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When politics overwhelms friendships, we all lose

By DOUG THOMPSON - Founder and Publisher, Capitol Hill Blue
September 26, 2011

Lunch last week with two friends who approach life from opposite ends of the political spectrum:  Fred First, Floyd County, Virginia’s “first blogger” and Jim Connor, a relatively-recent addition to the area’s population of bloggers and diverse characters.

Fred — for the most part — is an unabashed liberal, an ardent environmentalist with a passion for resource conservation.  He is one of the driving forces behind Sustain Floyd.

Jim is a proud conservative and a gun-safety trainer and with strong beliefs in his causes.  He serves as sergeant-at-arms for the local tea party and moderates their on-line discussion forum.

As most readers know, I don’t fit into a conservative or liberal mold. For the most part, I’m a political agnostic.

Yet the three of us are friends.  We share a common love of writing and photography and we all three have Internet sites where we freely express our opinions.  We also love our country, even if we think it should be headed in different directions.

The fact that we can have lunch together, poke fun at each other and laugh and have a good time makes us an anomaly in today’s overly-stressed and overly-tense political environment where different beliefs become personal vendettas and turn friends into enemies.

As someone involved with politics for most of his professional life — mostly as a journalist and for a while as a Capitol Hill staffer, political operative and a political action committee executive — I’ve watched politics shift from just being part of a person’s life into a controlling influence that dominates thought, actions and the sole determining factor of lifestyle, social interaction and litmus test for friendship.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the companionship of friends from widely-varying political and philosophical beliefs.  My circle of friends includes liberals, conservatives, independents, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, heterosexuals, bisexuals and gays.

Yet a growing number of folks I know can no longer do so.  They limit themselves to social interaction only with those of similar political views, obtain news only from sources that agree with their own political bias and attend only events that agree with their narrow views of the world.

Life, in my opinion, is far too short for such limitations.

We all need to remember that this nation was founded on the desire to welcome — and embrace — all forms of opinion, religion and beliefs.  We all need to remember that the expression of a differing opinion does not make one a moron or wrong.  We need to relearn how to enjoy the company of others without labels, stereotypes or bias.

In 1982, I worked on the re-election campaign for Rep. Manuel Lujan of New Mexico.  During that election, I became friends with the campaign manager for Jan Hartke — Lujan’s opponent.

We had dinner, shared beers and campaign war stories and respected each others opinions.  After the election — which Lujan won — I recommended him for a job on the Congressman’s staff as a veterans affairs caseworker.  Manuel did not care if he was Democrat or Republican.  He did care that he was a veteran with a strong commitment to helping those who served.  He became one of the best case workers on a staff known for its casework and constituent service.

Could that happen in today’s highly-charged, overly-personal political environment?  Probably not.

The sad fact that it cannot may explain the mess we’re in as a nation and a society.

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15 Responses to When politics overwhelms friendships, we all lose

  1. Almandine

    September 26, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Of all the single words that come to mind, “respect” is the one that most easily describes the basis of measured, philosophically-tolerant interpersonal interactions you advance as admirable… i.e., the foundation of friendship.

    Our society has, in large measure, long since disposed of the need for respectful culture; witness the assault on ethics, morals, and personal sensitivities at every level, as expressed in our media and entertainment culture, which set the public tone for our interpersonal approach to politics.

    What’s particularly galling at this point in time – relative to your thesis – is that instead of leading the way to better respect, to better interactions, to better citizenship… or even just working daily and diligently on the actual problems our country faces, our politicians have stoked the rhetoric of divisiveness and our President and has laid down the mantle of leadership and joined the melee with full-throated crassness.

    Is it any wonder folks can’t get along?

  2. Jeffrey King

    September 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    A bit of apples and oranges Doug. Your own description of your resume conflicts with your self assessment of the latest you.

    When you were a cog in some political machine, of course you were on the team. Or simply a mercenary, a paycheck is a paycheck.

    It should be easier to talk politics amongst the local boys since none will likely change the already embedded point of view of any of the others. Nobody wins or loses anything significant when cancelling each other’s votes.

    On the bigger playing field, it’s job creation or keeping a job for the politicians’ friends and family, and a few more for some party loyalists or a highered gun. You must have been the latter, an American making a buck without regard for whatever you were promoting.

    • Doug Thompson

      September 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm

      There’s no “latest me.” Never has been, never will be. I’ve always been a political agnostic. During my sojourn to the dark side of politics, I worked for the highest bidder and never joined or registered as a member of any political party.

      A little research on your part might discover that I’ve always treated all sides of the political spectrum with equal disrespect. :)

      Or is research a little too much to ask?

      • Sandune

        September 27, 2011 at 8:33 am

        Doug reports the news and then gives his opinion. In all the years I’ve hung out here I’ve never seen anything else. He does not change but he will write an opinion of a certain person or action and it is not in conflict with his other opinions.

        He is even minded and is never afraid to state the obvious. This is a common problem with many political sites. Hell, I have half of Reader Rant despising my respect for a certain writer. She was maligned by the churches and that is enough to despise me. That is the mind set of many who opine on the “net.” In my world there isn’t anyone qualified to diss the author. It is the fight that has become popular rather than a calm dialog. I often log out for as long as a year and take a break from the anger.

  3. Sue Eberhardt

    September 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    It’s not politics anymore. It’s dirty, lying politics. No wonder it’s hard to be friends trying to discuss politics when the basis for so many arguments is loud and dirty lies.

  4. Jeffrey King

    September 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I was going to correct highered gun but I think it works fine as is.

    Insert hired if it makes me look smarter.

  5. Sandune

    September 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I was cooling off at one of our pools here in the park the leading realtor of this park was enjoying splashing around along with several others. He told me that he hated Obama with a passion never experienced in his years of political debate. I asked him why and he responded. “His political opinions” I asked him which ones and he could not answer,.He is another Rush listener and has no idea what Obama is trying to do or why.

    I know exactly why Obama would never get my vote and I have written volumes about this on Reader Rant. I have no hatred for Obama and since the GOP has nothing to say, why bother hating Obama? I have my doubts that it could be his color but nobody at this time would admit it. Before 2008 many did not want a black man in the white house. His removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was the most positive reason for hating him. This makes no sense at all to me but then I’m a long time California native.

    I think it is time to expose these simple minded people and clue them in to the facts of what makes up America. There are no individual freedoms found in any level of the GOP and they should be called on it.

    • egc52556

      September 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      “I know exactly why Obama would never get my vote”

      But does that mean you are going to vote for the Republican candidate? Your comments at the end about the GOP makes me think they won’t get your vote either.

      So it seems you are leaving the decision to the rest of us. You can enjoy the purity of your none-of-the-above stance but that just leaves the partisans to lead. Very bad, very sad, situation, that.

      Instead, please use your insight and intelligence and pick a candidate. Defend your choice. You have 13 months to answer. Begin.

  6. egc52556

    September 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Doug, I liked your article. But I think you and your friends are in a protected bubble where you don’t have to actually decide which of your opinions will be the leading direction for the next four years.

    If you had to be the ones to set the direction, what would you and your friends decide to do? Ask them and see if you can work out a solution. I, for one, would like to hear what you come up with.

  7. Sandune

    September 28, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I have not voted for a Republican nor a Democrat since 1988. I will not vote for a Democrat because it means a redistribution of wealth. A Republican means forming a Theocracy instead of our Democracy.

    I have written in many candidates so as not to have my ballot tossed away. I am very active in local politics and will wait until a real leader shows up when it comes to D.C.

    Being an Arizona delegate for the LP in 2004 but getting to know the candidates, took me off the delegate list. My standards are extremely high when it comes to my candidates.

    egc, why is it necessary to pin Doug down? He, like the rest of us are in a learning mode. I notice you have no set opinions.

    • egc52556

      September 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

      Re: Doug — I think he’s unusually well-informed and a pretty smart guy. I respect his opinion. Not that I’ll follow his advice blindly, but his arguments would carry weight with me.


      Re: You (Sandune) — Ditto.


      Re: Me — I do have set opinions but my first opinion is to get a government that works. That doesn’t have much to do with ideology but when faced with the actual choices in front of me I usually vote for the Democrat. I’ve worked for 3rd parties and occasionally written in candidates, but was left at the end with the belief that my vote was ignored. Not thrown away, exactly, but I became part of the background noise that we easily disregarded. Millicent Fenwick once said the she was a Republican because she didn’t trust them, and they needed to be watched like a hawk. That is, to me, an argument that it’s better to make changes from within the system. Maybe that’s futile and naive. But voting 3rd party / write-in also seems futile.


      Re: theocracy. I agree 100%. Certainly in this election cycle.


      Re: redistribution. Let me ask you this: when you were a child, did your parent(s) give you some of their wealth for housing, food, medical care, education, plus a stipend (allowance)? Were they proponents of a socialist agenda? Why were they so unAmerican? Why did they run the family like a nanny state? How about your grand- and great-grand-parents? Did they receive money from your parents dole?


      The point is, redistribution of wealth is a perfectly reasonable policy if (a) you look at it as an investment in the future of the recipient; and/or (b) you care about the recipient; and/or (c) you think it’s the kind thing to do; and/or (d) you think it makes the group work better.


      People are willing to redistribute their wealth all the time. They somehow just don’t like it when the government is used as a channel / agent for that distribution. Oh, no. Mustn’t use government. That would be evil. Socialist. UnAmerican. Bad for the complexion and probably fattening.


      Being against redistribution sounds like an ideology, not a constructive comment to make government work better. See the 3rd paragraph, 1st sentence, above. What works is good, ideology not-withstanding.

      • Sandune

        October 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

        egc. My family furnished a house, transportation end education to all of us. I never received an allowance but had to work for every cent I got to go to the movies on Saturday. My grandfather owned a furniture store and I spent Saturday morning sorting by size and color those fancy upholstery nails and then I biked home to clean my grandfather’s shoes. He was a tightwad Scotsman and a manic Conservative. During WW2, I was given a bike to be used up and down our district in Santa Monica to check out the little flags in the window that displayed a member of the armed services serving in our war. When I old enough to drive, I was given the family Packard to make my run to Wadsworth Hospital where I spent the weekend writing letters to the patients kin.

        I raised my kids in the same way. If they got accepted in any major University, I would pay their tuition, lab fees and dorm fees. It required that their grade point average not slip below some established number. I denied any discussion of junior college because I had 3 jobs to fill this promise. So far it worked and my kids graduated with honors in several California Universities. Both are professionals and lead exactly the lives they wanted.

        I sent the girls to a private school and also paid high property taxes so I probably paid for your kids too.

        My kids have an attitude that they owe much to the areas where I chose to live. We lived off the land and even sold the horse pucky as fertilizer to our neighbors. Both girls are heavily involved in civil rights and are active in many organizations. Both learned to read at a very early age because we had no television. We had long involved discussions about the plays we saw with a emphasis on Shakespeare because I worked for a theater that put on his plays 6 months of the year. Both girls worked for the Renaissance Faire to make the money to attend.

        Your assumptions are wrong and a little insulting.

        • egc52556

          October 2, 2011 at 12:29 am

          SD — Sorry, I didn’t mean anything personal about you or your family. No insult to, or assumption about you and yours, was intended. I meant my questions as a general illustration. That is, within our own families we are wiling to spend (redistribute) our wealth… Just as you said your elders provided the basics for you, and you provided for your kids.

          Yet we are far less willing to extend that support to others outside our families. We go so far as to label it under a variety of supposedly insulting names: Socialism, etc.

          Why? Why isn’t what’s good at home also good for society at large? Why mustn’t we use government to play a part in this good?

  8. Davld Clark

    September 29, 2011 at 10:06 am

    The only hope we have of surviving as a nation of the people by the people for the people is through organizations like The People’s Lobby.

    http://peopleslobby.hypermart.net/

  9. griff

    September 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I’ve never lost a friend over political ideology. Religion, on the other hand…

    The problem today is that hardcore partisanship is very much akin to religious zealotry. My god is better than your god…