Thursday, February 12, 2009

Republican, Meet Democrat

Michelle Cottle today blogs about a style section story in the New York Times about a Northern California couple that invite conservatives and liberals to the same party and -- guess what -- they get along! Cottle explains that while the rest of the country might be politically polarized (I sort of wonder where she gets this from. In my experience people just don't talk about politics that much so might not know when they're consorting with members of the opposite party.) but she notes that in Washington, it's easy to get along with people of any political stripe:
By contrast, it's hard to be a part of political Washington and not wind up mixing with members of the opposite team. You get introduced to one another and must make small talk at professional dinners, cocktail parties, soccer matches, ballet classes, panel discussions, television green room, fundraisers, and so on. Even people who make a living publicly trashing one another learn to interact politely. Stories are perpetually written about Liberal Senator X's long-standing friendship with Conservative Senator Y and how that relationship might impact Legislation Z. Conservative lobbyists break bread with lefty reporters. Liberal pollsters invite Republican Hill staffers to their book parties. Bob Barnett serves as everyone's book agent. (Make that everyone famous.) You discover that members of the opposition don't have horns (well, most of them don't) and aren't trying to destroy the republic. Now and again, you even invite some into your own home.
Perhaps for Michelle, someone who has lived in the city for many years and covered both parties for her job has picked up a few friends on both side of the aisle. But I would say that's less true for someone like me. The closest I come to conservative friends are the libertarians, that come with their own idiosyncratic views of the world that might occasionally line up with those of their liberal friends, but I don't have any socially conservative friends in the city.

That might be because cities generally tend to be less socially conservative than suburbs or rural areas of the country. It could also be that my friend group is all made up of relatively young people who moved to the city to work in liberal politics, media, or advocacy organizations. Furthermore, unlike in the rest of the country, it's rare when politics doesn't come up in casual conversation in my friend group. It's so often that I forget that people don't talk about politics that much in the rest of the country. My news jokes and snide comments probably range from offensive to just plain baffling to members of my family or other friends in other parts of the country.

Is this kind of polarization bad? Probably, but you can't really make rules about friends -- I need to have at least one friend of x persuasion. You pick up friends along the way in life, and sometimes, when you work at an organization or in a field that tends to sway one way or another, you find yourself lacking in friends of the opposite party. It's a somewhat natural part of life. But that doesn't mean you can't be friends with people who you don't agree with on election day. It just depends what your friendship is based on.

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