Civilized Politics

by admin on October 23, 2012

The U.S. Presidential election is coming up and my husband “Joe” and I belong to different parties, which has not caused any conflict between us. We have good friends, a married couple named “Sam and Susan”. I was always aware that Susan is a pretty outspoken member of the opposite party than me, but it’s never come up in conversation because I try to avoid talking about politics.

Today we went out to lunch with Sam and Susan and our children. After much pleasant conversation, Susan asked, “Are you ready for the presidential election?” Joe volunteered that he and I will cancel out each other’s votes. After questioning who was voting for who, Susan seemed shocked to find out that I am a member of the opposite party. “My esteem for you has just gone down,” she said, and not in a very friendly or joking way.

She then proceeded to hammer away at my candidate and everything he stands for. I stayed silent because I am not good at debating, and there was really nothing I could say that wouldn’t turn it into an argument. Of course, most of the things she was criticizing as terrible policies/programs are things that I believe in, so it was very hard to sit there and listen to them being trashed. Then Sam chimed in and the whole double diatribe lasted a good ten minutes. All I eventually said was, “Maybe Joe will convert me one of these days,” hoping to change the subject.

Later on, Joe agreed that Susan and Sam had been over the top, but other than the “esteem” comment, he felt that they weren’t criticizing me, just my party and my candidate. I feel that it is rude to subject someone to a diatribe against their political views when the other person hasn’t expressed any desire to debate or even discuss it. Who’s right? 1012-12

OK, you knew ahead of time that Sue was an outspoken person of a political party different than yours.  I was surprised to read that you actually answered her question of who belonged to which political party instead of deftly beandipping so as to avoid the oncoming trainwreck of a discussion.    Regardless of the topic, you cannot open the door to someone knocking and expect that the other person will “get it” that you consider it rude to discuss that topic.

And I agree with your husband that expressing an opinion about a party, its platform, it strategies and policies, etc is not a personal attack.  Unless you happen to be the politician being scrutinized but then one would have to expect that as part of the job description of a public figure.

And this is a good post to announce the creation of an entirely new Ehell sister site,  www.civilizedpolitics.com.  Brand, spanking new…it’s a forum to discuss politics in a sane, civil, respectable manner for maximum edification.  CivilizedPolitics.com

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Cupcake October 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I don’t agree that the OP brought this on herself. We don’t know that she told Susan her views (Joe initially brought it up), and even if she did I don’t think answering a question about yourself means you are inviting someone to comment extensively. I am very outspoken about my own political views, but I don’t think that someone simply telling me theirs (even if I asked them and they knew I wouldn’t agree) is an invitation for me to rail against their party or view. I also don’t think she is at fault for not putting a stop to it sooner. It sounds like the OP might not have a lot of confidence as a communicator (she says she isn’t good at debating) so she may not have known what to say in the face of Susan’s rant. In fact, remaining silent IS a way of communicating that you are uncomfortable with a conversation. It would have been wise to keep her views private, it might have been better to say one the many things that have been suggested here, but that doesn’t change the fact that Susan was rude.

As for it not being a personal attack, I think that in criticising the party, Susan was knowingly and intentionally criticising the OP’s views – and that is personal. Even if it wasn’t personal, it was still rude and inappropriate and the etiquette blunder was Susan’s, and Sam’s when he joined in, and possibly Joe’s if he disclosed his wife’s views.

As for the OP being rude by letting Susan go on so long, seriously???

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Waltzing Matilda October 23, 2012 at 10:22 pm

This is why they tell you never to discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. Both are so much a reflection of personal ideals, beliefs and identity that someone is bound to end up getting hurt. Susan was rude – there are no two ways about it. The OP’s husband, knowing his wife’s political allegiance, plus the fact that Susan went on and on and on, should have stepped in with a bean dip or just plainly told her to pull her head in and stop haranguing his wife. I find the phrase ‘Well wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all liked the same things’ particularly useful in these circumstances.

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Kate October 24, 2012 at 4:46 am

This sounds like the perfect opportunity for bean dipping.

Susan’s comment about ‘esteem’ was too personal, in my opinion, but I think OP knew that Susan was prone to political diatribe and should have avoided the subject. Unfortunately, there are always going to be some friends with whom you can’t discuss politics, religion or other hot-button issues.

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Jenny October 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

I think “Susan” is being a bad friend. My best friend and I always cancel out each other’s votes. We don’t push the issue, because we have no desire to harass each other. Good friends don’t denigrate their other friend’s choices, even indirectly by talking about how stupid their chosen candidate is. Because it’s indirectly saying bad things about your friend’s choices.

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Nikki October 24, 2012 at 7:37 am

I went to a university where I was largely in the minority politically with my classmates, and I can tell you from experience that just because someone is supposedly speaking on the candidate and the candidate’s platform, it can be done in such a way that it feels like a personal attack. Especially when part of the platform has to do with particular beliefs that stem from or go against mainstream religious beliefs.
I don’t think OP brought it on herself, but I do think she has learned a valuable lesson about the closed-mindedness (and ego) of her “friends.” Hopefully she will find friends (of both political parties) who are better at leaving those thoughts unspoken.

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Danielle October 24, 2012 at 10:15 am

While it is true that the OP should not have allowed the question about which candidate her husband and she were voting for be answered, her husband should have sensed her discomfort and come to her defense. How could ANYONE when surrounded by several people all expressing opposing views to her not feel attacked? And, even if she had spoken up for herself, she was being ganged up on. It is a very uncomfortable position to be in. Personally, I would have responded to Susan’s “esteem” comment by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I thought we were friends, and as my friend, you would respect my personal beliefs regardless of how you felt about them. I’ve always respected yours.” If the subject wasn’t dropped at that point, I would get up and leave. I don’t concern myself with being rude to people who don’t respect me.

This whole thing could have been avoided, though. When you are asked, “Are you ready for the election?” a person is fishing for information on who you are going to vote for. By admitting that you are both voting for someone different, you informed them that one of you is voting for the “wrong” candidate, and is an invitation to educate you on why you are wrong. Don’t take this bait. Answer this question with a simple yes and change the subject. If nothing else, at least the OP learned what kind of people Susan and Sam are.

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Cat Whisperer October 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm

When discussion heads for politics around election time, I head for deflection. Some samples:

When I’m asked, “Are you ready for the election?” I might respond with:

“I’m ready, but my best friend who works in a print shop is going to be sad when it’s over. Election year brings in over $50,000 to their shop!” (Conversation deflected to discussion of how elections stimulate the economy.)

Or, “Yeah, I’m ready, but they’ve moved the polling place and consolidated three polling locations because they can’t get volunteers to work the polls. I’m thinking of finding out what’s involved and maybe trying it.” (Conversation deflected to becoming a poll worker or election worker, and what that might be like.)

Or, “I’m ready, but it’s going to be difficult this year because my arthritis makes it hard for me to stand in line to vote.” (Conversation deflected to discussion of personal ailments, others invited to talk about theirs: nobody ever refuses an invitation to talk about their health.)

If the person is persistent, or focuses in on who you’re going to vote for, you can proclaim, “I’m voting for PAT PAULSEN for President!” (Works best with people who remember comedian Pat Paulsen. If they’re too young to remember, well, you can educate them about Paulsen and the Smothers Brothers and others of that period. Conversation successfully deflected.)

The trick is to NOT ENGAGE when you’re asked who you’re voting for, or what your beliefs are. Deflect, deflect, deflect, deflect. You can derail the conversation fairly easily if you make a determined effort.

If someone is boorish enough to insist on discussing politics and you just don’t want to, then a calm assertion that “I prefer not to discuss politics. I know where I stand and I’m sure you know where you stand, and I think it’s better to talk about something else,” should be sufficient to get the pointo across to all but the most clueless.

As for the clueless, well, if they persist in wanting to discuss what you want to avoid, there’s always the well-timed trip to the bathroom (unless you’re trapped in a moving car) and a break away from the person or group who are discussing politics.

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Fizzychip October 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Oh, I think political discussion in a social forum is particularly bad form! Political and religious debate should never be carried out within what is meant to be a relaxed and enjoyable social event.

I have lost count of the number of social functions I have attended that have started out as a fun, healthy debate and quickly been reduced to one or two people engaged in angry (and loud) argument, with the remainder of guests relegated to silent (and shocked) audience.

I think the OP did the right thing in not rising to the bait, as what could have resulted would not have been pleasant, but agree that a healthy beandip right at the start could have avoided the hurt feelings.

Next time OP, remember to beandip for all your might!

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Goldie October 25, 2012 at 8:29 am

Cat Whisperer, I’ve been telling people I’m writing in Tyrion Lannister for President :)

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Mrs. Lovett October 25, 2012 at 9:57 am

Goldie, that’s a brilliant idea. I’d vote for him!

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The Elf October 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

That is awesome, Goldie! I’m stealing that, if you don’t mind.

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Allie October 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I can’t say that I agree with your take on this, Admin, except to the extent that the OP and her husband should have politely declined to say who each would be voting for. And no bean-dipping necessary, in my view. No one is required to divulge who they are voting for, which is a highly personal decision, and I would have said that directly. However, the fact that the poster and her husband did divulge that information did not make Susan and Sam’s diatribe any less rude. If I want to be subjected to a political diatribe, I’ll go to a debate or other public political gathering. I don’t want to hear it from “friends” at lunch. And in my view the esteem comment turned everything that followed into a personal attack. Totally uncalled for.

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Lacey October 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Haha Goldie, best answer ever!

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Cat Whisperer October 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I just did a quick check on YouTube, and they have a bunch of Pat Paulsen videos if you do a search on “Pat Paulsen.” They have the Smothers Brothers, too, and a bunch of other comedians who made me laugh. Ahhh, those were the days.

I had to look up Tyrion Lannister. I’ve never watched “Game of Thrones.” Husband knew immediately– turns out this is one of his favorite shows, which he mostly watches on his iPad.

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mpk October 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm

@goldie – i think i might vote for tyrion also. (i love that show too and right now i’m on the 5th book).
I have told people already that i was going to vote for
pat paulsen.
Actually, maybe we should get someone in there with a very commanding voice – like james earl jones.

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kingsrings October 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Lately, my Facebook has gone nuts with people posting statuses asking friends to unfriend them if they’re voting for a certain candidate. It really saddens me that people can be so intolerant of others’ views that happen to be different from theirs. The election just brings out the worst in people, unfortunately.

In the case of the OP, if Susan didn’t want to hear the answer, then why did she ask the question in the first place?? That makes no sense. There’s a reason politics and religion shouldn’t be discussed in polite company.

In my case, in order to not give anyone the power to personally judge me or unfriend me based on my political views, I simply don’t tell them what candidate I’m voting for.

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Cat Whisperer October 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm

kingsrings asked: “…In the case of the OP, if Susan didn’t want to hear the answer, then why did she ask the question in the first place??….”

kingsrings, in my experience, when someone asks you “Who are you voting for?” they rarely want to hear your answer. They usually want to tell you who they are voting for, and why, and why you should vote that way too.

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Enna November 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I think Susan and Sam took it too far especially when Susan said ““My esteem for you has just gone down,” she said, and not in a very friendly or joking way.” That IS a personal attack and rude.

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