The following is an email interview with my friend whose nom de Smarty will be "Jessica Miller Larsen" for the twin purposes of confidentiality and me pretending to be her sister like God intended but forgot to execute. Jessica is a moderate Democrat, possibly a little to the right of me politically which, frankly, isn't that hard to pull off. And Jessica is married to Andrew Miller Larsen (his nom de Smarty, because in my pretend world he took her name, and in my world we ALL eventually become Miller Larsens*), one of my absolute favorite people, who just happens to be a conservative Republican. Given that it's an election year and the country is so steeped in partisan rancor, I wondered how couples who are divided politically and united romantically manage their disagreements, especially when they're raising kids together. Jessica agreed to let me probe into her personal life to ask about her politically mixed family, and I'm so grateful for her openness. I think Jessica and Andrew's is a partnership whose mutual respect we can all aspire to.
They make me want to be a better Smarty, Smarties. Let's hope they can.
For visual learners, Jessica bears a resemblance to Franka Potente, so when you imagine her imagine her like this:
CML: Hello, J! So, I heard through the grapevine (and throughout our 13 years of friendship) that your Smartner is, in fact, a Republican. Do you confirm or deny this rumor?
JML: Oddly enough, it's true. I never thought I'd marry someone with such radically different ideas on issues that are so close to my heart. As it turns out, if the position is thoughtful, kind, and well-reasoned, I can't fault the fact that the same process leads him to the opposite conclusion sometimes. Plus, he's got some awesome dance moves.
Actually, I didn't think I would marry anyone. It just wasn't in my plan. Good thing he's a conservative and the ceremony and institution of marriage was important to him.
CML: So, how long into the relationship did you learn that he's a Republican? Did it ever present a problem for you? Did you ever think it might be a deal-breaker?
JML: I knew before we started dating. We met in law school and early in the year we were at a bar with a dance floor with a bunch of other law students. Since he's a conservative Republican, I assumed he couldn't dance, didn't want to dance, and was wishing he was in that Footloose town. Turned out, was I was wrong about that, and I was the one who was being closed-minded. It was a good lesson.
It hasn't caused problems between us, but I've lost some friends. I had a particular group of friends [in law school] with whom I ran a model United Nations simulation every year, many of whom I'd known for 4-5 years. One year, they needed mock Justices for the International Court of Justice simulation so Andrew and I both volunteered and had a great time. Socially, the staff group was very liberal and frankly, they weren't nice to him. I was extremely disappointed that my liberal friends were so closed-minded, and that was my last year volunteering for that organization.
Unfortunately, I have several examples of former, liberal friends of mine who failed to actually get to know Andrew and simply dismissed him out of hand because of whatever assumptions they were making.
Interestingly, both his conservative friends and family have always made me feel welcome. We can have friendly debates that aren't possible with many more liberal friends.
Run from those mean, mocking Justices! Run to the arms of your Republican love! (Image Source)
CML: And so, now the tricky question: How are you going to raise your children? Do you talk politics in front of them? I know they're young, but what's your strategy?
JML: Fortunately, since I'm at home with them full time I can simply indoctrinate them without his knowledge. (j/k... for now). We don't talk politics in front of them yet, but we do disagree on other things and we try our best to model how to disagree in a civil, thoughtful manner. Our strategy is: let the best argument win. The kids will get to hear about both camps, ask questions and choose for themselves. And I'm going to win, obviously.
CML: Fantastic plan! I want to be you guys when I grow up. You're my favorites. Thanks for sharing your experience, J! Smarties salute you, Smarty!
JML and CML: (warmly hug and then pretend we didn't because feelings are for suckers)
I asked Jessica these questions with our current political climate in mind. So many people are intolerant of differing opinions, but we can't ever compromise if we refuse to speak to each other. And here are two of my closest friends who are political opposites, and they like speaking to each other so much that they were able to form a lovely marriage in spite of their differences. How can we all form, if not marriages, then at least the basic respect needed to speak to one another and hear one another through our opposition. How can we acknowledge our divisions and, as Jessica and Andrew do, find unity in spite of them?
And this, I think, is the crux of all political discourse—among lovers, friends, enemies, and Facebook randos—that we keep forgetting: How we engage. Andrew and Jessica don't agree on the substance of their political beliefs, but they agree on their terms of engagement. They are respectful, logical, and kind in their dealings with one another.
This is a lesson we can all learn this election season and always. It's the reason Andrew and I (and Andrew and Jessica, and Andrew and my Smartner) can all be best friends (FOREVER!) and agree on so little. When we argue—and we do argue—we always, always end with a warm feeling of "Gee, you're wrong. Gee, I like you. Let's get hot dogs and beer!"
Perhaps, if we could emulate the pretend-Miller Larsens in their respectful mode of discourse, we would all be better off regardless of our political beliefs or party affiliation. It won't fix all problems or mend all bridges, but it could lead to understanding, empathy, cooperation, and even a little peace.