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Relationships in Politically Mixed Marriages

Tonight we feature a guest poster, Linda Mercer Lloyd.  

Jean Stapleton was Edith in the 70's sit-com "All in the Family." Last month, when I heard the news of her death, I could almost hear her nails-on-chalkboard voice singing the show's opening. Edith and Archie Bunker was one of the most beloved couples in America. They sang this song every Saturday night, at eight o'clock, from 1972 till 1979:

"Boy, the way Glenn Miller played.

Songs that made the Hit Parade.

Guys like us we had it made.

Those were the days!

And we knew who we were then.

Girls were girls and men were men.

Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover, again.

Didn't need no welfare state.

Everybody pulled his weight.

Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.

Those were the days."

Forty years ago, when the show was on, I didn't pay any attention to the lyrics. But, when I think about it.... Herbert Hoover? Wasn't he the reason we needed a welfare state? And not even "guys like us," WASPS, had it made before the New Deal. The line about Glenn Miller is the only one with which I wouldn't take issue. I don't know anything about LaSalle's.

Of course, you remember Archie Bunker. He was America's favorite bigot in the 70's. He hated his neighbor, George Jefferson, just for being black. (He was "black" in the 70's) Edith on the other hand, loved The Jefferson family. Edith was ever the peacemaker. She even forgave Archie for calling her a "dingbat." They were the original odd couple. One can only marvel that divorce was never a question in their marriage through all those years. Yet, they always sang their song together. They maintained their relationship.

Most of us know couples a little like the Bunkers'. Even the series' creator Norman Lear, one of America's foremost liberals, says he based some of Archie's language on his own father's. Lear's father called his wife "dingbat."

My Mom and Dad were Kansas Republicans until 1972. Mama felt Nixon would continue the War. My brother was in the army. She wanted to vote for the Democrat, George McGovern. But Daddy was so opposed to Democrats he would not budge, so Mama was afraid he wouldn't take her to the polls. For the first time in forty years, she went to vote without him. Of course, they ate dinner together that night, and every night for another twenty years.

Pollsters tell us that the country is highly polarized politically, and 50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce. If those facts are related, it seems to me politics may constitute irreconcilable differences. If that isn't irretrievably broken, I don't know what is. We've all been told that politics and religion are never to be discussed in polite company. Does that include pillow talk?

Politics and religion are very important subjects. Can you imagine living with someone who doesn't agree with your views on important subjects like gun control or the war in ... wherever. I'd have to talk about it, and how might that go?

ME: "Oh, honey, don't be stupid!"

HIM: "Me? Who're you calling stupid?"

ME:" Anyone who can't support the troops, that's who."

HIM: "I support the troops, just not the war!"

ME: "That doesn't make sense. That proves you're stupid!"

HIM: "I can't talk to you!"

Should the Tea-Party be grounds for divorce? I wish I knew how to have a civil conversation with anyone with whom I disagree. I admit I haven't the skills. The members of my book club can attest to that. I can start arguments about Machiavelli. I think he was kind of a thoughtful guy. (And don't talk to me about Dr Seuss!)

How do mixed political marriages manage to make it through an election cycle and not end in divorce, especially when the cycle lasts for four years? Is it wrong to go to bed with the enemy? I'll bet they don't start a conversation with "Don't be stupid." That's just disrespectful!

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Maybe we could learn something from Aretha Franklin. Let's consider Mary Matalin and James Carville, a very successful mixed political marriage. She was a political consultant to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and counselor to Dick Chaney. Carville was the strategist behind Bill Clinton's elections. He wrote a book entitled "We're Right, They're Wrong: a Handbook for Spirited Progressives." They've been married for 20 years and have two children. They both say they don't talk politics at home. How have they learned to live with their political differences? How have they maintained their relationship? They've actually made careers out of their contentious relationship. They wrote a best selling book together, "All's Fair. Love, War and Running for President." Fame and fortune, that's bound to help smooth out the rough edges. But further, when they argue on national television they argue with mutual respect.

Respect... I looked it up in Roget's. Some synonyms: Courtesy, Deference, Dignity, Esteem, Honor, Regard, Trust. I'm going to take those words and chew on them for a while.

Back to Edith and Archie. None of those synonyms applied to their marriage. The Bunkers were fictional characters, not even Reality TV. Surely, a relationship like the Bunkers' can't exist outside of a Sitcom. Not even their music could really keep them together. You can learn a lot from popular music. There's Aretha, of course, and remember Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." 

Linda Mercer Lloyd

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