME VISIBLE TO THE ESTABLISHMENT THAT ROUTINELY TRIVIALIZES AND ERASES US. EVERYTHING WE HAD BEEN COMPLAINING ABOUT SINCE 2003 ACKNOWLEDGED IN INK OR NEWSPRINT BY THE FORMER PAPER OF RECORD.
WE ALSO THOUGHT THAT MISS KORNBLUT COULDN’T EVEN TELL THAT SHE WAS MAKING HER OWN SIDE LOOK BAD. MAYBE SHE IS AN UNDERCOVER AGENT FOR OUR SIDE.
JOSH TREVINO :
THIS ANNE KORNBLUT NEW YORK TIMES 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.
THE CONSERVATIVE VIEW OF POLITICS HOLDS THAT IT DOES NOT ENCOMPASS ALL SPHERES OF HUMAN ACTIVITY. THERE IS NO SOUND REASON, FOR EXAMPLE, TO REJECT ASSOCIATION WITH LIKE-MINDED PERSONS 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?
A CORE LEFTIST TENET MAY BE EXPRESSED IN THE OLD FEMINIST CLICHE : “THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL.” THIS GETS MUDDLED 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 HAS BECOME INVOLVED, IT IS TOWARDS 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 IS 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 BORN OF A MONUMENTAL LACK OF PERSPECTIVE.
TO BORROW A NON-LEFTIST PARALLEL, ONE IS REMINDED OF AYN RAND’S FURIOUS FAULT-FINDING WITH THOSE WHO DARED DISAGREE WITH HER. BUT RAND’S GROUP WAS AND REMAINS A CULT. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS NOT. OR, SHOULD I SAY, IT DIDN’T USED TO BE.
I HAVE WRITTEN BEFORE ON THE INCREASINGLY CULTIC ASPECTS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S HARDCORE — AND IT IS A SINCERE PITY NOW TO READ THAT THE PHENOMENON HAS METASTASIZED TO AFFLICT NEIGHBORS, COMPANIONS AND THE RIGHTFUL CLAIMANTS TO FAMILIAL LOVE.
Many thanks to Seraphic Friend Yehudit who focused our attention on “THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM”. This is something deeply connected to THE UGLY AND UNRELENTING BIGOTRY WITHIN THE FILM AND TELEVISION INDUSTRIES that is widespread and accepted.
REPUBLICANS, CONSERVATIVES, LOVERS OF ISRAEL AND EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS ARE FORCED TO EXIST IN THE SHADOWS and only COME OUT AT GREAT PERIL TO THEIR SHOWBIZ CAREERS.
MOST HOLLYWOOD LIBERALS ARE INTOLERANT of any political opinion other than their own.
THE CONSEQUENCES CAN BE FATAL TO THE CAREERS OF MOST HOLLYWOOD REPUBLICANS for they will find themselves QUIETLY BUT MOST DEFINITELY BLACKLISTED.
( Seraphic Secret October 2006 Archives, www.seraphicpress.com )