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How to party with evangelicals
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
In election years, when divisive, demonizing rhetoric rules the airwaves and red state/blue state demarcations become increasingly entrenched, it's reassuring to remember the curious friendship between Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Politically, the two justices could not be further apart — Scalia, the Reagan appointee from 1986, has always been the originalist, ultra-conservative, right-wing voice of the Court, while Ginsburg, the Clinton appointee from 1993, has remained one of the strongest liberal voices on the bench. The two clash frequently on many of the cases presented before the court, and their voting patterns show the depth of their ideological disagreements. In non-unanimous decisions, Ginsburg disagrees with Scalia about 52% of the time, the second highest "disagreement" factor on the current Supreme Court (Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas disagree about 55% of the time.) The usual, divisive issues of our time — abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, death penalty, taxation — finds the judges predictably on opposite sides of the political fence.
Personally, though, the two judges are thick as thieves, and they learned a while ago that politics should never interfere with the chance to develop a lasting friendship with a truly unique person. "I can say one thing about Justice Scalia," Ginsburg once stated. "He is one of the few people in the world who can make me laugh." Scalia, too, has been very vocal about his affection for his fellow judge, calling Ginsburg his "best friend on the bench" and a very loyal person. The two get together every New Year's Eve with their spouses and celebrate, a tradition that began decades ago and has shown no sign of discontinuing, regardless of the acrimonious exchanges that the judges occasionally engage in throughout the years. Extreme ideologues on both sides have worried that the friendship will compromise the judges' respective opinions — Ginsburg's liberalism will "rub off" on Scalia, and vice versa, with Scalia's conservatism — but the years have proven that neither friend has budged at all from their core beliefs. They remain colleagues and friends who happen to disagree about everything except their friendship.
I tried to remember the Ginsburg-Scalia model last week when a good friend of mine told me that he was enthusiastically supporting Rick Santorum for President, and believed that the former senator from Pennsylvania had a decent shot to win the nomination. My friend is a born-again Evangelical who believes very strongly in conservative, pro-family, pro-Christian candidates, and he is certain that Santorum has enough personal appeal to energize the bedrock religious voters in the South and Midwest and that he could, with a little political luck, become a victorious "dark horse" champion sometime before the convention. Santorum also carries less negative baggage that the other Republican candidates, my friend believes, and thus can escape being an easy-to-pin-down target from the left-wing's attack czars and political experts in the fall election.
Because he's my friend, I listened very patiently to his analysis of the current political environment, and, because he's my friend, I thought it was necessary to level with him about what I truly thought. So I told him straight out that Santorum had about as much of a chance of winning nomination as I did, because a), he's batshit crazy, b), he wears vests and Americans don't elect dorks in vests, and c), he maintains a weirdly "anti-contraception" stance that is so dark-ages and Salem Witch Trial-esque that no rational human being in 2012 can really take him seriously. And I have to admit, this last bit really resonated with me, and so I elucidated on the point more expansively with my friend. Sure, I said, Santorum's against contraception because it's easy for him: Who in God's name wants to ---- Rick Santorum? But what about the rest of us, mildly attractive, sexual beings? Don't we count? Don't we deserve a voice? I told him that the religious "morality" voters were totally overvalued and that he shouldn't, in today's political climate, underestimate the power of the profligate, degenerate debauchers' vote, which could turn out to be the swing block that determines the 2012 election.
It'll probably surprise a number of my extreme left friends to report that my Evangelical buddy absolutely roared at this last bit, especially the part about Santorum's colossal asexuality. We riffed on the notion of Santorum's creepy sex life for a while, taking the joke and expanding it, discovering new tangents for it, trying to top each other with every addition. One of the bonding elements of our friendship has always been an appreciation for perverse, sick humor, and that certainly hasn't changed though my friend has become, over the years, more right-winged and conservative. We still agree on the essentials, and humor is an essential. I think it's become too easy to diminish people in our minds, to reduce the complexity of a fully-formed person into a simple stereotype or a cliche: i.e., Evangelicals are somehow unequipped to accept or laugh at "blue" or off-color humor. We tend to forget that people are resolutely three-dimensional and interesting and capable of holding contradictory attitudes and surprises. It's what makes people so much fun to examine, this unpredictability, and it's always a joy to unearth something new in a much-loved friend's personality.
Obviously, I disagree with my friend about almost everything in politics, and I have to admit that it took me a long-time to get over my friend's initial "born-again" status after his conversion (we had been friends before the big change, and then cooled immediately after it: I was totally freaked.) Thankfully, I grew up a tiny bit, and gradually realized that while my friend had become an Evangelical, that didn't mean that our friendship had to become "Evangelical" — it could still be what it always was, an affiliation based on warmth, trust, affection, humor, consideration. I discovered that it would be a shame if I allowed something as trivial as political or religious beliefs to come between a great friendship.