If you’re one of my most liberal friends, you may want to stop reading now because this is one of those posts where even my fellow liberals attack me. “How can you support moderate politicians?” you ask. If you read to the end, I can see you in my head, rolling your eyes and opening your mouth to respond before you’ve given yourself even five seconds to think about what I’m saying. You may even decide not to read any more of my blog posts and wonder how I can continue to call myself a bleeding heart liberal—or even a liberal.
If you’re one of my most conservative friends, you’ll nod your head in agreement and think that it’s about time someone said to other liberals what I’m about to say. You won’t really agree with anything I say about policy, and you, too, will roll your eyes. And you’ll still label me a bleeding heart liberal.
If you’re one of my friends from either party who leans moderate and wistfully wishes for compromise, I can see you silently nodding your head in agreement and yearning for change in the political climate. But you won’t comment because your way of dealing with political conversations is to avoid them at all costs in the name of keeping the peace among the people you love.
My liberal friends often tell me that they have no close friends who don’t share their political views. Some even go so far as to tell me they don’t understand how I can remain friends with someone who supports Donald Trump.
I am fortunate, though, to have my closest childhood friend, who still, in spite of everything, believes that Trump has done some good things. He has been my friend since we were in sixth grade together. Our friendship was forged long before either of us thought about politics, and because of our long history of shared experiences, we trust each other, even when we don’t agree. It’s hard to dismiss someone whose character you’ve known for your entire life—someone who has often been one of the best people you know in the world.
I haven’t written a blog in two months now because a serious conversation I had recently with my friend made it difficult for me to be as strident in my opinions as I am in those blog posts my liberal friends read, comment on, and share—the ones that get the highest number of hits because so many of us only like to read writers who voice opinions close to our own.
My childhood friend and I, for the first time ever, got angry at one another in the days before the 2016 presidential election. After the election, we didn’t talk for months. Finally, missing one another, we played phone tag and reconnected. Last month we finally met for lunch when he was in town for a conference. In those months, he became a grandfather, and I didn’t even know it. How sad is that?
After we caught up on each other’s lives, we finally found the bravery to talk about the election. Both of us were born to Republican fathers, but I dismissed my father’s political views when he continued to support Richard Nixon until shortly before the president resigned. (Afterwards, he never mentioned him at all.)
I’ve long known that my friend is socially liberal. He supports gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose. But I didn’t know until we talked over lunch that he supports universal healthcare and believes that it would be good for small businesses as well as for people in general. He works in a field that supports small businesses, and he says that he watches his clients struggle because of all the regulations that are intended to reign in large corporations but that make it nearly impossible for small businesses, particularly new ones, to stay afloat, much less to make a profit.
I’ve often asked him over the years if he has ever voted for a Democrat, and I point out that I have voted for a few Republicans—all moderates. I don’t think he has ever directly answered my question, but I had to admit to him that I have not voted for a Republican in recent memory.
Why? For the same reason he hasn’t voted for a Democrat. Our parties present us with dogmatic candidates who’ve become increasingly resistant to compromise.
My friend did not vote for Trump in the primary, and he admitted that he’s completely embarrassed by Trump’s behavior and character. However, he’s a businessman whose profession is to support small businesses, so he sees every day the effect of misguided legislation that swings from one extreme to the other instead of finding sensible compromise. For that reason, he told me with a note of sadness in his voice that he couldn’t see himself ever voting for a Democrat in the current political climate, even though he believes in many of the same things I do.
After the May 15 primaries, the Washington Post had this to say about many of the Democrats elected by their party:
The success of very liberal candidates in primaries across four states is causing a new bout of heartburn among party strategists in Washington, who worry about unelectable activists thwarting their drive for the House majority.
This very same phenomenon led to the power of the Religious Right in the 1980s, the force of the Tea Party in this century, and the rise of Donald Trump in the last election. As we are making decisions about the candidates who represent our parties in the coming years, we would do well not to make the same mistakes. Of course, we don’t believe that our party could ever elect a candidate who is as bad as Trump. But I suspect many Republicans, like my childhood friend, wouldn’t have seen Trump coming either.
Right now both parties seem to be relying on who can get out the vote to assure that their candidates get into office. But that won’t assure that they actually govern well. As long as both parties refuse to support candidates with moderate views, the party pendulum will continue to swing, and the gridlock will continue.
Please don’t tell me my friend is an exception among Republicans. Without him, I’d never have become friends in the last year with a man whose views are similar. My childhood friend is the one who taught me to think carefully before I dismiss a Republican because he voted for Trump. He made it possible for me to be friends with the second man even when I learned soon after we met that he served as a political appointee at the Department of Education under a Republican president.
If you’re a liberal who’s made it to the end of this blog, please think before you dismiss my childhood friend as uneducated, misogynist, racist, or greedy. He is none of those things.
If you’re a Republican, please reverse the parties I’ve named here and read this blog again. Then consider giving me more moderate candidates who might not always vote the way you want.
And if you’re a moderate, for God’s sake and the sake of our democracy, please open your mouth and speak up.