In case you hadn't noticed, this is an election year. Two stories that came my way highlight the different ways this hits home. The first involves a man I will, for reasons soon to be clear, refer to as Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones and his wife are one of a very few young couples who live in their suburban Maryland neighborhood. They've chatted a few times with another young couple, whom we will call the Smiths. These informal encounters have been sufficiently enjoyable that the Smiths have expressed a desire to invite the Joneses over for dinner.
While Mrs. Jones thinks this is a perfectly delightful idea, Mr. Jones said, and I quote, "I would rather eat nails!"
The problem? Mr. and Mrs. Smith appear to be members of the political party that is the sworn enemy of the political party that Mr. Jones supports.
"Not only are they supporters of Party X," Mr. Jones said, "but they have a number of Party X's signs on their front lawn." This makes them, in his eyes, more than mere casual supporters of that party. Mr. Jones is convinced that Party Xness permeates the very marrow of their being.
"Why on earth would I want to make friends with folks whose viewpoints on a whole gamut of issues I already know I couldn't agree less with?" Mr. Smith wonders. "My wife, of course, thinks I'm being closed-minded. 'If James Carville and Mary Matalin can work it out, why can't we be friends with the Smiths?' she asks."
Why indeed? Don't we live in a society where the lamb can lie down with the lion, where reasonable people can agree to disagree before uncorking a bottle of shiraz on a suburban deck and discussing the pitiful Redskins?
Well, don't we?
No, said Mr. Jones, and here's why: Like many of us, he is a busy man. "We regularly lament that we don't seem to have enough time for ourselves," he said. "So why, I ask, do we want to spend our precious time developing a neighborhood friendship with some folks that we will obviously have very little in common with?"
One reason would be that it's good to mingle with those who are different. It can broaden two sets of minds. Why, if I was as much a stickler as Mr. Jones, I'd have to give up talking to my father -- my poor, benighted father -- every four years.
I don't have a choice about my father, though. Mr. Jones does about the Smiths. One thing he could do is find some common ground -- rock music, "The Sopranos," artisanal cheeses -- and keep the conversation within those boundaries.
I don't give it much hope, though. Hitler, it is said, liked dogs. Even if you confined your conversations with him to the merits of labradoodles versus cockapoos, you would eventually find yourself thinking, "Oh yeah, he's Hitler."
What I'm recommending is that Mr. Jones grit his teeth and gird his loins (and maybe even grit his loins) and go to dinner. Then I want to hear about it.
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
Our second story involves Lea Mae Rice, a college student who was home in McLean one weekend recently. While her sister's car was being inspected at a nearby gas station, Lea Mae spied a campaign sign in the median of Dolley Madison Boulevard near Kirby Road. It was not for the presidential candidate she favors.
"I didn't have any signs with my candidate's name on them to put up," she said, "so I decided -- against my better judgment, I guess -- to take one of the signs away."
As she was walking back to the car with the purloined sign, a man in a silver Mercedes SUV pulled up. Then a second car stopped. The two men said she had better put the sign back. The SUV driver whipped out his cell phone and dialed the police. "I'm having you arrested," he announced.
"I wasn't overly worried about whether the sign was up or down and wasn't trying to get arrested before the election, so I went and put the sign back," said Lea Mae.
This wasn't enough for the SUV driver, who told her she had trampled on free speech and destroyed public property. He took down her license plate number and said he would keep an eye out for her. He also tried to convince her to vote for his candidate, which bothered her more than anything.
What of the law? Well, SUV man was basically full of, um, misinformation. Removing a sign from private property is against the law, but this sign wasn't on private property. It was on Virginia Department of Transportation property, and VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris said, "Anything on VDOT right of way is not allowed, period. Whether it's for your yard sale or for your presidential candidate, it's not supposed to be there."
That doesn't mean they want you taking the law into your own hands. The only folks besides VDOT who are empowered to remove signs are the people involved in the Adopt-a-Highway program. They, of course, have to take down all signs; they can't be selective. (Joan admitted that unless a sign blocks drivers' views, VDOT won't get to it right away; if you see a sign you think is illegal or dangerous, you can call 703-383-VDOT.)
In a perfect world, we would all respect the opinions of others and let a thousand campaign signs bloom. But as political shenanigans go, pinching a sign doesn't seem as bad as, say, breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters.
Still, I wouldn't have done it. If I had done it, and I had been caught, I would have said, "I'm not stealing this sign. I'm moving it to a location where people can see it better. Go Party X!"
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