The Universal Notebook: Across the great divide

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I drove to the Portland Expo last week, not to see President Obama, but to observe the crowd gathered outside. I’d say the pro-Obama folks outnumbered the anti-Obama demonstrators by better than 3-1, but I was impressed that everyone seemed to get along politely.

The one confrontation I witnessed was simply a matter of a small white woman carrying a sign that read “Why do you hate us, Mr. Obama?” being told by a large black man carrying a pro-Obama sign, “He doesn’t hate you. You hate yourself.”

President Obama received a warm welcome in Portland, our wonderfully liberal little city. He probably didn’t even see the few hundred bell-ringing protesters who miscalculated his arrival. Why they thought he’d arrive at the front door is beyond me. His motorcade zoomed up Park Avenue and swung left into the parking lot between Hadlock Field and the Expo, where the president’s limo disappeared into the basement of the building before most people realized he had arrived. Many demonstrators left before the president even started speaking inside.

I did overhear a few anti-Obama demonstrators complaining among themselves that they were “good people” being portrayed as troublemakers by the media. So to give them credit, the Tea Party types were well behaved in Portland. Probably means they were Maine people, not outside agitators.

Maine people tend to get along just fine even when they disagree. It might surprise some regular readers of this column to know, in fact, that though I am often a liberal bomb-thrower in print, I enjoy the company of many more conservative friends.

I’m going to miss Tony Payne’s “Probing Politics” columns in these pages, for instance. Though I disagreed with many of them, I found his ideas on better state government compelling and his views in general to be moderate and thoughtful.

If you are going to hold strong views, it helps to be able to do so without holding a grudge. Not long ago, I enjoyed breakfast with a conservative Christian reader who asked to talk with me because he was upset at the way Yes on 1 supporters of repealing gay marriage were portrayed as homophobes. Over muffins I came to understand how his black-and-white concept of good and evil differed from my own shades-of-gray ethical beliefs.

On Maundy Thursday, the same day I checked out the Expo demonstration, I sat the Good Friday vigil with a good friend from church. Last year we spent our midnight hour symbolically awaiting the Crucifixion quietly discussing how we had come to our distinctly different political views of the world. We bonded in our differences, because we have a whole lot more in common than not – community, church, family, friends, sports.

At a party held to support the local food pantry, I got into an animated discussion of health-care reform with another old buddy from church. We used to bang pretty good on the basketball court, now we occasionally butt heads on issues. He knows I’m a liberal. I know he’s conservative. We disagree, but we respect one another.

As much as I enjoy a good argument, however, I also like to think I know when to keep my big mouth shut. For daughter Nora’s wedding, for example, we spent the spring solstice weekend in a lovely country inn in the White Mountains with my daughter’s new in-laws, conservative Republicans from the great state of Texas. We were all just one big, happy family united by the love of our children.

I didn’t even mention politics until we were all taking our leave, and then it was only to quip, when invited for a stay in San Antonio, that I might have to meet them in Austin.

“I try to stick to the blue states,” I explained.

Life is much more than politics. I just wish I could get my conservative cronies to understand that.

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The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.