Can a Real Conservative and a Real Liberal Be Real Friends?

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

For decades, I’ve made the same New Year’s resolutions. They’re the typical “lose weight,” “get a flatter stomach,” and “be a better person,” but there’s one I particularly want to achieve next year: to be more accepting of the failings of others.

I’m very judgmental, and I’d like to learn how to be more understanding. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever tolerate total jerks, but I find myself annoyed with average-to-good people with human flaws, especially if they’re leftists. I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite liking a liberal whose views I believe are mistaken. I’m able to express my political views affably, but don’t want to compromise my core values. That’s my dilemma.

Flummoxed in Framingham, Massachusetts

Dear Flummoxed,

You’ve already taken the first step, which is to acknowledge that you want to become less judgmental. And you add, especially of liberals, suggesting that if you encountered the same flaws in conservatives you’d either give them a pass or be less annoyed.

This, in turn, suggests you’re not happy with having double standards. It sounds as if by being liberals they’ve already used up whatever tolerance you have.  They must be better, less flawed than if they were conservatives because they’ve already tried your patience by not agreeing that a smaller government is a better government and that the more the government “helps” citizens, the more it weakens them.

To become a less judgmental person who sees through political differences to the person within, the next step is not to think that politics is the be-all and end-all when you’re with other people.  If you make a serious effort to do that — as dubious a suggestion as that may appear — you’ll be able to circulate among non-conservatives as well as to deepen and broaden your current friendships with fellow conservatives.

You ask what can make possible the suspension of your most judgmental tendencies.

Several things can, either singly or in combination:

(1) Finding shared non-political values even in people with opposing political views: One day six years ago I was in the check-out line at Target, behind a young mother with a challengingly rambunctious two-year-old.  She was so patient, understanding and gentle with her daughter that I complimented her (yes, a total stranger) on her wonderful manner with her child.  She has since become one of my closest friends, despite our realization, early on, that our politics were 180 degrees apart.  But our values in terms of mothering and being a loyal friend, and how to treat other people are identical.

(2) Finding biographical similarities, be it a narcissistic parent, a childhood illness, or having studied and loved the same authors while students at schools thousands of miles apart;

(3) Finding a spiritual bond, be it within an organized religion or a similar outlook toward life, death and everything in between;

(4) Finding something you deeply admire in another person’s life or manner of dealing with a challenge; for example, someone who’s able to maintain equanimity, good humor and dignity despite having been dealt a cruel hand, such as a terrible disease or an agonizing injury — physical or psychological;

(5) Sharing a sense of humor and/or a sense of the absurd with another person who appreciates your humor and whose wit you enjoy as well;

(6) Discovering a common enthusiasm for a singer, a car, a Psalm, an actor, writer, a web site, director, play, movie, sports team or activity.  A passion for shared interests can make up for a lack of seeing eye-to-eye politically.

With a great majority of the 6.982 billion people now alive, you have something in common that could form the basis of a genuine attachment, anything from a casual acquaintance to a life-changing friendship.

If you’re part of a small minority of conservatives, surrounded by a vast majority of vocal, supercilious (in your case, Massachusetts) leftists, it’s understandable that you’d take comfort in the companionship of like-minded thinkers and even consider them a safe haven in a hostile world.

However, by doing this, you’re also cutting yourself off from the possibility of getting to know, respect and even love people whose politics are completely unlike your own.

It’s important to move out of our comfort zones – not to the point of bungee jumping or diving out of small aircraft with a parachute – to get to know people who are different, at least on the surface.

And as strongly as we all feel that our political beliefs are central to who we are, there are many other components within us that are also major elements of our identities.

If you allow into your life those who are different politically, their kindness, humor and generosity will astonish you.  Not every single person unlike you will do this, but many will.

Although I understand your fear that overlooking a leftist’s other flaws will make you feel like a hypocrite, as long as you don’t make politics the center of your friendship, and as long as the leftist understands that your political position is different, there’s no cause for fearing to appear deceitful to yourself or to anyone else.

You’ll have a fuller life if you don’t close yourself off from contact with people who didn’t grow up the way you did, or in the town or region you did, or practicing the religion your family did.

Finding common ground and forging bonds with others on levels far more important than political views is possible.  And yes, Virginia, there are more important levels, or at least other levels than politics.

The greater the effort you make to discover those commonalities, the richer and deeper your experience of life will be.

Another way to become less judgmental is to accept – as difficult as this may be to imagine — that you’re not perfect, either, and that you’ve made thousands of mistakes in your life.  Recognizing and remembering that will make you more understanding when you encounter other imperfect people.

The current vicissitudes in the popularity levels of the Republican presidential candidates mirror the conundrum you face every New Year’s Eve: to everyone’s amazement, none of them is perfect.   Who knew?

The world’s greatest humanitarians and spiritual leaders have all been imperfect:  we admire them despite their feet of clay.

If you can focus more on people’s admirable traits and less on their flaws, even their rudeness — as annoying and unconscionable as these traits can be — I promise you that by next New Year’s Eve you’ll have more people in your life whom you love, admire and respect than you do now because you will have become a less judgmental person, without sacrificing who and what you are.

A happy and healthy new year – with a jubilant result on November 6th — to you and to all PJ Media readers.

— Belladonna Rogers

The Joys and Perils of Driving With a 65-Year-Old Teenager At The Wheel

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

Joe, who’s 65, and I have been happily married for 40 years.  The one subject we seriously differ on is driving.  With two vehicles, we go our separate ways everyday, and never have to bicker.

But this week is different: we’ll be taking turns driving the 650 miles from Marks, Mississippi, to Chicago to see our parents.  Our driving styles couldn’t be more different.  I’m slow and cautious, while Joe’s a confident leadfoot whose preferred speed is 80 mph. He’s never gotten a ticket or had an accident, so he can honestly claim that he’s a safe driver.  But 80 mph exceeds my comfort zone. Every year we do this, I’m in fear for my life the whole time he’s driving. Help!

Nervous Nellie in Marks, Mississippi

Dear Nervous Nellie,

Driving styles are a vivid expression of the personality of the individual at the wheel. Powerful emotions that that are often suppressed in the rest of the driver’s life emerge on the road as almost nowhere else.  For those who learned to drive as teens – other than the anomalous Manhattanites in our midst who often never learn at all – getting behind the wheel will forever remind us of our first heady whiff of freedom. For many, that adolescent rush of liberation never entirely vanishes whenever the steering wheel is in our eager hands.

The open road is the physical equivalent of the web. On both, we’re sharing time and space with complete strangers. The force of our feelings, especially the main course of exhilaration along with the side orders of anger, entitlement, and a belief in our rightness — not to mention our righteousness —  becomes ever more pronounced.

The normal constraints that require us to behave as mature adults have become as rare on interstate highways as they have in Internet comment sections.  People who are unfailingly polite to their friends, co-workers, and neighbors can become careless of the feelings of others once they’re at the wheel or the computer’s keyboard. There, the only sign of their identity is their license plate — the vehicular equivalent of an ISP address on the web.

At the wheel or online, you’re no longer Joe Jones, the kindly face of your business or neighborhood.  You’re empowered as Left Lane Passer-in-Chief or All-Powerful Put-down Master (or Mistress) of the Comments Section.

A good and loving husband (or wife) can become a different person on the road, especially an interstate highway.

Since he normally has the car to himself, Joe’s driving habits may be so ingrained, and the exhilaration he derives from driving safely at 80 mph so much a part of who he is, that he may not be able to slow down.  He may be simply unwilling, or even psychologically unable, to decelerate on stretches of interstate where he can easily do 80 where the legal limit is 75. This may be an essential part of Joe’s pleasure at the wheel.  It’s like being young again.

One way to deal with his driving is to avoid peering at the speedometer.  If you don’t stare at it, you probably can’t tell how fast the car is going, except by knowing Joe’s own preference.  Try looking out the window and enjoy the stark winter landscapes of soaring trees bereft of leaves, or the towering magnolias still evergreen in all their majesty.  Cloudscapes are glorious marvels of nature, especially illuminated by the long, slanting rays of the late afternoon sun.  Or you could close your eyes entirely and delight in the music, and in anticipation of being in the company of your loved ones.

Your round trip will involve almost 24 hours in the car together. If you can’t avoid peeking at the speedometer, which is my first line of advice, an agreement before you leave home is my second.

“Joe, I’m looking forward to the trip with you,” you could say.  “We always have fun listening to our favorite music and it’s great to visit our parents.  But this year, let’s try to agree on some ground rules so we’ll both be happy on the road together.”

Don’t criticize Joe’s driving: given his blameless record, there’s nothing objectively wrong with it. You don’t want to make the discussion about something he does that you think is “wrong.”  That will only get his back up, cause him to become defensive and dig in his heels — in this case on the gas pedal.

The issue, in fact, isn’t his driving, it’s your reaction to it.  So take responsibility for your own anxiety and say:

“I know you’re an excellent driver but I don’t like it when you go over 80 mph.  It makes me nervous.  I know you handle the car very skillfully, but since we’ll be in it together for 20 hours, would you agree to drive under 75 for my peace of mind?”

In that way, you convey to Joe that you know you’re the nervous one and you’re acknowledging that you’re asking him to do something for you that’s both difficult  and unnatural for him.  The key phrases I suggest using are “I don’t like it when” and “It [not you, but “it”] makes me nervous.”

Now the subject isn’t something that Joe does but a response of yours that you recognize as a failing (feeling anxiety in a car driven legally at 80 mph by a safe driver).

He may say that he will get you to Chicago sooner, in which case you could offer to leave earlier so that he can drive more slowly and still arrive at the same time.

The key is to try to remain reasonable and fair-minded and not get into an argument about how dangerous you think Joe’s driving is.  If he exceeds the limit anyway, you can mention, gently (not in a shrill, exasperated tone) that he’s going faster than you two agreed he would.

Then there’s a third option: the Greyhound bus fare from Clarksdale, Mississippi (the nearest Greyhound station) to Chicago is $236.34 round trip, per senior. If you have an extra $472.68, it might make sense to take the bus. Buses today are equipped with free wi-fi, electrical plugs for cell phones and DVD-players, and are far more comfortable than the long-distance buses that plied the nation’s roads in decades past.

Assuming you do choose to drive together, the slower the music that you play in the car, the more slowly Joe may drive. You could also remind him that your parents won’t be around forever, and that you’d like to look back on these trips with warmth and affection rather than with fear and trembling.  Whatever you do, may this be your happy destiny:

Belladonna Rogers

Our Long National Light Bulb Nightmare Has Been Averted — For Now

In a magnificent gift to the freedom-loving American people, the Republican House majority has successfully negotiated a delay to the implementation of the ill-conceived ban on the legal sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, which was to have gone into effect two weeks from Sunday, January 1, 2012.  The new deadline for the ban is now September 30, 2012, just 38 days before the end of the Age of Obama, Deo volente.

This ban, part of a 2007 omnibus national energy and security bill — which, as everyone duly notes, was signed into law by former President George W. Bush — was about more than light bulbs. Far more.

It concerned the inside of every home in the United States of America, from the frailest shack to the most opulent compound.  It became as much of a lightning rod as abortion. It touched the hearts and minds of a free people who, unlike Cubans in 2005 and the cowed population of the European Union in 2009, did not want their basic liberty to light their homes to be by a bulb of the government’s choosing.

The fact that the most popular substitute for the traditional light bulb was (is! — it’s still for sale all over the land) filled with toxic mercury, the grotesque “compact fluorescent” bulb of environmentalists’ dreams, hardly helped the cause of its proponents, the all-too-familiar very green lobby.

The one thing the environmental lobby underestimated, and underestimated big time, was this basic fact: human life is part of the environment.

Deeply-loved and endlessly-hugged trees, the spotted owls, and the baby seals of yesteryear all have their lobbies. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have long thought nothing of destroying personal property (spraying the mink coats of wearers with permanent red spray paint as they walked along cities from Fairbanks to Atlanta) and demanding that the National Institutes of Health and other research centers end the scientific tradition of testing medications on mice and rats who, in the process, invariably die, so that human beings might live.

There was only one species the environmentalists failed to take into account in their thrust for mastery of the seas, the skies, and the Earth.  And that was their fellow man, people who — like the environmentalists claim they do — care about their children, their grandchildren, and all who come after them as stewards of the planet, a responsibility the environmentalists claimed they alone took seriously.

This human species banded together in the United States of America and did something that the Cuban people cannot do and the human beings in the European Union are too dulled to do: we made clear our grievances to our elected members of Congress. We used our powers of speech, of logical argument, and, yes, of deep outrage that one Steven Chu, Ph. D., an unelected member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, dared to tell the American people what we should do inside our homes and with our hard-earned money.

Last July, as the House of Representatives sought to accomplish what it finally, and victoriously, did accomplish yesterday, the president sent his Nobel Prize-winning physicist secretary of Energy (like his Nobel Prize earned him the right to boss us around) to lecture the American people on what we should and should not do. That was a huge error in judgment. Huge.

Here is what the condescending cabinet member said to us — us, the pathetic, scientifically uneducated, financially ignorant, unwashed, energy-profligate, unable-to-balance-our-own-checkbooks fools he takes us to be — on light bulbs:

“Right now many families around the country are struggling to pay their energy bills, and leaders in the House want to roll back these standards that will save families money.…

“You’ll still be able to buy halogen incandescent bulbs. They’ll look and feel the same, but the only difference is that they’ll save consumers money.”

Of tea partiers’s philosophical argument that the law would deprive consumers of the choice of lighting products, Chu said, these standards are not taking choices away, they are “putting money back in the pockets of American families.”

Well, the Republican Congress fought back.

It showed Secretary Chu, President Obama, and every environmentalist who seeks to control what kind of light bulb you and I can use exactly what a Congress responsive to a free people can do. We are not Cuba and we are not the European Union.

As Dylan Thomas wrote exactly 60 years ago: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  We did, and a Republican Congress listened and acted.  Thank you, Congress.  Thank you, Founding Fathers, for a system that, even in the Age of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid, still works.

Three Weeks and 1 Day Till The End of The Lightbulb As We Know It

In just three weeks and one day, our beloved 100-watt incandescent bulbs will join cocaine, shoulder-fired missiles, and heroin as illegal to sell in the USA. Aside from the lighting, what’s wrong with this picture?  Why must our choice of light bulbs be constricted by the federal government?  What’s next?  Our choice of clothes, furniture or — here’s an idea for the Department of Education — the books adults may legally read?  Will it come down to a two-way choice, between Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope? Where will government intervention in our personal decisions end?  Mandated “green” coffins and “environmentally friendly” tombstones?

Each of us has our own way of coping with the wretchedness of the oncoming days of mercury-lit, or halogen-glaring horror.  For example, I described mine here and PJM’s Claudia Rosett described hers here.

It pains me acutely — like an attack of appendicitis — to write this paragraph, but an excellent article on the choices of light bulbs legally available both before and after December 31 appeared in one of the least reliable and my own least favorite newspaper in the United States.  Yes, The New York Times, here. One reason the article was so good was that it steered clear of politics, not even mentioning that it was none other than President George W. Bush who signed this egregious legislation into law.  The existence of this welcome lacuna was doubtless because the article appeared in the Thursday “Home” section.  Had it been an editorial or what they call at the Times  a “news story” (known elsewhere as an editorial)  in the main news section, the entire focus would have been on Bush.

And now, as the days dwindle down to a precious few, we incandescent light bulb-lovers have been accorded our own song.  Yes, a melody with soulful lyrics, and a candle-lit video to express our roiling, complex mix of feelings, ranging from outrage to horror to sorrow.  It’s a heady fusion of emotions, with all who’re concerned about this impending disaster living in a state of incandescent fury and palpitating dread, as we descend on Home Depots and Lowes stores, as well as neighborhood hardware stores, swooping up cartfuls of these precious, soon-to-be-forever-banned 100-watt incandescent bulbs, along with dimmable incandescent floodlights.

When friends come for dinner, we turn down the dimmers, and magically, everyone appears gently younger than they actually are.  “You look marvelous,” they say, and, of course, everyone does look marvelous when illuminated by 20 watts when the 65-watt incandescent flood lights are dimmed.  For that matter, everyone also looks great in the dark.  But we do have to see our food, and so some illumination is helpful.

Soon, we’ll all be gathering under New Bulbs, illuminating every imaginable detail of our lives, not to mention our food and ourselves. We’ll look back with nostalgic tristesse at the many books we read by 100-watt incandescents, and remember our friends’ beloved faces kindly lit with a little help from our dimmers.  It may come as quite a shock to see what they really look like.

As we collectively prepare for the grim realities ahead, we can hum along to this lilting song, brought to us by the folks at the Club For Growth.  I know — who knew or even imagined they purveyed heart-rending ballads, as well as hard economic data?  But they do.

To watch this farewell song to man’s greatest invention for reading — indeed for living in all its many splendors — between sunset and sunrise, click here. Hear it and weep.  Or read a good book by one of your remaining 100-watt incandescents and dream of the glory days soon to be snuffed out by legislative fiat in one of the dumbest acts of Congress since Congress first convened.

May there be a moment of silence at the Thomas A. Edison Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike on December 31 at midnight, in honor of the great inventor of the incandescent light bulb.