For years, the media, the news, entertainment, and politics were largely dominated by a single voice, that of modern liberalism. When you disagreed with this, it seemed as if you were all alone, or a small number of people. After all, if there were many of you, your point of view would be out there, right? Until Ronald Reagan's two landslide victories when he appealed to this huge segment of the population, and Rush Limbaugh's wildly successful radio show, it seemed that way.
But there are areas of the country where, outnumbered and in danger of losing work or status, or even friends and family members, people still hold their tongues when politics comes up.
Ann Kornblut at the New York Times wrote an article about this topic that has gotten a great deal of attention lately:
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.That's just one of several examples that Kornblut gives, reflecting a change in attitudes from tolerance and uniting as Americans despite disagreements to stark rejection of those who dare question the party line.
But earlier this year, Ms. Langham, 37, an ardent 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 can she support these people?’ ” said Ms. 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,’ ” Ms. 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.
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.Judith Weiss at Pajamas Media wrote about this as well:
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 perhaps invigorating for television ratings, is proving less so for the nation’s social fabric.
Notice how all the shunning is being done by liberals/Democrats. Given that this is most of the 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/Republicans doing the same thing.The shift is more significant than simply family members who cannot get along. She describes a dynamic here that is different from people who disagree because politics are brought up, rather there is anger that someone dared disagree and break up their mutual commiseration session.
Some of us discussed this 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 the article.
I've shown this in the past, where totally out of context and without any rational basis, the same angry, paranoid, conspiratorial talking points will show up almost anywhere. It can be a Wikipedia writeup on the war in Iraq that claims (until edited) that the WMD were the only justification for the war, it can be a movie review on IMDB, it can be a site talking about food and recipes.
For some, the compulsion to inject hatred of President Bush is overwhelming, like monomania, they stab it into every conversation, every setting, every possible situation or opportunity. This madness makes every conversation a chore, every blog comment section and message board dreary to a certain extent. After fighting the same battle the 629341th time with people who will not listen, do not care what the facts are, and are never going to change their position no matter how totally refuted it is, you simply stop. You give up, you quit arguing, you keep your mouth shut. You've been effectively silenced by a small, loud, unceasing minority.
The national dialog is reaching this point, the one drumbeat has been so relentless, constant, and loud that you simply begin to wither under the effort. Reason and fact cannot compete with glassy-eyed madness in terms of devotion.
Commenters at Judith Weiss' site responded:
When I studied abroad, it was clear that all of my classmates were to the left of even the Democrat mainstream. My husband suggested that I keep my politics to myself until I had made some friends. Well, after I had made a few friends, I piped up with a conservative opinion. I wish I had taken a picture of the shock and horror that flashed across their faces. The other side had invaded their ranks! One of my friends even told me that it was smart of me not to reveal my politics right off the bat because she would have never befriended me if she had known I was a...gasp...Bush supporter.There was a Biblical term for this concept, shibboleth. This was a word that people from another nation would ineviatbly mispronounce, giving the Israelites a clue that they were dealing with an outsider. It let them know who spies were, it was a dividing line. Having conservative views or supporting President Bush has become this shibboleth, it's when you become ostracized by some.
-by Fern R
I have run into this so many times. I think of it as a spiritual disease, which may explain why the left is more prone to it than the right. People who lack a religious sense tend more than most to invest their egos in their opinions (since they have nothing, really, that transcends the self). Thus they experience disagreement as disrespect, as a personal attack. As you point out, it is sad.
-by Mike Walsh, MM
It's a timely subject, with the holiday season approaching as well. I'm not sure if "friend" is the right word, but I do stay in touch with a very small number of flaming lib/rad friends I used to be very close with, including one who lusts for Bush's impeachment and another who is very close friends with Code Pink activists. But I certainly do *not* confide in them as I once did. I've also let certain others fall by the wayside.
Would rather have an elephant in the living room than a donkey.
I have an aunt and uncle that I haven't seen or spoken to since Christmas 2002. They had spent years ridiculing my parents (voting for a 2-bit actor, etc) so when my uncle started in on me, I didn't let it pass. He supports the Dems because they support the unions and vice versa. Then he insulted my father by claiming that the ONLY reason my father had any success in life was because he was a union member. Problem was, I remember when the union tried to strip my dad of several years seniority to protect some union flunky that had fewer years than my dad. I also know how my dad continuously strove to better himself through any training available to help him do his job better. Personally, I think the union held him back.
Anyway, my aunt and uncle stayed until after dinner, though neither spoke a word, then left and didn't speak to my parents until Easter. Now my mom's older sister and brother both died years ago and this aunt is her only remaining sibling. Four months of attending the same church, but without the daily phone calls, etc. nearly killed my mother. My aunt finally started talking to her again, but was still outrage at me. She has since told my mother that I am no longer her nephew.
I've offered to speak with them, but my mother refuses. She doesn't want to risk losing what contact remains.
I wish they could read this article, but I doubt they'd accept it if they did.
Sorry for the long post.
-by JR DavisYou 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.A-frickin'-men. I'm right of center and I work in a very left wing environment and I can't count how many times a meeting turned into a political discussion. I generally just keep my mouth shut (which has probably damned me) because I have to work with these people. Some of them got into a yelling match during the 2004 campaign season because one of them didn't hate Bush (wasn't going to vote for him, but he didn't hate the man). The Bush-haters were so enraged that this guy didn't hate Bush like they did they started a big argument which prompted an e-mail from HR to the company requesting people respect each other's political views. I doubt these people would accept my views with open arms.
I have experienced this myself on several levels. However, not only am I a conservative, but I am also a currently serving Soldier in the Army. I usually get remarks like," You're so nice, I would never had any idea" when people learn of my profession. The left in my opinion sees itself as a direct line to the "people". So those who oppose them, oppose the "people" and therefore are illegitimate. Those on the republican/libertarian right see the left as making logical errors ie. 2+2 =5. One does not get emotionally upset at a math/logic error. Those on the left see the right as being invalid from the start and being in opposition to the "common good". I actually had an leftist acquaintance tell me that she "forgave" me for being in the Service. Unbelievable!
-by Bob F.
I have to admit as a Republican, I would probably never (could never) have a deep, long-term relationship with a Democrat. My sister is a dyed-in-the-wool Dem, but family is an exception. Of course, I don't see her that often because of distance and if I did, we'd probably avoid political talk most of the time.
I work around some Dems though and I think they sense that I'm not one of them because I don't nod in agreement at their bombastic opinions.
I'll also agree that never, ever have I heard someone just voice a pro-republican or pro-Bush opinion before a work meeting began but I've heard pro-dem opinions all the time.
The number of times I've had to bite my tongue...
That is pretty pathetic not associating with someone because of their political opinions. It is as sad as, say a Mets fan who would refuse to play p*ker with a Yankees fan or something...there's nothing wrong with some good-hearted ribbing among friends, but totally avoiding someone due to their politics? No way.
Still, if I knew that a co-worker of mine was, say a supporter of Hamas, even if he kept his politics to himself at work, I certainly wouldn't want to hang out with him on a business trip. Likewise, if someone down the hall in my apartment building expressed his opinion against same-sex marriage to the degree that he refused to be polite to my partner, I think I would be justifed in turning down an offer to play cards with him.
I suppose there's always an exception if someone is rude or pushy about it...I mean, a pushy Democrat or Republican is as obnoxious as a rude sports fan who yells "your team sucks" -- but what about the Hamas supporter or a similar situation?
-by Mike Silverman
Here in Utah, the reddest of the red states, you've got the opposite extreme: isolated liberals floating in a sea of conservatives. So, naturally, one might expect the same conflicts as those described above, only in reverse... right?
Where I work, a small company, everyone (as far as I know) is conservative. When a new guy was hired, we avoided talking politics at all around him, until we got to know him better. We didn't want to risk offending the guy. Turns out he's sorta half and half, probably more liberal than conservative. But we all get along just fine, and even have those wacky "logical and friendly" political chats you guys seem to only dream about. We wouldn't THINK of demeaning a liberal co-worker just because he or she thinks differently. At other places in Utah where I've worked (4 or 5 in all, sometimes very large organizations), it was the same.
My wife, her sister, and her husband, are all conservative, too. I doubt they vote straight Republican ticket, but they damn well didn't vote for Kerry. Not that I asked, but you get a sense of these things. Anyway, my wife's mother is the hard-core liberal of the group. We avoid political discussions like the plague, when we can, but sometimes she can't restrain herself. Even when she knows we won't agree! She gets even more angry when we refuse to buy in to the liberal point du jour, and if we decide to actually argue the conservative case... well, we've learned over the years to cautiously try to change the subject before things get really bad. So why does she insist on starting these arguments?
Over here, in the heart of "Jesusland West," I have yet to encounter a group of conservatives bullying someone into thinking their way. I don't even know the political leanings of most of the people I talk to every day, even though, more often than not, it turns out to be "conservative" once conversation eventually heads that way.
If other Utahns have encountered otherwise, I'd be interested in hearing about it. I hope this extends beyond my own personal experience. My experience here, coupled with the stories I have read on this page, add up to an eye-opening - and disturbing - glimpse into the liberal psyche.
Is it really that bad out there in blue territory?
i reside in southern california. i am a Japanese American female, licensed psychotherapist working as a mediator for the Superior Courts. Because of these attributes it is assumed that i must be left of center in my political and social views. Oh, i am also one of those Christian types too.
I work in a professional setting and i am continuously amazed at the bias, prejudice and hostility openly expressed by my colleagues against all things Republican/Conservative/Spiritual.
I wonder at how they completely overlook the irony in their vocal castigation regarding closed minded, intolerant right wingers,fascist neocons and religious types. In one recent circumstance I experienced what was a frightening realization.
With four of my closer colleagues i came to understand something i have never been able to mentally comprehend. How could/did neighbors and friends turn in their neighbors and friends to the Gestapo/SS/Third Reich collaborators?
Individuals i thought at least respected my right to my personal beliefs were vehemently attacking me as i drove all of us home from a distant conference. The intensity of their belief that the religious and neocons are ruining our nation and are the same as Islamic extremists if not worse. These are educated and generally kind people. But none would consider that their views are seriously skewed. I know of no one in my spiritual community who wants to take up arms and kill in the name of Yeshua...or convert anyone by point of sword :) There are no plans for a religious Theocracy...most of my fellow Christians lean to a Libertarian political view of live and let live with as little government involvement as possible. That is until decisions are being made in the community and ultimately through the courts that impacts our ability to freedom of practice and expression... such as Baccalauriate celebration to bring God's blessings, maintain historical symbols in county seals, attempts to exclude all Judaeo/Christian values, symbols on campus in the community but hypersensitivity to anything Muslim.
My intellect, reasoning and psychological health was questioned in my support of Pres. Bush and the policy to fight a war against Islam extremists. Actually stated, "how can you,a woman of color ever support the policies of the neocon Republican party? The moral equivalency given to all countries compared to America and Israel was completely illogical.
it was so intense that afterwards, alone, i realized that anyone of these, my closest colleagues could and would turn me in if it ever became a legal requirement... they'd do it believing they were doing it for the "good" of the country or something... i have not quite recovered from this realization...
i don't know what to make of the changes in what use to be opportunities for civil discourse. i am hopeful that the atmosphere will mellow in the coming years but i fear it will intensify as the internet continues to illuminate so much that has not been available through the usual media sources and i think the extreme left loses more and more validity in our society.
The old rule was "don't talk about religion or politics in company" but that's changed. You can talk about them all you want - if you have the right positions. If you don't prepare to pay the price. And it's not just the left that enforce this, in some areas, if you hold the wrong position, the right shuns and punishes you. But typically, it's the other way around, especially in bastions of tolerance and diversity such as New York, LA, or Seattle.
Bob F puts it well; the right considers this a mistake, a logical error, confusion, so there's no emotional investment. You're mistaken, here are the facts, oh dear you're one of those who cannot be reached, how sad. For the radical left, it's a religious and emotional investment, a series of lies stacked upon each other and repeated so much that they begin to take on a plausibility when echoed by friends and associates.
And that's the deepest reason I think the effect Kornblut describes is happening: when someone makes you doubt your faith, you usually don't react in curiosity and careful study, you react in panic, anger, and rejection. But if you are an intellectually honest, mature person, after this reaction you study more deeply to understand the truth. There are many more reactions by commenters, many more stories in the articles linked. This is a sickness in America that has gotten so deep and entrenched I don't honestly know what will fix it, if anything.
One thing is true: President George Bush is not a uniter, the nation has become grossly polarized during his administration. But this is not due to any particular policy or action on his part, it is due to an extreme reaction to his policies by a segment of America.