Saturday, January 24, 2009

Living With the Political Enemy

One day my friend asked me how I could be married to my husband. After ten years in a support group for our children, we have shared many intimate details of our daily lives. Her unease didn’t stem from abuse or any other serious concern, but rather the fact that my husband and I belong to different political parties.

Since no one had ever blatantly asked me this question, my answer wasn’t very savvy. I stumbled through an explanation on how we had never had a disagreement about money and went to church together each Sunday. Many facets of our marriage were far more important than his voting habits. I chalked this whole episode up to living in the Washington, DC area where I once “interviewed” to live in a group house and didn’t make it because of my political party.

When my husband and I met at Gettysburg College we were both politically active. He volunteered. I protested. Many people still don’t believe we wound up marrying each other. We agree on the outcome desired for most issues but not on the systems for solving these challenges. Our training and philosophies don’t match, but our hearts do.

When I first started dating my husband, a friend from high school insisted that I break up with him. We would always get together for presidential debates and scream at the television. A presidential policy decision had directly ruined her senior year in high school. How could I sleep with the enemy? After meeting him for the first time she called to tell me that she was sorry. He was a kind, nice person, not some faceless opponent to despise, and she approved.

Back during the election, my alma mater distributed a news story about two friends and roommates. As president of the College Republicans, one organized an appearance by Cindy McCain while the other, who is president of the College Democrats, arranged a visit by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. The fact that they lived together and held such strong, opposing views was news worthy. Although hopeful, this is a sad commentary. The friendship was so unusual that it drew media attention.

Last year my husband completed a one-year work detail at the White House. Our family took full advantage of the Easter Egg Roll, Staff Holiday Tour, Marine One Landings, and Oval Office Self-Guided Tours. Even though all of the friends we invited to join us for these events had opposing political views, they appreciated that the Office of the President was not the same thing as the actual President in office. The fanfare of the White House continues no matter who lives there. Our democracy depends on this respect.

President Obama brings an unprecedented level of involvement from many people new to activism and politics. The President's support is strong and emotional though not complete. Anxiety is running high about the deepening worldwide financial crisis. In order to get through this terrible era, we are going to need to treat each other as friends. We’re going to need to work together beyond our differences.

It can be done. These times really don’t give us a choice.

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