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Aimee Lee Ball Headshot

Lessons on Harmonious Political Dissonance

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The most fascinating marriage in the history of the world has got to be James Carville and Mary Matalin. I'm mildly interested in the governor and first lady of California too, but the Shriver/Schwarzenegger alliance seems less unholy, with a modicum of common ground, while Carville and Matalin take the notion of "strange bedfellows" to the nth power.

The Ragin' Cajun has mused publicly that a marriage of political opposites is probably not so different than one between a Christian and a Jew. But interfaith marriages (hopefully) involve full-throated support, or at least benign neglect, of the spouse's religion, while Matalin and Carville comprise a couple whose every working, and perhaps waking, moment seems dedicated to annihilating the other's political position and thwarting the other's professional success. One might reasonably assume that sharing a home and family could lead to a meeting of minds, but Matalin has let it be known that motherhood pushed her even further to the right on issues such as school vouchers, taxes, and welfare. She jokes that the secret to marital bliss is "faith, family, and good wine." He says it's "surrender, capitulation, and retreat." But really, how do they not kill each other?

I've been thinking about this union lately in light of our current political gridlock. Carville and Matalin might serve as an excellent template for our obstinate and partisan Congress. They have diametrically opposed convictions about almost everything, but they seem to get things done for mutual benefit -- the laundry, the carpool, two children. Even their home décor, recently featured in Architectural Digest, strikes a clearly compromising note -- neither red nor blue but unabashedly orange. Small increments of progress and accomplishment -- the Congressional equivalent of the laundry and the carpool -- would be most welcome in Washington these days. Is there a teachable moment here?

And yet.... I am so apoplectically angry at almost every Republican public figure -- the race-baiting of Rush Limbaugh, the proud ignorance of Sarah Palin, the arrogance of Michael Steele, the bloviating of Haley Barbour, the thinly veiled glee and suffocating ambition of Eric Cantor -- that I can't reasonably expect more tolerance from others. Of course, I'm sad to admit, there are Democratic idiots too, but I don't get apoplectic about them -- I get embarrassed. An African-American friend of mine admits that she listens to news reports about horrific crimes ("Man Shoots Wife, Then Kills Self") silently wishing: Please don't let it be black folks. It is natural that we weep and fret and feel especially vulnerable and responsible about our own peeps. This is never truer than when partisan politics are involved.

For a brief while, I dated a Republican (and "brief" opens up a whole separate discourse on what's missing in the Harvard Business School curriculum about personal integrity). Even before he showed true colors, the only reason our relationship had a prayer in hell was that he became so appalled by the politics of Dubya, the Swiftboaters, and McCain/Palin, he voted for Obama in '08. But he never failed to gloat about the shame of John Edwards' baby-mama, and I never failed to gloat about the shame of Mark Sanford's Brazilian hot mama. When an executive at my ex's firm was indicted for fraud -- a big fat cauldron of trouble for all the partners -- I was dismayed... that the scoundrel was an avowed liberal.

I recently wondered aloud (or the modern equivalent of aloud: on Facebook) if it's wrong that I'm a little happy when Dick Cheney is ailing. I have a hard time with the concept of "respecting the office" (I'm still stunned at the collective national memory loss that attended the death of Richard Nixon) or honoring someone's opinion if the opinion is myopic, dither-headed, elitist, or just plain dumb. When Matalin's former boss was hospitalized with yet another (is it his fifth?) heart attack, I would have given anything to eavesdrop on the phone call that Cheney received from Barack Obama -- "good wishes" for the man who has vilified the president as unfit to lead the country. And I know that there must have been Tea Party-animals who were pleased when Bill Clinton recently needed stent surgery. Nobody in Congress admits to such venal thoughts. On C-Span they are "the gentleman from Wisconsin" and his "good friend" from the "great state" of Utah, while their actions and efforts expose the fact that we are still red states and blue states, still Sharks and Jets, only now we are not fighting over turf in the South Bronx but about such issues as whether the law of the land will support a woman's right to dominion over her own body.

So I must grudgingly admire Matalin, even while she cheerfully disparages her husband as a "serpenthead" (and I don't believe she's referring solely to the shape of his cranium). She's a lot more candid than most public political figures. I'm not suggesting that she give up her day job (actually, I'd be delighted if she gave up her day job -- one less strident oppositional voice). But perhaps she and James could run a sideline business as Congressional marriage counselors, sharing their secrets for harmonious dissonance. They could lead the dysfunctional ersatz family of men and women on Capitol Hill toward some rapprochement, examining the political parallels of such domestic contretemps as when to send in the troops (parental discipline), how to pay for health care (household finance), or what limits to set on lobbyists (taking out the trash).

Then again, in Congress, it would be hard to agree on what constitutes the trash.