There has been a lot of articles about the extreme hyperpartisanship today. It got me thinking about the conversations I used to have with conservatives 20 or 30 years ago and the conversations I have with conservatives nowadays.
Even though I’m a lifelong liberal Democrat, I used to have a lot of conservative friends in the 1980s and 1990s. We used to get into debates and sometimes heated arguments about various political issues. But even at their most heated, we respected the other person’s right to have their own point of view. And when we discussed various issues, we may disagree on policies, but we agreed on the goal.
For instance, I would argue that government programs are necessary to help the poor get out of poverty. My conservative friend would argue that charities or local government would do a better job of helping the poor. Or they would argue that enterprise zones that attract businesses to poor neighborhoods would do the best to lift up the poor. We would disagree on policies, but we both agreed that it is important to help the poor.
That began to change in the mid 1990s. Conversations with conservatives stopped being dialogues and started becoming two monologues going past each other. I’m not sure what happened. A liberal acquaintance who went through a similar experience with conservative friends blames Fox News for the change.
I still have some thoughtful conversations with more sane conservative friends. But in the past decade and a half, I’ve gotten into some crazy conflicts with conservatives where we no longer have common ground. Whereas a few decades ago, I can agree with a conservative friend that helping the poor is important, I’ve encountered conservatives who think all of the poor are lazy and don’t deserve help. It’s impossible to have a political dialogue with no common ground.
And the conversations have gotten a lot more contentious. Countless times I’ve been yelled at in my face, and my patriotism and intelligence have been questioned for having liberal beliefs. With some conservatives, they’re not content with winning the argument, they’re also trying to destroy the reputation and humiliate the person they disagree with.
I still think it’s important to have conservative friends to challenge my beliefs and make sure I don’t get trapped in a liberal bubble. But only if they are sane conservatives, and not the crazy dogmatic kind of conservatives.
On Oct. 13, 1988, only weeks before the presidential election of George H.W. Bush over Michael Dukakis, former Sens. George McGovern and Barry Goldwater dropped by the MacNeil/Lehrer Report to discuss the state of the race, the divisive politics of their parties and the legacy of conservatism and liberalism. Though McGovern was a liberal and Goldwater was a conservative, they became friends and worked together in the Senate on issues of common ground
Conservative Senator Orrin Hatch and liberal Senator Ted Kennedy became good friends during their time in the Senate and collaborated on important laws like The American With Disabilities Act, the Ryan White Act, the Orphan Drug Act, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Though conservative Ronald Reagan and liberal Tip O’Neil fought often over political differences, they did not allow those political debates become personal. After the political arguments would end for the day, they would often meet in private and share humorous stories