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sticking to your political guns?
sometimes it's best to leave the political mumbo jumbo in the voting booth
by alicia coleman

Hey, Marilyn vos Savant! If you’re such a genius, then how come all you do is give second-rate advice from a second-rate column?

If you’ve ever read past the celebrity low-down column (answering your most pressing questions on collagen lip-implant recipients and recently broken-up Hollywood couples) in the national newspaper insert, Parade, chances are you’ve come across a tip or brain-teaser compliments of Savant, the person with the highest known IQ. In a recent column, when asked whether friends or lovers of different political persuasions could form solid relationships, Savant replied that, while the former probably could, the latter were doomed to do so. Admitting that differences of political opinion allow for spirited conversation, she nonetheless advanced that tight relationships between, say, Democrats and Republicans rarely survive due to fundamental clashes. While this may be so, the columnist, I think, confuses what in some instances may be the case with what should be the case. She accepted this state of affairs as the norm and, in doing so, failed to counsel her readers to try to jump outside their political selves and view persons as separate from their “isms”. Rather than warn those few, whose ideologies are inextricably tied to their personalities, to refrain from dating polar opposites, Savant implied that crossing party lines in bed for most everyone was impossible. Yet for many, the political, while still personal, is not all-encompassing. Which newspaper one reads, which argument one makes, and which box one checks on the ballot do not sum up the many facets of one person. Outside of our political preferences, each of us takes an interest in things that are either in complete contradiction to our beliefs or separate from them altogether.

Even the most outspoken figures have, in their personal lives, acted contrary to their political positions. Ronald Dworkin, a legal theorist devoted to egalitarian ideals, accepted invitations to speak at conferences only on the condition that he be greeted at the airport with a black, stretch Lincoln Towncar. Quite stuffy for a liberal guy who thought that the underprivileged were getting the short end of the stick. (Unless, of course, he believed that everyone was entitled to a Towncar, in which case, I’d happily trade mine in for a vintage red Volkswagen.) Ayn Rand, the die-hard capitalist writer who inspired the line, “greed is good,” would, on occasion, slip a few un-earned dollars into her niece’s pocket when no one was looking. Very generous for a gal who screams that nothing comes for free. And feminist writer/social critic, Gertrude Stein, played house with a lesbian lover who, like any good 1950’s homemaker, attended to her every need, taking care to scurry back into the kitchen after serving cocktails to “the men” in the front room. Some feminist.

If these political big-wigs fell prey to “the other side” in their daily lives, then certainly those of us who aren’t as active do too. Often, we talk one talk and walk another. We may favor free speech, except when it comes to allowing you (you, hatemonger!) the right to preach your propaganda. We may believe in personal responsibility, so long as it doesn’t actually require us to become accountable for our actions. We may favor environmental protection, unless it means having to hunt down those little green, plastic boxes in order to throw away a glass bottle. Certainly, such hypocritical behavior should be chastised. If we say we favor free speech, then we favor it for all (even for you hatemongers). Likewise for the rest of our convictions. Yet, even the best of us doesn’t stick to his or her political guns through and through. And, that might be a good thing. Acknowledging that we are walking contradictions, that we accept beliefs which, on their face, may cancel each other out, enables us to understand how someone else could possibly take a view contrary to ours.

Thus, we may identify ourselves as members of one party or one ideology but still accept beliefs and tenets of others. A staunch Republican, advocating a flat tax and minimal social welfare programs, may still fish through his pockets for a few quarters when passing a homeless person on the street out of concern for his fellow man. A socialist may, despite his cries for more even pay across the board, wear an expensive Rolex watch because it is the only memento his grandfather left him before dying. And a feminist, even though she seeks more equal treatment between the sexes in the workforce, just might bat her lashes a few times and grin mischievously when pulled over by a male cop in the hopes that coquettish behavior will get her out of having to pay the monstrous fine for speeding 15 miles over the limit. (Well, maybe not that last one. Maybe she decides to become a homemaker instead. But you see where I’m going.)

Ultimately, we are not the sum of our political parts. What we want our government to do does not necessarily coincide with what we, as individuals, want to – and should – do. One may adamantly protest prayer in schools, despite the fact that she says grace with her family at the dinner table each night. Another may denounce the use of government funds for welfare programs even though he volunteers every Saturday at the soup kitchen. And you may patriotically defend each and every American’s First Amendment right to free speech regardless of the fact that you silently wish I would shut up. In addition to being Republicans and Democrats (and whichever other third party you think exists, despite the fact that it’ll never get matching funds), we are people who think outside party lines. Each of our actions need not be labeled as either conservative or liberal. We drink beer and berate the players at baseball games; we tear at the perfect pitch of an aria; we point out stars in constellations to our friends, pretending to know which ones are bears or other Greek mythological characters. We laugh out loud on the subway when reading cartoons; we cry when we hurt our friends; and we hope to be better for the important people in our lives. We are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers. Not just party devotees. (Actually, I don’t know what you do or who you are, but that just makes you all the more intriguing to me.)

But where does that leave us in the dating game? Is Marilyn right when she says liberals can’t date conservatives? Or, is there hope for us yet? In my view, so long as we treat each other respectfully and with earnest concern for what the other believes, there is no reason why someone should limit dating options to those who attend the same political rallies as s/he. In dealing with members of the opposite (or same) sex, or in dealing with just about anyone, it’s best to talk softly and leave the big stick at home. No one will listen when screamed at or threatened with physical harm in the event of a disagreement. Further, no relationship – be it sexual or not – ever stands the chance to flourish if one member is constantly criticizing and attacking the other for believing that. Yet, when two people agree to a middle ground, to an intermediate place where ideas can be challenged and discussed, the opportunity to learn more about oneself and the other – not to mention the chance to grow and change – inevitably occurs. And, in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

So on your next date, before you throw in the towel because your guest voted for the other guy, try to first get to know the person as separate from the party. You might be pleasantly surprised. And if she happens to be, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the smartest known person in the world, tell her I’m sorry I busted on her. I must have been assuming, based on one of her opinions, she was someone she’s not.


more about alicia coleman


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