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When A Friend Switches Political Sides

September 15, 2010
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Differences in political ideology puts a friendship to the vote

Dear Erica,
My good friend from college has recently done a 180 in ideology. Once liberal, she has become a born again conservative. I do believe most of the information and encouragement she has for this is from her husband who was a born and bred Republican. Recently she told me they were going on a weekend trip to attend a Glenn Beck rally. I often try avoiding discussion religion/politics with her, but I’m reaching a point where it gets harder and harder. I care very much for her and her 16 month old daughter. Do I just play up being crazy liberal auntie from the city and avoid discussions about these topics. Or do I fade away?

Love,
Red, White and Oh So Blue

Oh, a toughie. Since this was asked over the internet, I was able to ask some clarifying questions. And stall for time.

Are the qualities that made you care about her still there? And she knows you are a crazy liberal, right? Why does she tell you she is seeing Glenn Beck, is she teasing you, or is she just mentioning it?

RedWhiteBlue answered: Yes. She’s so kind and funny and has seen me through marriage and divorce. And yes, she does know my political leanings. She teases her husband about it too, like suggesting that dancing at her daughters wedding might involve bare feet in the woods and another woman. She tends to mention things like this in passing – like “we’re going on vacation.” When I ask where, she says “To a Glenn Beck rally” then “Do you know who that is?” and when I say “Yes…I hear about him on NPR” she says “Oh they say he’s a bad man, right?”

When Everyone Shutting Up is for The Best

This is such a hard question for me to answer. I believe that for the most part, you can’t separate politics from the person. People are their politics. Especially if they consider themselves politically active, feel strongly, or are outspoken and I think, especially when it comes down to how we should handle social issues. Differing from someone on how we should tax foreign trade is different than your opinions on civil rights.

Personally, I don’t have any friends that I am aware of that have vastly different political opinions than my own, especially when it comes to certain issues. I definitely don’t choose to befriend Glenn Beck supporters. But – I do know some, and while I wouldn’t have chosen their company, as long as we don’t discuss politics – I’ve had the time of my life with some of them. But, these aren’t people I could choose–they are family. So, I am stuck with them, for better or for worse.  But I find that when people actively want to restrict other people’s freedoms and glorify fear and hatred – it seeps into their pores. And those generally don’t make wonderful friends.

So, how does any of this help you? I’m not sure. I think the first step is to make sure you aren’t blaming the husband, because obviously she was attracted to this guy for some reason, and knew of his politics. Unless you think something sinister is going on, your friend is accountable for her own thoughts and beliefs.

And then the other step? Really, really, really avoid politics. Not just as the elephant in the room, but as an active “I really would rather not discuss that. How’s the cutiepie doing?” And if it ever becomes so big of an elephant where it sits on all of you? Well, then – that isn’t the friend that you knew and loved. She’s moved on and maybe you should too.

I suppose I should add here that there is an opportunity to learn more about the people who hold your opposing viewpoint and see if you can find common ground. So, I’ll add it because that seems like responsible advice. But I am generally pretty tired of trying to  find common ground with people who are advocating intolerance.

photo credit: polymer owls by Jenn and Tony Bot

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13 Comments
  1. September 15, 2010 10:40 pm

    My husband and I have nearly opposite opinions over everything political, and the way we keep the peace is to have an agreement beforehand that we won’t discuss it with each other, since we know it will just create tension. If we want to discuss it, we each have friends and/or family with similar views that we can call on any time. I think this could work for any friendship as well; just have a little talk: explain that you don’t agree and that your friendship is more important to you, so you both can decide that politics is just one of those topics that won’t be discussed. It works on religion as well (my husband and I are very different there, too!).

    • September 16, 2010 9:57 am

      Absolutely. And for the record, my boyfriend and I have differing and opposing political viewpoints on a range of issues. But, on the issues he feels strongly about and I oppose? I don’t really oppose that strongly. And we are able to talk things out, or completely avoid the topic of other ones. But my guess is, if you were actively rallying and trying to change something that your husband is also rallying about and actively trying to change to the opposite? It would cause friction.

      Or, you are James Carvile and Mary Matalin.

  2. September 16, 2010 12:46 am

    I would also add that she should be careful not to brush all conservatives with the same brush. There’s a difference between coming to different conclusions on fiscal issues versus supporting hate and inequality, and she should make sure she’s not attributing the latter to her friend without good reason to. I’d ask your friend some direct questions about the most inflammatory stuff before drawing conclusions. You may find she’s more of, say, a libertarian than a hate monger.

    • September 16, 2010 9:59 am

      Absolutely. And if the question was more “I’m a Republican” and “She’s a Democrat” or “I’m a Libertarian” and “She’s a Communist” then I think my advice would be very different. But because of the specific person this friend is supporting, I’m pretty sure it’s not all about the finer points of health care reform.

  3. September 16, 2010 1:50 pm

    I find that “agreeing to disagree” only sustains a friendship so far. For my part, I am able to let it go and keep my views on politics and religion to myself; however, I have some (far-right)friends–people who have done a 180, as this letter writer seems to imply about her friend–who can’t do that and who have to respond to every one of my posts with “nonsense.”

    I’m really quite torn about removing these people from my life. I really do care about them, and I’ve known them a long time. Also, their viewpoints have changed recently–like within the last 5-10 years. Mine have not.

    I’m also worried that if I put up that wall it will make me seem just as closed-minded and intolerant.

    It’s really tough.

    • September 16, 2010 1:56 pm

      I hear you, especially on that last part. It’s something I had a feeling I would be accused of after writing this post, and I hear it often.

      The way I see it, is like everything – there are shades of gray. I am certainly willing to be wrong and see other sides and be educated on certain political topics. Think you can change my mind about ed reform, tax brackets, foreign policy, military spending – I’m certainly open to listening, debating and would never dream of a ditching a friend who held a different viewpoint than mine in these areas.

      But I’m also happy as a clam being intolerant of people who I think are spreading hatred, misinformation or impeding civil liberty.

  4. September 16, 2010 3:11 pm

    Thanks for saying that. That makes me feel much better and less like “a mean, closed-minded person.”

    I don’t tolerate hate well, and people like this are a drain on my well-being.

  5. Carrie Lowe permalink
    December 28, 2010 11:05 pm

    Removed by admin. Stolen content.

    • December 29, 2010 9:47 am

      Um…Is there a reason you have copied my post, above, word for word?

      I’d love to hear your input, IN Y OUR OWN WORDS.

      Thanks.

  6. December 29, 2010 10:28 am

    Hi Jen,
    I’m not sure what happened. I can assure you that this post was my own. Can you direct me to the post on your site?
    – Erica

    • December 29, 2010 3:07 pm

      I was responding to @carrie Lowe above. He/she used my post verbatim.

      Very weird.

      • December 29, 2010 3:20 pm

        That’s really weird. And it looks like his/her blog has been removed. I’ll remove the post.

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