A good friend of mine made a generalization about Republicans the other day that triggered me into asking myself – I wonder if that’s really true? Certainly, for those of us who are dedicated viewers of MSNBC or read the New York Times with some regularity, the generalization seemed accurate. But was it?
Since I began this blog, I've had the suspicion that we are a lot closer politically than we think we are. Does the way our news is delivered today and the political biases they inspire, cause our assumptions to be much more divergent than they really are? For example, Fox News searches out the most unsettling leftists they can find to make their point, while MSNBC takes the same approach on the right. Both sides choose wild-eyed idiots to stand for the opposition, when their views are not even widely held in their own party, and social media only exacerbates the problem. The resulting impact is that our impression of the other side is grossly inaccurate.
So, for the next two weeks I thought I would test my theory by drilling down on the major issues of Climate Change, Immigration, Heath Care and Racism with someone I know well from the more committed elements of their respective parties - no moderates allowed.
This week, I began with a good friend and neighbor who self-identifies as a hard line conservative. Being both a friend and neighbor, gives him and his “MAGA” hat a certain degree of authenticity. In other words, I can watch him out my window and judge his words by his deeds. Let’s call him Joe.
Joe is the real deal. He’s been very active in a number of right wing causes over the years. He reads conservative propaganda as fast as it can be delivered. He’s plugged into virtually every conservative group that operates in Nebraska. He does his homework and believes what he says. He’s also a kind and generous neighbor. He’ll go way out of his way to help someone in need, and all indications are, he’s a good husband, father and grandfather to a slew of little girls.
I hit him right between the eyes with my opening question – Are you a racist? Do you think most Republicans are racist? His response was genuine. “I think everyone is a little racist because of their life experiences, but I try to judge people based solely on their work ethic - how hard they work for their families and the people around them.” He went on to discuss African Americans who participate in conservative causes he supports, and specifically mentioned his friendship with basketball legend, Bob Boozer, who supported many of the same causes. I asked him why he thought the left had the perception that so many Republicans were racist? He said, “There are a lot of nuts out there, and the media intentionally tries to link them to the Republicans, but it's nonsense. I don’t know anyone in conservative politics who is overtly racist.” I asked him specifically about involvement of white supremacists in Republican politics. He said, “People like that would not be tolerated in Nebraska Republican politics.”
I went from racism directly into immigration. I thought sure this one would catch him up. He sighted a lot of problems, as we all do, that have been caused by the breakdown of our immigration laws. He commented that most “illegal immigrants” were as much victims of the situation as anyone. I was surprised to hear that he supported a relatively fast track to citizenship and generous guest worker provisions, if everything was brought out of the shadows and under control. I pressed him on whether he thought there was something inherently immoral about having so much when others around the world had so little. “I’m not immune to the terrible things I see around the world,” he said. “All of us would like to make it better, but of all the nations in the world, we do the most. We can’t destroy everything we’ve fought and died for, trying to save a world that won’t fight for itself.”
Surprisingly, our discussion of health care was a lot like discussing it with most of my Democratic Party friends. He supports universal health care with graduated steps based on ability to pay, but recoils at the idea of Medicare for All. He doesn't trust government to do a good job with it and blames systemic corruption for not being able to bring down costs and solve related problems. Like most Democrats, he has a healthy disdain for lobbyists.
On Global Warming, he agrees with the science and understands that fossil fuels are creating immense problems. He gets it, but points to a laundry list of real-world ramifications of trying to fix things too quickly. I was somewhat amazed that both he and I saw skyrocketing population as a central issue that almost no one is talking about. The bottom line is: he’s open to reasonable policy changes and is willing to support meaningful global initiatives, but like all of us, he is skeptical of political opportunism, dishonesty and corruption at all levels of the debate.
I really did not expect what I discovered in my interview with Joe. I expected him to somewhat follow the stereotype I’ve been fed over the year, but what I found was someone who was largely concerned about the very same things I was concerned about and to the same degree. He was reasonable, thoughtful and compassionate. I found no difference in my discussion with him than any of the thousands of discussions I’ve had with my Party friends. Where I think we differ is concern for the human factor. It is not that he is unconcerned, but tends to look at things as a businessman - analytically and without emotion. I'm the other way, and that's probably the essence of what makes us Republicans and Democrats. Maybe if we really started listening to each other again this would all make sense. You know, like our Founding Fathers envisioned.
I came away from my discussion with Joe a little more enlightened and a lot more hopeful that we have a future together, but let’s see how my discussion next week goes with my Progressive friend.
Photo courtesy of sounddivision.com