Every friend who engages me in a politically-tinged discussion, irrespective of where they sit on the sociopolitical landscape, walks away with the impression that I disagree with them about everything. I don’t, of course, but my actual views (where they exist) are obscured by the little fetish I make of understanding and sympathizing with differing political arguments, which is to say arguments about all the meaningful choices that we collectively bargain as a society. By extension, when anyone starts a sentence with some analogue of “I just don’t understand how they can actually believe…” I straighten the sleeves of my shirt and enthusiastically start to lay out the arguments and assumptions that go into whatever bat-shit-crazy, but earnestly held (I’m looking at you Ron Paul), belief that they (the friend) are censuring. The odd thing is that where I start with a simple explanation, if I keep at it long enough I actually start to believe what I’m saying; little pointy-words like “freedom,” quickly bifurcate into separate meanings depending on which side of the argument you happen to be defending. “Freedom from poverty,” magnanimous as it sounds, is a head-scratchingly vacuous grouping of words to someone who regards (cherishes, even) “freedom” as an individual’s liberty to pursue a given opportunity without prejudice. Enter the contemporary political landscape of the United States.
The occasional glimpses I get of Fox News (always) and MSNBC (occasionally) leave me disheartened and frustrated; the rhetorical style, slick and emotionally charged as it is, never seems to foster any meaningful exchanges — not a unique observation, I know. But the point is that I engaged in these dialogues out of a yearning to listen and feel heard and somehow it often gets swapped out, mid conversation, for hurt feelings and a reinforcement of some calcified worldview. On occasion, however, mid-defense of a random bat-shit-crazy-Ron-Paulism I suddenly see some connective thread linking our differing values and one of those just-look-at-our-shared-humanity moments passes with a brief, barely noticed, pause and I ask them (again, the friend) “does that reasoning make sense to you?” Sometimes it does.