In politically divided families, Election Day tests household harmony
By Petula Dvorak,
Epic remote-control battles. Nights sleeping on the couch. Huffing and pouting and banging dishes in the sink.
This is what living in a house divided is like at the apex of election season.
Take, for example, the daily acts of sabotage that take place in the House of Montgomery, located in the usually tranquil Washington suburb of Sterling.
Sylvia Montgomery, a 45-year-old marketing executive, and her husband, Norman, 54, both voted for Barack Obama in 2008, part of a surge that helped a Democratic presidential candidate carry Virginia for the first time since 1964. But this year Norman is a Mitt Romney supporter and Sylvia still backs the president.
Every chance he gets, Montgomery said, her husband takes her Obama magnet off her car and puts it on the roof of her Chevy Tahoe, “where I can’t reach it.”
The teasing, taunting and near-fights are endless.
On Sunday afternoon, Montgomery e-mailed me with an update:
“My husband came home from errands and declared he had lost my Obama magnet while driving. . . . I have now attached a rally sign from the ’08 campaign to my rear window,” she wrote. “The drama continues.”
Spouses, children and parents, brothers and sisters, cousins; there is little harmony within many families this time of year.
You think it’s disconcerting living in a country divided by red and blue? Imagine those differences under the same roof.
“I never thought it could come to this with us,” lamented one of my D.C. friends over her husband’s intent to vote Republican this year. “He worked in New Hampshire for Gary Hart, for God’s sake. How much more secure could I have felt in his views?”
To maintain harmony, she confided, “We just don’t talk about it.”
Many of the folks who responded to my Twitter and Facebook call-outs for politically divided families said they were already dreading Thanksgiving, when there will be gloating or sorrow over the outcome of the election. Everyone should be thankful for the cool-down period between Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, lest the carving knife get used on someone other than the turkey.
For Casey Archer, family gatherings with four older, more conservative siblings and his Republican parents are tough. But that family-dinner-potato-salad smackdown continues 24-7 now, thanks to Facebook.
“My parents and I got in a huge fight earlier this year when I had a Facebook status about some of President Obama’s accomplishments,” said Archer, a 23-year-old high school teacher in Virginia Beach. “I am DREADING being in the house on November 7th, because either way the results are going to mess up my family.”
Total silence on the topic is the only option for some.
“I told my boyfriend he had my permission to lie to me just once, on Election Day,” said Joanna Laro, a graduate student who lives in New Hampshire, “because if he told me he voted for Romney I could never feel the same way about him again.”
One of the many online memes that have made the rounds have been lawn signs of divided houses, like the “his” (Romney) and “hers” (Obama) version from a Philly suburb.
As for Jim Hall and his partner of 16 years, the lawn is totally off-limits.
Because even the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage wasn’t enough to sway this same-sex couple onto the same page. Hall is Democrat, his partner is Republican.
“We have had more raucous discussions about politics than I care to mention,” said Hall, 65, a retiree who lives in Pensacola, Fla., “but we are slowly coming to the realization that we value each other more than any political positions.”
Can love trump political ideology?
For the answer, we turned to Robert and Kay Kinney, who live in Doylestown, Pa., and “have reliably canceled each other out every four years in presidential contests” since 1984, Robert reported.
They met in the summer of 1982, “when she was working as a Schedule C political appointee in the Reagan administration, and I was working for a Democratic member of Congress. . . .
“We like to tell our friends that we were ‘[James] Carville and [Mary] Matalin’ before they even knew each other,” said Kinney, an attorney.
“We have never let a political argument color our relationship with each other,” despite some heated discussions, Kinney said. “I think one reason that is the case is that on most issues we (unlike our elected officials) have been able to find common ground, or have agreed to disagree with respect for each other’s position.”
So here we are again, ordinary Americans one-upping elected leaders when it comes to compromise and genuine bipartisanship. No matter what you think, the dishes have to be done, the lawn has to be mowed, the kids have to be put to bed.
“On Wednesday,” Sylvia Montgomery said, “we’re still all going to live in the same country.”
Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.