Brian Birdnow
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“We are not the same. I equate Republicans’ political views with thoughtlessness, intolerance and narcissism. They’re neither kind nor empathetic.” The preceding words are a direct quote, written by Diana Wagman, a novelist, in an Op-Ed piece she penned for the Los Angeles Times, on February 21, 2012. Ms. Wagman, who describes herself and her husband as, “…both bleeding heart liberals”, related her tale of an inadvertent discovery of the political views of the couple who own a vacation cabin across the street from the Wagman’s own spread, in the Sierra Nevada, just outside of Fresno, California. Ms. Wagman described her shock when, after an evening spent playing poker and sipping scotch, she found, to her horror, that the aforementioned couple across the street were conservative-Tea Partying Republicans. Your humble Townhall correspondent assumed that the rest of this piece would become a rather commonplace “can’t judge a book by its cover”, missive, but at that point it spun off in exactly the opposite direction.

Ms. Wagman informed her readers that her across-the-street acquaintances were the perfect neighbors. They were pleasant, helpful, and friendly. As Ms. Wagman put it, “They are a lovely family: husband, wife, and four smart, funny, polite children. I was sure they were Democrats.” They were also an interracial family, with an African-American mother and a White father.

The trouble began when the Wagmans invited their new friends in for a final drink after the annual Camp Sierra Association poker game. The friends announced that they were members of the Tea Party, and for good measure, they added that the Tea Party was not racist because, they, an interracial couple, had been eagerly welcomed and accepted by their Tea Party compatriots. In Wagman’s own words, “…I was shouting, his wife was trying to calm him down, my husband was trying to calm me down, and our other friends-all Democrats- were trying to keep everybody from breaking the furniture.”

Ms. Wagman goes on to describe the downward spiral of the evening. She states that they argued about healthcare, welfare, Obama’s religion and citizenship, and the war on terror. Things soon descended to name-calling; “He called me a spoiled idiot and worse. I called him selfish, shortsighted and worse. It was awful, and it went on until after 3 AM.”

It is sad when friends sometimes fall out over politics, but it does happen. Thomas Sowell may have been correct in the late 1980s when he argued that political bickering masked deep divisions of a cultural and sociological nature, and that these divisions could never really be bridged. Be that as it may, in this particular case apologies were proffered, but not really accepted. “The next morning, they knocked on our door and we apologized to each other and laughed sheepishly…But my feelings about them are changed. I cannot respect them as I did before…I don’t want to be friends with someone who is a member of the Tea Party, or is a Newt Gingrich Republican. We are not the same. I equate their political views with thoughtlessness, intolerance and narcissism. I think they are neither kind nor empathetic.”

Ms. Wagman goes on to express her wish for conservatives: “If only they would all go live in Gingrich’s moon colony.” She then rattles off a listing of her certified liberal views and argues that they “…seem so logical to me…these are no-brainers to me, and it kills me that my neighbor disagrees.” She idly wonders if any number of bitter misfortunes, such as having a son killed in Afghanistan, a daughter turning up pregnant, or a sister announcing that she was a lesbian would change her neighbor’s opinions. She finishes her article by stating, “Next time I drive to our cabin, I’m going to make sure I take everything I could possibly need. I don’t want to ask my neighbors for help. I hope it’s their weekend to stay home.”

Let us hope that Ms. Wagman is speaking for herself, and does not represent the views and attitudes of the modern American liberal. It seems quite bigoted, small-minded and petulant to argue that simply discovering that the neighbors are anti-Obama Tea Partiers precludes the possibility of friendship, or even cordiality between their respective families. This is pretty incendiary stuff. Whatever became of the Hubert Humphrey School of “Happy Warrior” type liberalism?

The material point in this column is quite simple. Diana Wagman is likely the type of liberal who bemoans the polarized nature of our politics, the divisive state of our culture, and the vanishing of civility from our public discourse. Yet, in her Op-Ed piece she freely admits that she is a liberal and that she essentially hates Republicans because they are conservatives. Certainly Ms. Wagman would argue that Rush Limbaugh should be censored, that Ann Coulter is a national disgrace, and that George W. Bush was the worst President in American history. She does not consider these views over the top. On the contrary “they seem so logical” to her. (Perhaps these attitudes represent the worldview of regular readers of the Los Angeles Times.) It goes without saying that she considers hating conservatives to be quite logical, too. If Ms. Wagman really wants to pin the “polarizing” and “divisive” tails on the political donkey she can start with herself.

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Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.