Saturday, September 15, 2012

I can't be your friend right now: surviving the election season

I'm still relatively new to politics. In the last few years I have started listening to a lot more talk radio, reading transcripts of debates, perusing political websites, and researching ballot items that will directly affect my life. This year will be my 5th presidential election, and looking back on my experiences thus far they are pretty divided - I have voted for a president 4 times, and half of the time, my guy won. There has been the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

I am competitive by nature - and as it turns out - a very sore loser when it comes to politics. I have spent weeks walking around in shock and distress after an election. I have contemplated leaving the country because I was in strong disagreement with more than half of my countrymen and I just didn't see the point in sticking around to watch everything go to hell. It felt like Armageddon for a while there - all that was missing was a bathtub full of water and some canned goods.

Needless to say, politics are not fun for me - and it definitely isn't a game. I don't think of myself as a Democrat or a Republican (and to be honest, I am not sure if I chose a party when I registered to vote, or if I am registered as an Independent). I don't have signs in my yard, or bumper stickers on my car. I don't vote down party lines, I don't completely agree with either party's platforms, and I try to see both sides of every issue. I try to educate myself, and if I don't know enough about the question on the ballot - or if I don't feel strongly one way or the other - I don't vote. But when you talk about the Presidential election, almost everyone has an opinion - and sometimes their beliefs can come as a total and complete shock. When a close friend or relative reveals themselves to be in total opposition to your personal convictions, it can be hard to understand - never mind accept. And if you aren't voting for my guy, you must be batshit crazy.


My thoughts on politics are shaped not just intellectually, but also emotionally. When I make the decision to support a candidate sometimes my reasons for doing so are very personal, or deeply rooted. Because of that, when I do have a political conviction one way or the other, I can be very.........passionate about it. But I try not to assault everyone with my point of view. This means that I spend a lot of time carefully not posting things on Facebook, and I avoid political conversations like the plague.

So when someone comes right up to me and says something totally horrible about the candidate or issue I wholeheartedly believe in, my heart breaks a little bit. Because it feels like a personal attack.

When you make a statement about a candidate being stupid, or (as happened to me) saying that you wish a candidate was dead, or if you say something like "I can't believe anyone would ever think (fill in the blank) was a good idea" - even if it is not intended as a personal attack, it totally is.

And in the reverse - if you truly believe that your candidate is not just the best option, but the only option, it can be so very hard to come to the realization that someone you like/love/respect/interact with on a daily basis has such a wholly different point of view. Even without meaning to, it can change how you feel about that person. You can agree to disagree, but inside you may find yourself thinking "I can't believe they think that is a good idea. How could anyone think that is even an option?" I have had to interrupt several conversations recently and pull my husband aside to remind him quietly that not everyone agrees with his politics. "WHAT?!" he said incredulously. "They voted for him? But how could ANYONE think that guy did a good job?"

He was blindsided - people that seemed otherwise rational were on the side of the devil himself? HOW COULD THIS BE?

I know how he feels. And as much as I want to take my bean dip and go home when I find myself in this situation, I am trying to figure out how we can all get along - not just before the election, but afterwards.

In my efforts to be a more educated voter, sometimes I find myself horrified, disgusted or amused by candidates or ballot items. I am not above casting my vote just to vote against someone or something that I strongly disagree with. And when I do, I feel like I am not just checking off a box on a piece of paper - I am also defining myself.

I take my vote seriously. I take it personally. And it means a lot more than a party affiliation. My politics reflect the person that I am, the person I want to be, the world I want to live in. How am I supposed to keep them to myself? And more than that - how can I put politics aside and agree to disagree about something that defines me?

I don't have the answer yet - but in the meantime, I am switching a whole lot of people to "restricted" on Facebook and trying to think of new topics of conversation that are less emotionally charged, like who's going to win the Super Bowl / whether to circumcise/breastfeed / how to hang the toilet paper / who's a better driver / why RUSH is the best band in the history of music  what's your favorite flavor of ice cream? And I am preparing myself for life post-election. My passport is renewed, the pantry is stocked, the bathtub is ready to be filled, I have my bumper sticker on my microwave, and the Mardi Gras beads are stashed in a kitchen drawer.

It could go either way, but it better go mine.

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