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Last night CNN premiered a documentary called Almost President that chronicled a few of the men who came in second place for the job of United States CEO. It’s worth watching in part because it shows a time – not too long ago in fact – when politics was a kinder sport. Walter Mondale, for example, never pounced on Reagan’s clear disorientation in the first debate nor, to my knowledge, did he demand health records for the 73-year-old candidate. Likewise, Michael Dukakis evidently refused to run negative against George H.W. Bush until he was clearly losing – a crossroads in history which no doubt set the stage for the coarseness we see today.
But there was another moment in the film that caught my attention, namely the open secret that, in 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain wanted Joe Lieberman to be his running mate but Lieberman was disqualified for being pro-choice. That was it. One issue discrepancy with the party platform gave us…Sarah Palin.
Yes, you may be tired of hearing about politics, but stick with me on this one because it’s a matter of civilizational importance.
We all know that abortion rights are a huge issue in any campaign, but dropping Lieberman over this alone speaks to a growing threat to our democracy – i.e. the clear danger of identity politics. In other words, the fact that you identify with one party on one issue should not mean that you are automatically expected to toe the line for all of them.
Here in the States, for instance, let’s say you call yourself a “conservative” because you support limited government. Does this mean that you should also unequivocally stand behind open carry gun laws, Christianity, trade reform, and immigration bans? Likewise, if you call yourself a “liberal” because you support certain social safety nets, does this mean you should also support marriage equality, pro-choice positions, and free healthcare?
In some circles, the answer is clearly yes and it’s causing us to become ever more divided into “camps” that are making it harder to have honest and meaningful conversations.
(By the way, this thinking occurs all-too-often in religious movements as well, but I’ll save that for another post.)
I’m not asking you to change your views, but I do think it’s worth gently challenging ourselves and others to be mindful of when labels only serve to rip our social fabric. We can meet in the middle, but only if we go back to evaluating issues based on merit vs. tribe.