As much as I love the unfolding drama of a close presidential election, I'm glad it will be over soon. That's because emotions are so inflamed over partisan issues that friendships are fracturing all across the fruited plain. It nearly happened to me, too. I had made a lunch date with a friend (I'll call her Diana, since that's not her name, not even her middle name). As usual, I was eager to talk politics, but I realized that I didn't know if Diana voted blue, red, chartreuse, or some other color. Not wanting to damper our date, I gingerly tested the waters.
"Did you happen to catch that TV interview last night with the veep candidate?" I asked. Diana made a face and said, "I'd never be caught watching that," she shuddered.
I absorbed her meaning instantly.
"Oh, me neither!" I lied, and then asked her how she liked her baked potato. At the end of lunch, Diana offered to walk me to my car, and I panicked. My political bumper sticker would surely give me away, and I didn't want her to see it. I claimed that I had parked at least a mile away to get exercise and why didn't she just toddle on back to the office? Good thing she didn't notice my car parked four cars away from her own in the parking lot, but then again, even if she had seen it, she would never have guessed the car was mine. And if she had seen it and connected it with me, well, she would have had no choice but to take severe measures and delete me from her list of 459 Facebook friends.
In fact, bumper stickers can be dangerous to one's health. My own small sticker made me the victim of road rage just a few weeks ago. The motorist behind me was literally driven insane by seeing the politically famous name on my sticker. She tailgated within two inches of my car, while screaming at me and making very, very rude gestures. I pulled over to allow the passionate citizen to pass and get to her anger management session quickly. Instead, she pulled up beside me and unleashed her limited inventory of verbal and finger invective. When she finally sped off, leaving a very large carbon footprint, I might add, I was able to read her own bumper sticker. It said, "Practice Random Acts of Kindness." (Dang – I must have just missed my turn!) By the way, that slogan has always puzzled me: why do acts of kindness have to be random? Can't these people plan ahead?
Why do acts of kindness have to be random? Can't these people plan ahead?
Discoveries of abhorrent political views among people you thought you liked and respected are taking place left, right, and centerfield these days, causing shock and revulsion among many. This is due to a sociological phenomenon I have observed in which people who hold strident political opinions seem to assume that everyone in their social orbit (even if that orbit is as remote as Mars) will naturally hold the "right" opinions. Readers of my column have sent me political jokes that dinged my candidate because they were positive that I'd see the hilarity in it. (I never tell them the truth. Why alienate a potential buyer of my books?)
My friend Mona received an email from the mother of an acquaintance -- a woman she had met only once -- urging her to work the local phone banks on behalf of her candidate. When Mona replied that she supported the other party, the mother of the acquaintance sent a livid email, including many exclamation points for good measure. "I thought you were smart! I misjudged you completely, you ignoramus!" the mother concluded huffily. I know of another relationship that was blunted unceremoniously via text message by a man who discovered that his friend supported the "wrong" ticket, making any further social connections impossible. Not only would these connections be unbearably embarrassing, but the man's doctor had also warned him to take care with his blood pressure.
In my neighborhood, I have noticed that there is also a lawn sign uprising. Until recently, most lawn signs supported only one of the main candidates, but now, emboldened by the impending election, lawn signs for the opposing party are sprouting up in silent but proud retort to those across the street. I fear that any planned block parties will probably be postponed for the time being.
Jews aren't undecided about anything more significant than whether to order the Chicken Lo Mein or Schezwan Beef for dinner.
Now, I understand politically passionate opinions. What I do not get is all this business about "undecided" voters. Who are these people who still cannot make up their minds between two very different candidates after being harangued mercilessly for a year and a half with political advertisements, speeches, and other blather? The only thing I'm sure of is that these people are not Jewish. Jews aren't undecided about anything more significant than whether to order the Chicken Lo Mein or Schezwan Beef for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. (I confess these can be wrenching decisions.) And when it comes to politics, the only thing most Jews are undecided on is how many letters to the editor they will write in one day, or how many comments they'll be able to dash off on the political blog of their choice while still keeping their day jobs.
My friend Dave wants to keep his day job, which is why he dares not voice his opinions at the office. His is a minority view, so he just nods politely when his boss regales him with the latest joke making fun of Dave's candidate. It's hard on poor Dave, too, since he's Jewish, and holding back our opinions is not something wired in our DNA.
Maybe the answer to this is for Jews like us to finally make aliyah. Sure, it would be more confusing to decide whom to vote for, since there are, at last count, at least three political parties per person in Israel. On the other hand, nobody with a pulse feels stifled from a healthy political debate in the Holy Land, whether at lunch, in the office, on the bus, or in the market. It would be exhausting to mix it up all the time, but at least nobody there would expect agreement. After all, we're Jews, and we're entitled to our multiple, vociferous and right opinions.