Arguing Politics: Being out of Line

I would have thrown up if I had heard the words “across party lines” one more time during the 2008 presidential race, but despite how overused the phrase became, I love the idea and the reality of defying party lines.

A transformation occurred for me in the back of a tour bus traveling from Madrid to Salamanca in the fall of 2008. (No, not that kind of transformation.) I grew up in a very liberal house in a very liberal county in a very liberal state. My grandma, for example, protested when immigration raids ravaged a community that neighbors ours, and she was just as overjoyed as I was when America elected Barack Obama president.

On that bus ride I debated immigration and taxes, abortion and the death penalty with someone who was as conservative as I am liberal. Up until that ride, I had not realized how much I demonized conservatives. In my “open-minded” ignorance I thought conservatives did not care about social inequality. I would like to think that I respected “the other side” before that trip to Salamanca, but it would certainly be a lie to say I understood it. That bus ride helped me to understand that conservatives view things clearly; they just draw different conclusions.

My roommate, the bus ride opposition, is the most politically astute person I know. He is also the most conservative person I know. He shows me statistics suggesting that the media are liberal. He finds figures that show that more socialist governments gave less money combined than private individuals in America when tsunamis struck South Asia. He emails me articles showing that liberals volunteer less than conservatives. He condemns, as do I, the liberals who booed Bush during Obama’s inauguration.

And though I disagree with all of his conclusions, I still have nothing but respect for him. What my roommate and I respect about each other is that neither of us is the “typical” member of the other party, at least as our own party wants us to see the other. My roommate is not a hick who waxes nostalgic about the days of slavery and who scratches his butt with his shotgun. And he doesn’t see me as a disrespectful, flag-waving, wolf-crying, head-in-the-clouds anarchist with utter disregard for all traditions and who talks much about social equality yet does little.

He can laugh at Letterman liberalism, and I can watch FOX News with a respectful and critical eye. As a nonreligious person, I went to Catholic mass one Sunday with him to show him that I care about listening to other viewpoints. We humanize the opposition for one another.

This Halloween I dressed up as “political confusion.” I dressed as a hippie – that is to say, I wore what I do virtually every day – with a McCain/Palin shirt on top of my hippie garb. More disheartening than the fact that most people did not understand my costume was that people judged me for wearing a McCain/Palin shirt. People yelled obscenities at me as I walked into Nichols. I stopped yelling back at them, “I’M MAKING A POLITICAL JOKE,” and figured that I deserved this. This was my price for being a liberal, my penance for all the times I assumed personal qualities about someone based on a political belief.

Now I noted the full brunt of what it felt like to have people judging me not even for what I believed, but rather what they thought I believed. When someone in a neon-green leotard told me that I was dumb I saw more clearly the absurdity of the situation. I certainly didn’t like his costume, but that didn’t give me a license not to respect him as a person. How did the political shirt I borrowed from my roommate allow him to disrespect me? I think it is healthier to separate people from their ideas, which we may respectfully critique.

My roommate explains to me that liberals, especially in college, have licenses that conservatives don’t. No one deserves disrespect, regardless of political leanings or any other trait or belief. We liberals say we are open-minded, but is it open-minded to ignore a viewpoint we consider close-minded? Part of open-mindedness involves listening to those who may not in turn listen to you. If we close our minds off to the “close-minded” — the conservatives, the elitists, the racists, etc. — we are no better than they are. How can we hope for intellectual discourse if we deny certain arguments? We must fight disrespect with respect. It matters not what we believe but rather how we treat our fellow human beings and fellow animals.

So, I want to advocate for all of us to reach across party lines in our day-to-day lives. I do it at night through the political pillow talk that my roommate and I share. He does it when he attends lectures whose messages contradict his beliefs. He doesn’t have to agree with the statement I make when I go to work at the COVE wearing my ‘Treehugger’ shirt, nor do I have to agree with the quotes he reads me from Ann Coulter’s latest book, only some of which he actually believes anyway. I would like to reach across party lines, color lines, country lines, bank lines, clotheslines, fault lines, coke lines, conga lines, phone lines, dotted lines and whatever other kind of lines there might be to advocate for unconditional respect for our fellow beings.