Why you should care

Because if an “interfaith” couple can be happy, why can’t the rest of the country?

When Brant and I started dating in 2005 and it quickly became clear that we hadn’t been casting our votes in the same column our whole lives, I panicked. I really liked this guy, but I couldn’t help but wonder: Republicans and Democrats can barely get through Thanksgiving dinner without a blowup. How could two people from opposite sides of the aisle ever walk down one?

It helped that Brant had a habit of cultivating friends from wildly different backgrounds, including our beloved neighbor David, a liberal writer who lived upstairs. When Brant told him he was intrigued by the thought of Giuliani for president, David said, “If the ground opened up before me and belched out Satan in a cloud of black smoke, I would vote for him before I voted for Giuliani.” I have never seen Brant laugh harder.

Still, it wasn’t easy. I’m pretty sure some members of my family, when they heard I was dating a Republican from the South, expected the second coming of Strom Thurmond.

How could two people from opposite sides of the aisle ever walk down one?

I had insecurities about his family too. “Do they know I’m a Democrat?” I asked Brant the first time I met his parents. He stage-whispered back, “Yesss,” cracking us both up.

We are now in our fifth year of marriage, which has been smooth sailing with a few ideological storms. Still, when I heard about the new book Love & War by James Carville and Mary Matalin, I was eager to find out how Washington’s most famous across-the-aisle couple has managed to keep the peace — especially during election years.

These days, the most astonishing thing about Matalin and Carville’s marriage is not that it is successful but that it happened at all. She was the deputy campaign director for George H.W. Bush’s re-election bid; he was the “ragin’ Cajun” strategist behind Clinton’s unlikely ascent to the White House. But if the prospect of two ideologically opposed political operatives getting hitched raised eyebrows in 1993, the notion is even crazier today. Their advice: Avoid politics completely. Matalin recalls how the Iraq War had to be tabled as a topic when the debate reached “shut up or move out” levels. Carville refers to Matalin’s decision to work for Cheney in the raw days following the Florida recount as the darkest period in their marriage. But through the entire His and Hers narrative, what comes through is respect, love and, yes, the fact that they actually like each other.

I think about that a lot. Brant’s a moderate Republican, the old-fashioned kind who was common in Washington 25 years ago. But say the “R” word now, especially in San Francisco where we live, and people picture a card-carrying member of Focus on the Family who falls asleep cradling his automatic weapons. And, OK, Brant likes to bird hunt, and he kind of hates Obamacare, but on social issues he’s as lefty as I am: pro choice, pro gay marriage, anti death penalty.

The most astonishing thing about Matalin and Carville’s marriage is not that it is successful but that it happened at all.

Our views start to diverge when it comes to the size of government and policy prescriptions. But since we might debate over spaghetti bolognese on any given Sunday, I’m grateful for that. Because while I like a nice warm echo chamber as much as the next person, I’ve come to realize it’s not necessarily a good thing to live in one.

A thousand articles have been written on how the Internet has made us more entrenched in our views by allowing people to find their own little niche of crazy. The bigger problem, though, is that a whole ecosystem of cable and online news exists to tell us not just that we’re right — but that people with opposing views are stupid. It may be a lazy way to think, but it’s also a seductive idea. And one I’ve certainly succumbed to, especially during election cycles.

That is, until I got married. For one thing, it’s kind of awkward to think of Republicans as the evil empire when you have breakfast with one every day. And because the Bay Area is not exactly awash in conservative viewpoints, without Brant my political arguments would get pretty flabby.

He’s also — I’ll admit it — right. Sometimes.

I’ve had to eat crow on a number of things, but the health-care bill was our own personal Antietam. While I still support it as an access to care bill, it’s clear that many of the selling points — like the early assertions it would significantly bend the cost curve and allow everyone to keep their insurance — represent magical thinking. The fact that Brant brought this up repeatedly, and I would say (between sips of the excellent cup of coffee he had made for me), “That’s Republican fear mongering!” is something I have to live down.

Brant also understands the economy better than I do — not because he’s a Republican, but because his line of work is in finance. And one of the arguments he makes is that no matter how good liberal prescriptions for job creation may look on paper (like tax credits for hiring new workers), the only thing that will make a company hire a worker is if it believes demand will grow enough to support it, period.

I like a nice warm echo chamber as much as the next person but have realized it’s not necessarily a good thing to live in one.

I’ve also come to see Brant’s point that Dems often fail to grasp how a small business owner is especially hard hit by tax hikes and regulation. And before you accuse me of drinking the Kool-Aid, Carville (James Carville!) also agrees: “I do think a valid critique of Democrats or liberals is that we seldom look at the world through the eyes of the dry cleaner or the guy with the lawn-mowing service,” he writes.

Clearly what glues them together is not their opposing ideologies but their shared passions — for their kids and for politics, hard work and having a point of view. As for the happy couple, well, Carville and Matalin don’t agree on a single political stance in the entire 332-page book. But here’s the thing — they both speak well of people for whom I thought they feel the burning hatred of a thousand suns. Carville goes out of his way to mention Bush II’s graciousness in putting him at ease at Matalin’s swearing-in ceremony. Matalin remembers Clinton’s generosity at a state dinner, singling her out when no one else would speak to her. Carville and Matalin may hate the other side’s politics, but their marriage has made it impossible to hate the people behind them. Otherwise whom would they invite over for dinner?

Mary on left with James on right, both looking towards left of frame at host (unseen)

James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Source Heather Wines/Getty

As Brant and I have found, a little heated disagreement keeps things lively. So if you can stand to be in the same room — let alone the same bed — with someone who holds opposing beliefs and discuss those views in a respectful way, that’s wonderful. But if you can’t, at least remember this: Hate the politics, not the person.

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