Finding respect, even love, for our political opposites



What’s interesting about this image of the recently deceased Justice Scalia and his near polar ideological opposite on the Court, Justice Ginsburg?

They were friends (more here).

The joy some have expressed at the passing of Justice Scalia and the immediate high dudgeon descent around the politics on both sides of filling his seat puts a fine point on something that was all too evident during this already boisterous election season: too many people hate those with whom they disagree.

That, my friends, is really fucking sad.

We should be able to disagree — even quite heatedly — with someone’s political views without thinking that person is evil, stupid, or mentally ill. Because bad news: no one side of the political spectrum has a monopoly there. There are bad, dumb, sick in the head people that affiliate with both our major parties in America (some of them are even running for President!).

I used to be a political blogger, and a damn good one at that. One reason I don’t miss it  is the inability of so many people to grasp that basic point of giving the grace of humanity to one’s political opponents; something Justices Scalia and Ginsburg apparently did quite beautifully.

I wasn’t successful blogging in politics because I didn’t have a strong voice or point of view. I most definitely did. But, I also wrote from more than a view point of pure ideology, I wrote from a viewpoint of humanity. And I had people on the opposite side of the spectrum respect me and my work, even when they often disagreed with my take on an issue or election.

I wrote like that in part because I’ve seen people in public life be more successful when they display and live a degree of humanity that can transcend the partisan knife fights that are sometimes the reality of our representative democracy (and have been from the first days of our Republic as Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians exchanged insults and accusations (and worse!) that would make us blush today).

One example of that humanity: my first professional boss was the subject of tributes on the floor of the U.S. Senate after his defeat that were “personal and passionate and bipartisan“…and delivered in that tone in the midst of the terribly divisive Bush-Gore drama that followed the 2000 Election. Say what you want about the Senate, but a man or woman who can serve with partisan success and bipartisan admiration in that body over time has at their root, a sense of humanity. Success in that body requires building meaningful human relationships.

Today I count friends that are my political opposite. Friendships, both in person and online, that in many cases started with the foundation of knowing we were political foes. Those friends were on the other side of  key issues and races of the day when I was blogging, but we learned our shared humanity could transcend those differences.

I worked for George W. Bush as a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Education. One takeaway for me from that time: W, for all his acquired political enemies, was a man of immense human dignity and compassion. If you doubt that I give you one of the best pieces of evidence of the man’s heart: his AIDS initiative in Africa that saved millions of lives, and came to fruition primarily because George W. Bush cared.

When Barack Obama won in 2008, the days of all the Bush appointees were numbered, with the long-standing tradition that political appointees resign by Inauguration Day when a new party takes the White House. Word came down quickly after the Election of W’s direction: this transition would be conducted with dignity, respect, and appropriate assistance to Obama’s incoming team, because we were Americans first, partisans second.

During the transition I was contacted by a Democratic friend, and admirer (though not supporter!) of my blogging. He asked if I’d be willing to meet with an Obama hand who was looking at the very Department of Education job I held. I didn’t hesitate to say yes. In part because my of respect for W’s wishes, in part because I admire anyone, of either party, who works on a major campaign.

Say what you want about the pros and cons of each candidate for President this cycle, their staffs deserve appreciation. I sure as hell don’t want most of them to win, but I honor the passion for our country and the ideas in which they believe that compelled them to take jobs so difficult, for such long hours, for so little pay…many of which will end in defeat.

The Obama staffer I met with was an organizer for the campaign, starting in Iowa, then all the way through the long primary and general elections of 2008. We weren’t soon going to agree on politics, but she too was in the game for the right reasons. So I gave her all the advice I could about securing a political appointment and what to think about in considering different opportunities in different agencies and offices. Toward the end of our conversation she mentioned word was getting around how upstanding W and his team were being during the transition and she joked she had more advice at that point in landing a political appointment in the Obama Administration from a “Bushie” than from her own team.

That’s the way politics should be played. Fight like hell for what you believe. But never lose basic human respect and decency for those with whom you disagree.

And hell, the way this Presidential primary season is unfolding, we all may be putting that to the test in the months ahead.

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