Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Politics as the personal...

Back in the olden days, when I was a politics student, I became obsessed with the American partisan politics. I came to university off the back of Bush winning the electoral college and Gore winning the popular vote. We were living in policy dictated by September 11th. It was an incredibly interesting time to watch the US. It was all too easy to lambast Bush for having the diplomacy skills of a warthog, to call the Right-Wing 'crazy' and generally feel a bit smug. 

I wrote my dissertation on the American Right. I'd spent a lot of time in Texas in a house that ran Fox News in the background constantly. It was fascinating. It was also more than a little scary to listen to the views of people I otherwise liked and respected, especially when it came to those less fortunate than themselves. I was horrified by the casual way they referred to the death penalty, the uninsured and the vulnerable.

Now I live here, it is safe to say I am hardcore liberal. I find it hilarious that we have a bumper-sticker on our car supporting a man who sits CONSIDERABLY right of the Tories, but here I am. I even made a (very small) contribution to the Democratic Party. The majority of my friends (throughout the world) think just like me. We are people who believe in high taxation, strong government and equality at all costs. Some of my friends are the complete opposite. One of the biggest issues America now faces is trying to repair the damage extremely partisan  (and long. Good God has it been long) campaigning has done. After being so vicious during the race, how on earth do you sit down and compromise on big decisions? With a mixed house, senate and president, compromise is essential for tackling big issues that are rapidly approaching.

I heard a bit of last week's 'This American Life' whilst in the car, and they were discussing a family ripped apart by politics- two sisters who could no longer speak to each other. The conservative sister said something that shocked me: "I think liberals are selfish, because they don't want to bother themselves to help anyone, they just want the government to do it." You could have knocked me over with a feather. I never would have thought someone thought that about us. I realised I thought the complete opposite. I have always viewed conservatives as selfish- unwilling to lose a penny of their own money to help other people, thinking that poverty, violence, poor health and disadvantage are the problem of those who suffer them. I thought that they would only help people in a way that didn't inconvenience them more than they wanted. 

The pundit then challenged the woman, he said "Try presuming no-one is actually selfish." It challenged me too. It made me want to engage in better conversations with people with different views than mine. To understand without trying to persuade. This is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing the US right now. To understand, without trying to persuade. 

It's hard. I have 'unfollowed' someone on Twitter I know in real life during this election. Their views annoyed me, but beyond that their dialogue was personal and offensive (not to me specifically, just about liberals in general). Is that someone I could talk to without trying to change their mind? Maybe not about politics, but I hope I can change their mind about us liberal types...

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