I was at my wife's family reunion a few weeks ago when I entered a conversation with Karyn's uncle. Let's call him Ted. Every time I talk to Ted, I find him to be interesting and intelligent. However, Ted is a Republican, and I'm not. That's not to say I can't agree with some principles of the GOP. I'm not a member of the Democratic Party; I just skew blue.
Well, when the topic of Sarah Palin arose (which happened most likely because she had just resigned and we were in Alaska), Ted began vehemently defending her. His main thread of discussion was that Sarah Palin never said she could see Russia from her back yard. He was adamant. He was ready to fight. I knew enough not to engage him in an argument (because he was probably right [and, as it turns out, he was]), but other family members were not so reluctant. It became a discussion with much heat and little light. I became frustrated and said loudly, "she may not have said it, but that doesn't mean she's not an idiot."
Afterwards, I wondered why I got so frustrated. I have had productive political discussions with my Republican brother-in-law (let's call him Bill) that lasted for hours, and we ended up with more respect for each other at the end. I was trying to figure out the difference between Bill and Ted when I thought of an analogy that might apply.
I'm frustrated with Ted because he has chosen his political party the way many people choose their favorite sports team. That is, he has chosen his team, and nothing can dissuade him from rooting for them. While his initial selection may have been based on sound reasoning, that support has moved beyond reason--it has become visceral. Trying to convince Ted that the Democrats might be right is like trying to convince a Yankees fan that he should root for the Red Sox. It's impossible. Where can you even begin a discussion with a person like that?
To wit: I used to be on Ted's email list. He would send multiple emails a day full of links and articles, some of them non-partisan (say, about astronomy), but of all the partison ones, not one--not ONE--ever acknowledged a fault in a Republican or a virtue in a Democrat. It was entirely one sided. For instance, one of the articles he sent me during the last election contained this sentence: "over the last eight years the Democratic Party has completely given itself over to unrestrained hatred." Yeah, he's that kind of Republican.
But I wondered how, if the analogy held, Bill was different from Ted. Here's the difference: Bill bases his political views on principles, not labels. That is, Bill is strongly pro-life; that is his first criterion when choosing his candidate. Thus, if the Democratic candidate had a strong pro-life voting record (or if the Republican candidate had a weak one), Bill could be convinced to vote blue. To come back to the sports-rooting analogy, Bill's politics is like a baseball fan who loves "small ball": bunting, speed, pitching and defense. Maybe his hometown team plays small ball. But if MY hometown team plays small ball too, I could convince him to begin rooting for my team as well. And if his team moves away from playing small ball, he might even switch his allegiance to my team.
The contrast can be seen most starkly by my father's dilemma the last time the Giants were in the World Series. My father grew up listening to Giants broadcasts on the radio, and his favorite player is still Willie Mays. But the modern team was fielding Barry Bonds, a man my dad (and most of America) did not respect. What is a fan to do when his favorite team has the sport's greatest villain? My dad chose to root for the Giants, and every Bonds success during that series led me to needle my father: "your guy just hit got a hit...you must be so excited."
But now I realize that we simply choose based on a different criterion. And, of course, the sports analogy is trivial, but, just like my dad rooting for Barry Bonds, it must make people feel dirty to be forced to defend the intelligence of an idiot like Sarah Palin just because she is on your team.