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The Audacity and Betrayal of Thinking Differently
When it comes to the world of politics, there are times when an shady act can fairly be categorized as a betrayal. It usually comes in the form of someone choosing expediency over principle. An off-the-cuff example of this would be former Florida governor Charlie Crist repeatedly switching party affiliations and throwing political allies under the bus, simply to advance his own career in government.
In other cases, perceived betrayals really aren't betrayals at all, but rather disappointments over finding out that someone doesn't think the way you expect them to think. Purist conservatives use the term RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) to describe those who dare to find common ground with the other side. Liberals like U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson call black conservatives derogatory names like "Uncle Tom", simply because they dare to have a different political view than that of most African Americans in this country.
The form of false political betrayal I find most amusing, however, is the kind that I see in everyday life, far away from Washington DC and the 24-hour cable news channels. It comes from everyday people who, for some bizarre reason, assume that everyone they meet shares their political beliefs. And when they find out otherwise, they treat the revelation as an act of treachery.
I've experienced this quite a bit throughout my life, and it seems to almost always come from people on the left. There are exceptions, of course, but liberals tend to be the ones who routinely bring up their political views in social situations, and treat them as if they're universally accepted beliefs. The apparent expectation is for those around them to just nod their heads in agreement at what they say.
I've always found that phenomenon interesting considering that we live in a country where twice as many people consider themselves to be conservative as do liberal. It's a real thing though, and as an author who's met a lot of people over the past year while on my book tour, I've seen even more examples of it.
One of the more notable incidents came in October of last year. I paid a few bucks to set up an awning at a local art fair and sell copies of my novel. Like I do at all of my book events, I welcomed curious passers-by, handed out bookmarks, asked them what kind of books they liked, and told them what mine was about. People were very friendly that day (as they usually are), and I sold several copies.
In the late afternoon, a young man who looked like he was in his early or mid twenties stopped by. He was with an older gentleman who I assume was his father. He browsed a copy of my book for a minute or so, and looked as though he was going to buy it.
"It sounds interesting," he told me as we exchanged some friendly smalltalk.
It was then that he happened to glance up at a promotional poster I had hanging inside my awning. His eyes widened when he noticed a small picture of the owner of the website I'm writing this column for: Bernard Goldberg.
I feature that picture on my poster, next to a written compliment Bernie gave me on my writing. I figured an endorsement of my work by a respected journalist - someone I admired for years before I ever began writing for this website - would help lend me some credibility to the product I was offering. In many cases, it's done just that, but in this particular incident, it had the opposite affect.
The young man scowled, put the book down, and angrily whispered something to his father before the two of them walked off. I suspected I knew the reason for his reaction, but it was confirmed to me a couple minutes later when he returned with his father.
"Can I ask you a question?" he breathlessly asked.
"Sure," I replied.
He pointed at Bernie's picture and said, "When you have someone like him endorse your writing - someone so polarizing - don't you risk turning off people from buying your book?"
I smiled at the notion that Bernie was polarizing since I consider him to be one of the most level-headed people on television. Yet, I realize that people who disagree with him probably view him that way, just as some people who read my columns probably think the same thing about me.
"I suppose it's possible," I told the guy, shrugging my shoulders. "But why would you refuse to read something that looks interesting to you, simply because you don't like someone who is complimentary of my writing?"
A blank look formed on the guy's face. He wasn't sure how to answer my question.
"So, do you agree with him?" he asked in a huff.
I didn't see what relevance it had to my book, but I was more than happy to answer his question. "On most things, I sure do," I told him.
The expression that was etched across his face was one to behold. It was as if I had just stabbed him in the back. I wondered if there was a possibility that he had honestly never encountered a right-leaning thinker before. Did he truly have an expectation that some random stranger he met at an art fair would assuredly share his world view? And why was he so appalled that I didn't?
"Well I'm not going to buy your book," he told me.
I politely told him that that was fine, and I wished him a good day. As he walked away, I met eyes with his father who offered me an apologetic head nod.
The incident was amusing to me because as a conservative, I never assume that people I don't know agree with me politically. In fact, my assumption is that they don't. And even if I did know that someone was a far-left individual, why should I care - especially in the context of buying something from them? I don't purchase products and services on the precondition that the person offering them thinks like I do. If that were the case, I'd be forced to have only Country CDs in my music collection. I'd very rarely be able to watch a good movie in a theater. I'd also never be able to buy a book written by Stephen King and a large number of other talented authors.
One could possibly write off the young man's reaction to his idealistic youth, but as I was reminded just the other day that the audacity and betrayal of thinking differently doesn't correlate with age.
Earlier this week, I was reading an on-line opinion piece for a local newspaper. The topic was Elliot Rodger's murder spree in Santa Barbara. The piece absolutely excoriated the NRA, essentially blaming them and their battle against gun controls for helping Rodger do what he did. Several people commented on the column, agreeing with the author.
I found it interesting that the author and the commenters never once mentioned the fact that Rodger stabbed half of the victims he killed. So, I decided to leave a comment under the column, pointing this out and asking how the gun-control answer could have possibly stopped Rodger from killing people - especially his first three victims.
Well, one person in particular didn't like what I wrote, and it happened to be a city manager I briefly met with when I signed up for that art fair back in October. She had bought a book from me at the time, so she remembered my name.
After an angry rant directed at me, she wrote, "I may have to return your book now. I thought you were smarter than that."
Translation: "You betrayed me by not living up to my default assumption that you were a liberal. If I had known the truth, I would have never purchased your book."
It was an especially remarkable comment considering that this person is very involved and influential in our city's art community. Art is supposed to be about free expression, after all. But apparently works of art are suddenly deemed unacceptable once the artist is discovered to be a conservative. I typically don't offer Dear Abby-like advice in my columns, because I don't presume that I'm qualified to give it. I will say, however, that I'm pretty confident that people could spare themselves a heck of a lot of personal drama and avoid looking foolish if they consider a couple of things...
1) Not everyone thinks the way you do. 2) Those who don't think like you aren't necessarily bad people.
As harsh as I often am when critiquing the liberal point of view and liberal policies, I'm proud to call several liberals close friends of mine. They accept a conservative-leaning guy like me for who I am as well.
I suppose I should consider that a beacon of hope in an increasingly hyper-partisan and divisive country.