In a departure for us, we wrote a column that is not about Jewish holidays, food or our kids. We were thinking about how this very close presidential race — and all the arguing about it — has made us very quiet on the subject of politics. We don’t want to get in a fight with our friends or change our opinion about them via an argument over who they’re voting for. This article was the lead op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer this past Tuesday, the morning after the last debate.
There’s an old saying that “you should never discuss religion, sex or politics in polite company.” This has been a particularly bad year for politics and politeness.
Senators bark at each other across the aisles and refuse to work together. Cable TV pundits holler round the clock. Opinionated bloggers launch their words into cyberspace with no editor holding them back. None of this is polite. And it’s not a discussion. It feels as if civil political conversation has gone the way of a “Nixon’s the One” bumper sticker.
By contrast, we’ve been mostly silent on the subject of politics. We worry that if we start talking politics in mixed company, heated words will fly, friends will disagree, and soon someone will be red-faced and shouting like Chris Matthews or Rush Limbaugh. We don’t want to get into a fight. We don’t want to talk politics with friends. We’re afraid we’ll like them less when we find out who they are voting for. We don’t remember feeling this way in 2008. This year, we have made up our minds, but we are not enthusiastic, which makes it hard to stand up for our candidate if we’re challenged. We find things we dislike on both sides of the aisle.
We’ve observed the same reticence to talk politics among friends and co-workers. At places where people spend a lot of time together and chat about anything and everything – doctors and nurses in the operating room, teachers in the staff lounge – it’s been quiet on the political front. And if someone does start ranting about the candidates in the workplace, Bloomberg Businessweek advises employees to “say something vague or escape quickly.”
A friend planning a trip to her aging Republican parents in Florida scheduled her visit to overlap with only one Presidential debate, because she couldn’t bear to listen to their political commentary more than once. We know dinner guests who have been greeted at the door with a plea to “not talk politics tonight. We want to have a nice dinner.”
Other people broach the subject through the back door, saying “I don’t care who you are voting for, but . . .” A friend asked our opinion about the debate, “not what they said, but how they acted,” and then barely listened before she began spouting her party line. A colleague offered a “fun political quiz.” We didn’t get past the first question before he started telling us all about the Libertarian position.
The same people who break up with their girlfriends with a text message, post their opinions on Facebook. Our Facebook “friends” bombard us with links to political pages, “interesting” articles and news analysis. We can hide their news feed, but we can’t hide how we feel now that we know their political beliefs.
We feel a little bit guilty and embarrassed about not exercising our freedom of speech. It’s not like we live in a Dubai, where a tweet insulting the royal family can land you in jail. We live in a democracy, and it feels dangerous to not express our opinions. It feels un-American to not put a sign on our lawn, to be afraid to wear a T-shirt supporting our candidate, or feel reluctant to knock on neighbors’ doors because we don’t want to start a fight.
Ultimately, our restraint on the subject of politics won’t matter. On Nov. 6 we are going to politely sign our name in the register, walk quietly into the voting booth, and calmly pull the lever. Casting our vote speaks louder than any talking head on TV. We’ll have the last word.