After George W. Bush was reelected president in 2004, my partner and I decided to turn our home into a "No Republican" zone and it has pretty much stayed that way ever since. If I like someone and I suspect he or she is a Republican, I shy away from talking about anything remotely close to politics because I don't want to ruin a budding friendship.
In a household like this, where Keith Olbermann is considered a saint, I can't recall ever agreeing with Ron Paul on anything. And I can't imagine my partner ever siding with Newt Gingrich.
That oldest of cliches is true: Politics makes for some very strange bedfellows.
It all has to do with the brouhaha over plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero. I consider it one of those stories that lives on far beyond its expiration date because it's August and there's not much else going on. I believe this is America, and people can build just about anything anywhere they want — as long as they adhere to local planning guidelines. (Yes, even a Walmart inside Houston's loop.)
So I was surprised when my partner, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, came out on the side of protestors who vehemently oppose construction of a building that celebrates the Islamic faith so close to the site of America's worst act of terrorism.
"They have the right to build it," he finally conceded, when I expressed shock that he would side with Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, Dick Morris and Fox news instead of the pro-mosque contingent. "But I wish they wouldn't."
My initial reaction was disappointment, along with a feeling I was morally superior (it's a common feeling we liberals have). But at dinner the other night, another progressive friend whom I greatly admire sided with him. I began to realize that, on this issue, it wasn't so easy to tell who lined up where.
I was also beginning to feel awfully isolated, until I discovered the unlikeliest of sources on my side.
On his website, Texas congressman Paul came out squarely in support of building the mosque. He accuses grandstanding politicians of diverting attention from real issues and "fiddling while the economy burns."
The libertarian Paul doesn't understand why his fellow conservatives are taking such a strong stand against property rights and 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion. He writes:
It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society — protecting liberty.
Paul also blames neo-conservatives for fomenting the controversy to justify war in the Middle East. I'm not with Paul there, but I must admit, for the first time in a long time I am listening to someone I would usually dismiss just because we don't agree on everything.
Maybe that's the message here.
We've all been so burrowed into our little segmented niches — watching and listening to only those commentators and politicians we agree with, hanging out only with friends who toe our correct political line — that we often ignore what the other side has to say — even in those rare times we find some common ground.
So even though I chafe at the way the other side cuts President Obama no slack, I vow to give Sarah Palin another chance.
Even if I have to bite my tongue when she opens her mouth.