I recently saw a news item about Ellen DeGeneres’s friendship with George W. Bush and it had to make me smile. I admire Ellen for having a generosity of spirit that I strive for but don’t always have. I posted an article recently about former black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s friendship with arch-segregationist George Wallace. Wallace eventually turned away from his racist past and tried to make amends. Liberal George McGovern was close friends with conservative Barry Goldwater. Liberal Ted Kennedy was best friends with conservative Orrin Hatch.
I’m a liberal who still has some conservative friends. What kind of conservatives can I have healthy friendships with and what kind of conservatives would make toxic friendships? I would be open to friendships with a George Bush, a John McCain, a George Will (not that I’d ever meet them) because I sense in them a healthy respect for differences of opinion. Bush, after all, is friends with both the Clintons and the Obamas. But I wouldn’t be friends with a Donald Trump or an Alt Right figure like Richard Spencer because of their intolerance of differing opinions and their extreme bigotry. I’ve had to end former friendships with conservative Christians because of their constant attempts to impose their views on me to the point where I felt like I was trapped in a cultish relationship.
My criteria for a friendship doesn’t depend on political affiliation, but on whether it is a healthy friendship or whether it is a toxic relationship. Is there a respect of differences of opinion, trust, honesty, and mutual care in that friendship? Or am I constantly being looked down on and personally attacked for having my own tastes and point of view, do I constantly feel manipulated and harassed, and does that person constantly try to impose their beliefs on me? Do I laugh and have fun and enjoy this person’s company? Or do I constantly feel put down and have to walk on egg shells when I’m around this person?
In my own experience, I’ve learned that some conservatives are really nice people and some conservatives are jerks. Some progressives are nice people and some progressives are jerks. Try to get past stereotypes and just get to know each person on an individual basis and judge them on how they treat me and others around us.
Liberal Democrat George McGovern and conservative Republican Barry Goldwater were close friends in spite of their sharply divergent political views. They formed their friendship when then began working out together in the gym, and they maintained their friendship though they had very different views on the role of the federal government and on social programs to help the poor. The Vietnam War was the defining issue of their generation, and Goldwater was a strong supporter of the war while McGovern was one of the Senate’s fiercest critics of the war.
In this Oct. 13, 1988 video, former Senators George McGovern and Barry Goldwater dropped by the MacNeil/Lehrer Report to discuss the 1988 presidential race, the divisive politics of their parties and the legacy of conservatism and liberalism.
In this video conservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch speaks at the memorial service for his friend, the liberal Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy were close friends in spite of their political differences and they collaborated on many bills, including the Ryan White AIDS Act, the American With Disabilities Act, the The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Serve America Act.