How did we end up so far apart?
I reached out to her and she back to me. Here’s the unbelievable part: we started a conversation. Granted it was by email. But everything else indicated a real conversation. An enjoyable, productive, intelligent, thoughtful, enlightening, funny, genuine conversation. Between a supposed ‘bleeding heart’ and an alleged “staunch Republican”? The day after the most brutal, protracted presidential battle in history? Yes.
And it was one of the best conversations I’ve had about politics and policy over the last year.
Instead of skirting discussions around politics trying not to offend each other, we hit it right on the head. Let’s be honest. Ultimately, we both wanted an answer to the question….Why Can’t You See What I See?
We discussed issues of real concern with all the race, class, religious and sexual implications and sensitivities that are the reality of our society and were underlying chasms of the campaign. The same issues we know are both driven, as well as limited by, our own contextual life experiences. It was a long conversation that continued over the course of a day, punctuated by various hours long stops and starts typical of a working mom’s schedule. I tried to be thoughtful in my responses, and looked more and more forward to her next email. As the conversation got deeper, I found myself becoming more hopeful, more clear and experiencing a great relief.
We were both in a safe space. In my mind, it was as simple as asking the same question whose tone had significantly shifted from pre-election to post-election. That was the key. Pre-election, we might have asked each other (if either of us had the guts to reach out to the other person): “What are you thinking??!!!???” (insert expletive, you fucking country-ruining idiot, etc.) Post-election, and through this conversation, we simply asked: “What are you thinking? Please explain it to me, because I don’t see it.”
My friend was pretty amazed at how similar our ideals and ideas are. Her exact words were, “I can’t believe how much I agree with you on so many issues. This is such a relief to talk about this. Perhaps we need more women who are interested in having conversation rather than protecting their own territory.” I agreed.
While pleasantly surprised, I don’t think I was quite as shocked. I’m in PR. I knew we are more connected with one another than political party leaders can afford us to be. After all, traditional strategy is to win elections by dividing — not uniting — people. Before you dismiss that as touchy-feely, hopey, changey statement, I’d ask you to remember the above referenced $6 billion that both sides just spent in order to convince us of the “evils” that is, allegedly, our opposing party. You don’t need to spend that much money on the truth. It’s B.S. But it’s B.S. that wins, and loses, elections.
If history is anything to go by, President Obama – who originally ran on a platform of Hope and uniting people, found rather quickly (perhaps through fault of his own, the opposing party or a combination thereof) that uniting people is a concept much easier to message than to enact. The failure of both parties to do that has cost America. A lot. Simply put, our elected officials have no compelling reason to unite us. It’s not in their immediate interest. However, it is in ours, the voter, the citizen who deeply cares about the future of her country. Those of us who will ultimately pay an exorbitant price for reckless politicians and people who can — but simply won’t — come together. They politicians might lose jobs, the people, lose face. Meantime, we are collectively losing that which makes us great as a country. Our strength. Our positive passion. Our courage. Our “It’s possible to make it great” attitude. I wonder how much longer we can afford to pay that ultimate price – especially if we keep metaphorically beating the shit out of each other.
As we move forward, we need to contend with and compromise on the immediate and difficult issues like the ‘fiscal cliff’ package of automatic spending cuts and tax increases worth $600 billion, due to take effect at the end of the year, which will have significant impact on economic growth. Meanwhile, the Republicans are immediately addressing the need to re-shape their party. As former Republican Member of Congress Tom Davis was quoted saying today, “It’s time to sit down practically and say where are we going to add pieces to our coalition. There just are not enough middle-aged white guys that we can scrape together to win.” The Democrats, likewise, many of whom have given Obama a second shot while waiting in the wings with a ‘now prove it’ mentality, also have work to do. We want what you’ve promised; we’ve now asked twice.
Is it possible there is finally enough political, policy and party evidence to pressure Washington and our citizens toward a united way forward – or at least a genuine effort toward that goal? I don’t know. I think that remains to be seen.
As for my friend and me, the gates have opened toward our own little microcosm of bipartisan talks. We talked about setting up a forum for these conversations. I think the “A-Ha” moment for both of us was that conversations could be had and more importantly, how much better off we both were for it — that day, and moving forward. If we could accomplish that, surely others could. Maybe they’d even want to?
I closed the email, smiling at her last excited note. We still have a lot of conversations that need to be had. But neither of us was angry. Later, I saw a few Facebook posts before I went to bed. They were as mean, condescending, boastful – if not worse – than they had been that morning. I’m glad I had something better to do. But I learned something yesterday and am grateful for the lesson. I connected with someone in a way that we both didn’t think was desirable, or even conceivable that very morning. I felt good about our conversation, and I felt better about politics and people than I had in a long time. Ironic that it took two equally passionate people with seemingly diametrically opposed political convictions to prove just how connected we really are.
It’s a funny thing.
It might surprise you too.
Patty McDonough Kennedy is a writer, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur. She has lived and worked in a number of countries, and mostly writes about life, motherhood, business, sisterhood, and the fabulous mess that can be. When she has other general musings and observations - she'll throw those in there too. In addition to her own writing, her blog ((Laugh Lines)) also features guest posts written by men to bring different perspectives. Contact her at pkennedy@humanworks. guru