Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and yours is wrong

In the season finale of Boston Legal, a show I've never seen before, a judge files a motion to have the town of Concord, Massachusetts secede from the Union. Alan Shore (James Spader) argues for the defense. Denny Crane (William Shatner) takes the opposing side. Their arguments get so heated (at one point Alan tells Denny to "just shut up") it threatens their friendship.

The case centers on questions we've all encountered over the past several years. Has Bush put our country on a road to tyranny unlike any previous president? Do we face a uniquely dangerous enemy that justifies Bush's actions? Is attacking the president wise in a time of war? Can dissent be patriotic?

Denny privately tells Alan why the case bothers him so much. His explanation is so heartfelt we realize their differences go beyond mere politics. Whereas Alan views the case as an intellectual exercise, for Denny it runs much deeper.
Denny: Something I thought you understood but you clearly don't understand: for people of my generation, being an American is personal.

Alan: I realize....

Denny: No, you don't. You don't. In your life, growing up, you just took for granted that America would always be. Why not? It's a superpower, strongest country in the world. In my lifetime, with Hitler trying to take over the world and having the means to do so, we went to bed scared at night that America would end. Imagine that feeling. The tragedy for me here is, you have no idea how deeply offended I am by the idea of a town wanting to secede...which means you don't know me, Alan. Not really. Our friendship has all the depth of a jigger of scotch.
I wondered why the show wanted to explore how two people of very different political persuasions navigate a friendship with each other. Some in the audience will relate to the situation, others will marvel that the feat is even possible. I'm sure there are Americans who go through life without ever having a close relationship with someone with a different political outlook. How frequent this is, I don't know. It sure doesn't describe me, a lifelong liberal from a conservative community, Orthodox Jews.

I think that political diversity among friends is healthy. It helps prevent people from dehumanizing the other side. Let's say your friend seems like the most decent and reasonable guy you know until he starts talking about politics, and suddenly he sounds to you like an ogre with asinine ideas. You may never come to respect his opinions, but at least you realize that a person you respect can hold them.

Political differences mean a lot to some people. Sean Hannity actually runs a dating site for conservatives. I can't judge that choice--after all, some people cannot understand my decision to date only Jews--but it still seems odd to me.

One couple who'd agree is James Carville and Mary Matalin, who not only belong to different parties but have worked for opposing candidates. They claim not to talk politics at home, though sometimes you wonder at his motivations. When Bill Richardson, a former member of the Clinton Administration, endorsed Obama instead of Hillary, Carville said, "Mr. Richardson's endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic." Carville subsequently wrote an entire op-ed piece defending this idiotic remark, but nowhere in the column did he explain what we all wanted to know: if Richardson is Judas, then who's Christ? Bill or Hillary? Or is that Billary? I must have missed the rule which states that political loyalty must be extended to the person's spouse--unless, of course, your name is Carville.

The last person you'd think of as a poster child for inter-political romance, Ann Coulter, has had a series of them. You begin to wonder about her statement that liberals have "joyless sex." Either she's no selfish hedonist, or we've been right in suspecting that her venomous persona is some kind of act, though if so, I have no idea what it means. Ask her suitors.

I have little patience for villain-style politics because I see most issues as complex. I didn't always feel that way. As a kid, I perceived my own views as nothing more than common sense. But I gradually discovered that views I considered indefensible turned out to be quite defensible once I listened to the other side. This happened to me over and over again. That's why I'm amazed at the number of people who maintain a black-and-white outlook into their old age.

Not that I'm a moderate. I opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, and I'm annoyed by politicians from both parties who started criticizing the war only after it became fashionable to do so. At the same time, I understand why good and reasonable people were led to support it. The decision to take out Saddam is not something I can just dismiss as evil, no matter how unjustified I believe it was.

On the other hand, I may be guilty of over-intellectualizing. I don't have loved ones stationed in Iraq. I haven't been personally screwed by Bush's policies. Thus, it's a bit too easy for me to think of the debates as an intellectual exercise rather than something serious that impacts lives.

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