It’s true, you know. Even though I myself am a granola-eating, tree-hugging bleeding-heart liberal.
I like to say this is line as a bit of joke. Some of my best friends are Republican.
It reminds me that much as I try to fight bigotry, I still am susceptible myself. I have my own prejudices. Perhaps I nurture my bigotry against conservatives. But there are other subtle prejudices are more disturbing when I become aware of them, as they are bigotries that I actively fight. Religious intolerance. Racism. Classism. Even sexism. It’s good to remind myself that I am still a work in progress.
I also like to say it because it’s true. Some of my best friends are Republican. And I’m actually proud of this. Much as I disagree with their political views, these friendships are important to me. Both because I care about the individuals, and because I think it is productive to find the middle ground. And while the ground I’d like to reach eventually is far left of the middle, I can’t imagine us jumping right over as a society. I think we’ll get there by persistence and by hard work in lots of arenas. I think that part of the process is to keep the discourse productive, as it makes it easier for us to recognize the common ground.
Extremists on both ends of the spectrum are guilty of distorting the discourse. There is a tendency to over-generalize, throw blame, call names. To call all those on the other side of the fence stupid. Insane. Barbaric. Evil, even. Hell, I know I’m guilty of mucking things up when I get angry. (And there is a lot that I’m angry about.)
One of my closest friends is a conservative Republican. We’ve now been friends for about 20 years, startling as that seems to me. Even early in our friendship, back in high school before either of us was particularly interested in politics, we realized that we landed squarely on opposite sides of the political spectrum. The only times we fought were about political subjects. Education. Welfare. Taxes. Class. The death penalty. So-called family values. We discovered that political topics had to stay off limits if we were going to stay friends.
Over the years, we’ve talked about many things that brush up against the more directly political topics. Likewise with other friends and family members who lean far rightward into the spectrum.
I’ve learned that a person who can hold opposite political views, who would vote so differently from me, can also have many qualities that I value and respect. I’ve noted a high level tolerance and acceptance on a personal level, loyalty, kindness, and a complete lack of malice, even while supporting policies that I consider inhumane.
Being close friends with people with quite different political views has helped me to learn tolerance and a better understanding of those viewpoints. I’ve come to believe that our core values are not always so different, but that sometimes we differ in how we define them. For example, family is important to me. But my definition of family is perhaps only broader and more flexible than the traditional middle class American one.
And perhaps my friendship has also broadened the perspectives of my more conservative friends, and nourished their own tolerance. I know that at the very least they know that it is possible to sit down at the dinner table, share a laugh, and have a friendly conversation with someone whose political views are as unabashedly liberal commie pinko as mine.