Two brave letters from two different sources about the same controversial topic: The challenges liberals face in integrating conservatives into their lives. Overcoming the basic innate prejudices is just the first step. Taffy Brodesser-Akner submits this confession on Salon.com:
When you live, say, on a coast or in a very blue state, you grow accustomed to being surrounded by people who believe like you do. You get to thinking that the only people who would dare contradict you are ignoramuses. Meanwhile, I began directing all my anger toward the Republican Party at Janet. On the day that Congress voted to defund Planned Parenthood, I found myself furious at Janet, just Janet, as the face of all that was bad in the world. Feeling sad and deflated, I wandered over to her house, unable to look her in the eye, asking her why? How? To what end?Read all of Taffy's piece here.
She told me she didn't believe government had any business funding it in the first place. That this isn't about abortion or hating women but ways the government doesn't need to be involved. She told me Planned Parenthood was well-funded and won't even miss the money. "Planned Parenthood will be better off without government funding and all the strings that are presumably attached," she said. "I sometimes wonder why liberals, who are so enamored of the freedom to do any damn thing they want, even take government money when it constricts their freedoms."
I closed my eyes and breathed through what she was saying. Janet isn't Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. She believes what she's telling me, and she's studied the issues. That might be what is so difficult: She has the same education as I have, and yet she has made different decisions, decisions that are so counter to what I believe. Decisions I find abhorrent.
And yet, I think having a Republican friend is making me a better liberal. We need friends who differ from us. It's easy to watch Republican extremism and think, "Wow, they're crazy." But when someone is sitting face to face with us, when someone we admire and respect is telling us they believe differently, it is at this fine point that we find nuance, and we begin to understand exactly how we got to this point in history. We lose something critical when we surround ourselves with people who agree with us all the time. We lose out on the wisdom of seeing the other side.
There is an old adage that liberals think conservatives are evil; conservatives think liberals are stupid. Jay Nordlinger shares the following letter in his "Impromptus" column today from a liberal correspondent who begins by talking about Rush Limbaugh:
More recently, listening to bits of his radio show on road trips, I’ve been struck by his affection for his personal acquaintances, whatever their political leanings. He can be harsh about the Left as an abstraction, but seems disposed to like individual people, really.Jay Nordlinger does not share any of the mail he received in response to his column today, and to be fair, Mr. Nordlinger's column appears on National Review's website---not exactly a hotbed of liberal discourse.
In general terms, acknowledging that there are all sorts of exceptions, I’d call that a common strength of conservative people — when they find out you’re a liberal, they’ll look quizzically at you sometimes, but will not start withholding warmth or congeniality. That’s been my general experience as a liberal talking with conservatives, anyway.
I’m exasperated to admit that just the opposite behavior seems to be, in general, one of the great weaknesses of liberal people. I fell madly in love with a conservative man about two years ago, and we are now engaged. When some (not all, and not the best) of my liberal friends meet him and find out his political affiliation, you can almost feel the resulting “cooling off,” as if they suddenly fear they may be speaking to a Bad Person.
My fiancé confirms, matter-of-factly and without resentment, that he has noticed all this, and even goes so far as to say that he can sense which kinds of people would be most distressed by his politics. He withholds information about himself accordingly, to avoid social discomfort.
And he’s a fiscal conservative ONLY!! Doesn’t give a toss about the social/cultural concerns of the Right. In other words, he represents the sort of conservatism liberals claim to like.
It’s the kind of thing that makes me laugh to keep from crying, really. I feel like a genial (dare I say DEMOCRATIC?) interest in each person who crosses your path in life is completely consistent with what I call liberalism — and there was a time when I would have pegged conservatives as generally more judgmental, but in my dotage, I find that life is, as always, much more surprising than that. :-)
However, the Salon piece by Taffy Brodesser-Akner had 185 comments posted as of this posting. And while there are a number of commenters who cautiously applaud or tepidly offer non-judgemental platitudes over crossing such rigidly ideological lines, many of the comments reflect not only an overwhelming prejudice against conservatives, but a general intolerance against any of their "own kind" mixing with conservatives.
I don't have any conclusions to draw from these letters (and the reactions to them) since they only serve to reinforce my own personal experiences. I think that this trend has been turned up in recent years, to the point where it has become common practice to dehumanize conservatives as evil which means that nothing---absolutely nothing--- is off limits when it comes to defeating them.
Letters like Taffy's and Nordlinger's reader's give me hope that someday, we can learn to engage in civilized debate and agree to disagree where necessary. That being said, I don't think that day is coming any time soon.