In Search of Middle Ground

Unlikely agreements between Liberals and Conservatives

by Cat Braza


Sometimes it seems like I’m holding onto my dad’s DNA by a thread. Granted, we do have some similarities. We both have eyes like round blueberries. We both fawn over the same painters’ work in fancy art museums—Edvard Munch, Joan Miró, etc. We both think apple pie is the best kind of pie, and strong, black coffee is the best kind of coffee. We both prefer hiking uphill over hiking downhill. We both still listen to The Cure.

And we both tend toward political correctness, though for very different reasons. When I was a kid, I would call all sorts of things “dumb” and “lame, and my father, a conservative, would reprimand me for using words that he said “disrespected the disabled.” I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. “That isn’t even what ‘lame’ means,” my kid self scoffed at him.

Eventually, I grew up and deviated from my father politically.  I also discovered that what he had told me was right—according to the “liberal agenda” that he so often decried. I learned of the concept of anti-ableism, discussed mostly by politically liberal circles, which discourages the use of words like “lame,” “dumb,” “crazy” and other adjectives that have historically been associated with physical or mental impairment. The movement against ableism stresses that these words perpetuate the social stigma surrounding mental illness and disabilities.

Lately, I’ve been trying to phase such words out of my vocabulary. Meanwhile, what surprised me is the fact that my George Bush-supporting father agrees with, a left-leaning website I worship. This fleeting agreement between my father and feminism is how I initially became fascinated by the idea that liberals and conservatives could agree sometimes—if only by accident.

This past fall, when CC students protested the movie screening of Stonewall, I spotted it again—the agreement of the liberals and the conservatives. Had a majority of students at CC been of the highly conservative variety, #BoycottStonwall would still have arisen as a trending hashtag. After all, homophobic opponents of gay rights aren’t going to want a movie screened if it glamorizes the alleged “history” of the LGBTQ movement.

That’s why it interested me that a sector of the left-leaning CC student body got so on board with #BoycottStonewall. Of course, none of them objected to the movie because it portrayed the historical struggle of LGBT Americans, but rather because it portrayed that struggle inaccurately. Stonewall stars a white, cisgender gay male lead, which grossly misrepresents the fact that trans folks of color were responsible for much of the movement’s leadership. Many CC liberals thought it unjust to screen yet another half-assed Hollywood historical sketch—hence the boycotting.

Obviously, this reasoning for shunning Stonewall differs from that of a conservative. Still, let’s say you were to separate people into two different rooms, based on whether they’d prefer to watch Stonewall or stare at an actual stone wall. In such a scenario, there’s something pretty striking about the fact that both radical conservatives and radical liberals would find themselves staring down the limestone together.

Both conservatives and liberals also shook their heads at the popularity of the gay marriage movement. It’s old news that some conservatives mourned the legalization of gay marriage, but I noticed that some liberals also complained about the occasion simultaneously. These left-leaners weren’t necessarily upset that gay marriage itself was being legalized. Rather, they were upset that such a homonormative LGBTQ issue had dominated the political arena when more socially pressing LGBTQ problems—homeless LGBTQ youth, trans homicides and suicides, etc.—were perhaps more worthy of political action. In any case, many liberals worried that victory in the gay marriage war would lead people to think that the LGBTQ struggle is over when, in reality, it has only just begun.

There are plenty of other instances in which liberals and conservatives almost accidentally boarded the same ship. As the entire nation has by now heard, a “pro-life” radical killed three people and injured nine others at our local Planned Parenthood, which brings up a blatant contradiction in his professed ideology.

More positively, the protests of conservative rural farmers harmonize beautifully with the song of some environmentalist liberals who just as adamantly oppose GMOs. The farmers don’t want to lose their livelihoods, and the liberals don’t want to see the natural become unnatural.

What are the implications of these lines cast from both the political left and right, inadvertently entangled together somewhere in the middle? Is it even accurate to shove ideas into the “left” and “right” drawers of political theory? Perhaps these ideologies sometimes function cyclically.

I often wonder if there are a few meeting places worth revisiting between the sides of the political spectrum, where both sides could maybe awkwardly grab coffee together and chat. If the current political system does function on a linear structure—you’re either left or you’re right, and there’s no up or down—then let’s find places where we could connect the two ends. Circles are made of lines, anyway.

Already, Republican and Democratic members of Congress seem to have serendipitously run into each other—in prison, of all places. A bipartisan summit made headlines ten months ago when, to many Americans’ amazement, members of both parties worked in tandem to forge new political agreements on the subject of prison reform. The prison system badly needs reform and, fortunately, neither party was too shortsighted to realize this. It’s just one instance of congressional accord, but it sets a positive precedent for future collaborations between parties.

I can bash some of my father’s political opinions until the sun goes down, but I still love him. When we spend time together, we don’t talk about the harrowing reality that he’d probably choose Trump over Hillary if it came down to that in the upcoming election. Instead, we just hike uphill, listen to The Cure and drink our strong black coffee. We find our similarities, and we focus on them, and we cultivate our relationship from there.

It’s analogous of how I wish Congress members would cooperate with one another (although I suppose Congress should actually discuss politics, not just espresso). It’s not just Congress members who should seek out their similarities and grow from there; in an ideal world, everyone would. I’d be willing to hike downhill if I were heading toward common ground.