Opinion

Talking politics: The left-sided heart | Guest column

What happened to our ability to discuss political issues without being offensive and disrespectful?

When I was growing up, I used to listen to my father and my uncles discuss politics at family gatherings. I remember vividly a specific family gathering in the summertime about 45 years ago when I was 11. I remember being on the patio behind my uncle’s home. He was cooking hamburgers on the charcoal grill, and a wonderful smelling greasy smoke was billowing above the flames as two of his brothers (both Democrats, one my father) debated the issues of the day with their Republican brother. The discussions were always civil and even filled with humor and laughter. Their mother, my grandmother, raised in the South often participated in the political discussions. I cannot tell you if she was Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. She offered her opinion based on her life experiences as a Southern girl and a widow, forced to raise four boys on her own through the Great Depression.

Discussing politics in our family was a normal occurrence. Throughout my youth, I enjoyed listening to the political discussions and debates. I didn’t participate much when I was young, but I asked questions from time to time. My Republican uncle died at an early age, and looking back, it seems that family political debates stopped after his death. We tended to agree within the family — or so it seemed.

Three brothers in-law have since joined the family with contrasting political views. I am reminded of this each year when three of us go elk hunting (yes, people on the left own guns). The elk camp debates are not as polite as my youthful memories, and to be fair, only one brother tends to be antagonistic. He knows it, and he knows I still love him. I guess it is a reflection of the times. Partisanship and extremism dominate the public debate — encouraged by the media’s profit motive — engulfing our leaders’ attempts to govern at all levels.

Because my experiences as a youth were so positive, I never quite understood warnings to avoid discussing politics and religion at social gatherings. Not so now. Recently, my sister asked (in a not so polite way) why I thought Barack Obama was such a great president. The confrontation was completely unexpected. I hadn’t told anybody how I felt about our 44th president’s performance. Everyone knew I voted for him, but nobody had ever asked, nor had I offered my opinion. No longer will I wait to be asked.

I had been thinking about joining the public political debate, wanting to inject reason and civility. My sister spurred me on. It will be interesting to watch and comment on events like the Federal Way mayoral race. How will the candidates position themselves as the best, given their long-term friendships? Just as interesting: How will the citizens respond to their choices for mayor? Of the candidates for mayor, I expect and hope for the best. I hope others exclude the unnecessary language and behavior frequently witnessed in state and national politics.

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