Talking Politics around the Dinner Table Has Become Blood Sport
Years ago, my father gave me some advice as I prepared to spend the summer between my second and third year of law school working in a law firm in Washington, D.C. "Despite the division you see between Republicans and Democrats in the news," he warned, "behind the heated rhetoric is a club of politicians who golf together, whose wives socialize together, and whose children not only attend the same schools, but often end up marrying each other. They viciously fight for their agendas in the public arena, rile up ordinary citizens like you and me, then go home and have each other over for a BBQ."
His words catapulted from deep within my memory to the forefront of my brain as I watched the token liberal on The Five, Bob Beckel, receive accolades for his work on substance abuse and shower his conservative co-hosts with love and friendship, which they reciprocated.
This wouldn't be the first time political opponents voiced their affection for one another after vehement disagreement on policies and issues. In a different time and place, I would have embraced this kumbaya moment. But not today. Today, it just made me angry. Not at the display of affection or the apparent sincerity of it all. I felt somehow betrayed.
During that stint in D.C., I was a registered Democrat working for a Chicago firm that had former Democrat politicians-turned-rainmakers in its employ. One of the other summer associates was the daughter of a Democrat congressman. They were very kind and invited me to several events where I observed my father's admonitions play out.
I witnessed politicians -- who didn't just spar with one another on the news, but verbally bashed one another to a rhetorical bloody pulp -- embrace each another, yuk it up, slap each other on the back, and give bear hugs laden with sincere affection. They had an on-off switch for politics, and as soon as they stepped out of the political ring, they switched it to "off." Political theater. This is how it was in Washington. This is how it still is.
Things used to be less acrimonious among the citizenry as well. I recall many family events where my dad would argue politics with relatives, Manhattan in hand -- a small businessman with a law degree and background in political science. No name-calling. No nastiness. All in good fun. Some heated discussions, for sure, but in the end, family and friendship trumped politics. It was all so...civil.
But something changed during the Clinton years, a time when I was becoming politically aware. Clinton was expert at playing the champion of the little guy, a halo-wearing counterpoint to the evil machinations of rich, power-wielding, conspiratorial Republicans seeking to undermine the good intentions of Democrat-victims at every turn.
He mastered the bully pulpit as a platform to blame Republicans for all of the country's ills and had a complicit press to disseminate his missives. Clinton could get away with saying anything he wanted, mischaracterizing a day's political events to suit his agenda and castigate Republicans. I'd see Republicans say and do one thing and Clinton's minions and the press turn it on its head...and get away with it. The only counterbalance to this was a conservative media you could find only on the black market -- the emergent universe of talk radio and a few conservative publications.
As the media manipulated the truth on behalf of a president they were in bed with and refashioned the political leanings of a generation, I no longer felt comfortable being a Democrat.
During the Bush years -- when there was no titular head of the DNC for the Democrat-Media Complex to prop up and protect -- its singular focus became the relentless pursuit and persecution of Bush 43, his administration, his party, and everyone in it. If you were concerned about this cozy relationship between the media and the DNC during the Clinton years, it skyrocketed to unbearable levels with Bush and has been downright criminal during the Obama years; there is no daylight from the administration or an objective press to demand any (Benghazi), all opposition is feverishly demonized to the point of libel (Tea Party racists and extremists holding the Republican Party and the country hostage), and the press protects the president at all costs (as we saw in the recent defund-shutdown debacle, Fast and Furious, the IRS scandals, etc.).
This rabid compulsion to crush conservatives while buttressing liberal presidents and their agendas has ushered in decades of animosity, nastiness, and name-calling. And I will say what most know but dare not confess: most of it comes from the left.
If you just look at the government shutdown of the last few weeks, Republicans were polite and respectful in presenting their case to the American people -- while being eviscerated by the president on down. And no one in the main stream media called the latter on it. As most of you know, the media actually perpetuated the name-calling by repeating ad nauseam the jeremiads leveled by our tolerant leftist leaders to those of us in opposition: that we were holding the country hostage, exacting a ransom to get our way, had bombs strapped to our chests, were terrorists, anarchists, and arsonists.
Half of this country votes Republican. Half of this country was savagely attacked by Democrats while the Republicans played nice and the press fanned the flames. The invective, disrespect, and public dressing down came, in this instance, and historically has come, exclusively from the left. It is the norm today and dominates every aspect of our lives -- family, friend, church, school, little league. It is wholly fomented by the Democrat-Media Complex.
And the worst thing about this truth -- aside from the fact that kids, in true-blue Soviet style, are being turned against their parents and brainwashed into believing that their own flesh and blood are hateful, bomb-wielding, hostage-taking terrorists -- is that no one in the political middle or on the left will ever read about this.
Watching the love-fest on the The Five didn't hit a sweet spot for me; it just brought up a lot of bad memories. Like all the years listening to Bob Beckel trash any Republican he could, being as rude, nasty, bombastic, and hurtful as he could get away with.
Journalists -- even many who lean right -- constantly ask when the vituperations on both sides will cease. But really, when was the last time mainstream Republicans called mainstream Democrats terrorists? Liars? Anarchists (which many admit to being, as we saw with the Occupy movement)? Or racists? (KKK members were Democrats, Democrats opposed Civil Rights legislation, and, let's face it, Democrat policies have destroyed the black family and kept too many black Americans in poverty.)
When liberals fire back with "what about what Republicans say," ask them to cite specific examples when Bush, Hastert, Gingrich, or McConnell hurled equivalent insults towards Democrats. They never can. I didn't hear one Republican in the recent defund-shutdown romp call one Democrat -- even those most deserving -- any names. They said they were wrong, misguided, hurting the American people, ruining health care, but they didn't call anyone a terrorist, arsonist, or anarchist, or imply that anyone was a suicide-bomber.
We can all look back on instances in our lives when our Democrat/liberal friends rolled their eyes at something we said, called us stupid or ignorant, whispered as we walked into a room. After Palin was announced as McCain's running mate, I remember one "friend" telling me how her 90-year-old father didn't think much of Sarah Palin but sure wanted to "blank" her. Can you imagine ever saying that about Geraldine Ferraro? Hillary Clinton? Kathleen Sebelius?
Good for Beckel that he has a conservative brother, Graham, and that he's pals off camera with his co-hosts and Cal Thomas -- with whom he wrote a book about finding common ground.
Good for Mitch McConnell, who has bragged about his friendship with Harry Reid outside the Senate chambers, where they let the political rhetoric rip.
Good for Sean Hannity, who will often say to a liberal guest something like "You know I love you -- no, really, we are good friends, even though I think you're wrong when it comes to your politics."
Good for the pundits and politicians and their ability to cross the divide with their political foes...but it's not like that anymore for the guy on the street. Over time, politicians, pundits, and journalists have become more partisan and outrageous. Maybe they think it increases ratings. In any event, they get us all worked up...and we stay that way long after they flip the switch to "off." Our interactions with Democrats are more unpleasant than ever before. Conservatives often have to hide their viewpoints at work or school for fear of recrimination.
Yes, once upon a time, we were a much more tolerant society, where Republicans and Democrats could intermarry, socialize, and cultivate friendships irrespective of their political views. And maybe it is still like that for a few today.
But for most conservatives -- especially those of us in blue states -- we are openly mocked, scorned, and labeled. Our president vilifies us, Democrat leaders berate us, and journalists revel in it all. Our so-called liberal friends think we are idiots and haters. Very few people say, "We'll agree to disagree, but I still love ya, man." Maybe, now that the damage is done to the regular folks out there, Beckel and his ilk can chum it up with their conservative pals, but that's only after many of us have been driven to the point where we no longer want to spend time with people who openly hate us.
And this reminds me of another bit of advice from my father: "People like this, they turn on the spigot and neglect to turn it off until it is too late -- when water is everywhere, the mess it too much to clean up, and the floor, cabinets, everything is ruined."