Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Whether you live in a red state, blue state, favor the tea party, or a rainbow coalition, there is a label for every opinion on the spectrum. Labels are a convenient shorthand to separate your views from those who are wrong. We watch the news providers who agree with our views.

Growing up, we all watched Walter Cronkite. As I skipped to school during the Kennedy/Nixon election of 1960, I heard some boys chanting, “Nixon, Nixon, he’s our man. Kennedy belongs in the garbage can.” I asked Dad who he was voting for and he replied, “In this house we vote by Australian secret ballot.”

When Kennedy won the election, I knew Dad had voted for him. He smiled when he told me that Kennedy was the first Irish Catholic president. I knew we were Irish because Mother played Clancy Brothers records way before St. Patrick’s day every year. When Kennedy was assassinated, Dad cried, one of the few times I saw him do that. I was watching TV with Dad when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. The same TV which amused us after school with the Three Stooges, delivered violent images of a war in Vietnam.

When Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater, neighbors sported Goldwater bumper stickers on their American-made cars. They had parties which my parents did not attend. When Mother cleaned the house every Saturday morning, the music of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez boomed from the stereo console in our living room. Dad called it protest music and spent the day outside cutting the grass and cleaning the garage. On Sunday after Mass, he played Ramsey Lewis, Thelonius Monk and other jazz masters.

My parents read the Chicago Tribune and the Daily News every day. They continued to vote by Australian secret ballot, discussing issues of the day, but never revealing their choices. As I got older, I realized their votes might be canceling each other out. I identify myself as an independent, which means I usually vote Democratic. I get my news from Brian Williams and Jon Stewart. Friends and family are proud Republicans who express strong opinions about the president. Why don’t they respect the office? I mentally criticize them and then remember my thoughts during the “W” presidency.

I tend to avoid discussing current events with people who might disagree. I know this is wrong. While it is fine to hold allegiances to different political parties, when I stand behind my labels, I lose the ability to hear another point of view. Being on the “right” side of an issue feels good. Sometimes I am the only pacifist in a roomful of people who want to bomb our enemies into the stone age. Instead of saying it, I think, “they are already in the stone age. If we helped them prosper, they might feel differently about us.”

Righteous anger feels good. The only problem is, when we are sure our opinions are the only right ones, we stop debate. We start hating people instead of their politics.  In the run-up to the 2016 election, I will listen to the loyal opposition. I vow not to leave the room when people oppose my viewpoint. I vow it now, but cannot promise. I will certainly vote by Australian secret ballot.

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