What leaves me a bit uncertain even as I begin is that there are those who think the election of one or the other of the candidates will be a disaster of virtually cosmic proportions--that the election of Romney or Obama will mean the triumph of evil over good and will threaten the very existence of our nation and of any kind of world worth living in. I admire the passion of such people, but sincerely believe they are not fully in touch with reality. My own best thinking, coupled with the attitudes of people whose wisdom and inspiration I trust, leads me to believe we can look forward to the future with confidence and hope no matter which candidate is elected. The sort of fearful and heated imagination that links the election of a particular candidate to an imminent disaster on a massive scale betrays a distorted sense of the true nature of things and incapacitates a person for the real work of engagement with others in finding solutions to problems. (I have tried to avoid actually using the word "crazy.")
For the rest of you, I want to make my argument for why you can still respect and even continue to like and enjoy your friends who favor the other candidate. My purpose here is not to argue that one candidate is better than the other. (I make my case for my own view on that matter elsewhere.) Here I just want to argue that a reasonable person of goodwill can end up favoring either of the major candidates.
I have had some personal association with one of the candidates and have followed both closely for a number of years, trying to assess both their personal characters and their political positions. In my considered opinion, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are decent, reasonable, intelligent men of goodwill. They are both good fathers and faithful husbands (and we've had passable presidents who have been neither). Both have leadership skills, energy, commitment, and a desire to accomplish positive things. Both, of course, have significant flaws, but not flaws greater than we can reasonably expect in candidates for president. And honestly, I think we could have done far worse--there are others who have shown interest in the presidency who are far less capable and admirable than the two most of us will be choosing between.
Obama's and Romney's positions and proposals are at different points on the political spectrum, but neither is truly extreme, and I'm relatively confident that in the real life workings of national life, their proposals will moderate further as they seek the enlist the support of the American people. In addition, anything they do will be influenced not only by public opinion but by the competing authority of the legislative and judicial branches. Assuming that some degree of cooperation can be established between the president and Congress, any legislation that comes into being will need to be acceptable to both.
To be more specific: Both candidates know that the federal debt is a pressing problem, and both think they have a plan for dealing with it. Both support the view that the nation must be militarily strong, though they differ on some details of how that strength can be best maintained. Both want to protect American interests abroad and encourage the positive aspirations of people around the world. Both want to encourage prosperity at home. Both favor individual responsibility and creativity, while also acknowledging the need for some kind of safety net for those truly in need. Neither is proposing radical changes to our economic or political systems. Though the differences in their approaches are certainly significant, these differences are relatively minor when viewed from a broad perspective of historical and global understanding. And reasonable arguments can be made for both candidates' approaches.
So I guess what I'm proposing is that we try to lower the temperature, get in a frame of mind where we can actually consider the candidates' positions fairly and intelligently, and do our best to assess for ourselves who we think has the best approach and will do the best job. We can share our views and make our arguments and perhaps even listen, with a desire for understanding, to the views and arguments of others. But we don't need to descend into a frenzied state of contention and vilification or into a hardened state of cynicism and contempt.
We can respect the decisions of our friends, even when they differ from our own. And we can remain friends not only after the election is over, but even during the season leading up to it.
An addendum: One factor that makes this sort of peaceable approach difficult for some is that some ultimate values are at stake, the sort often tied to religious beliefs and commitments. For those who share my religious affiliation, I'll be creating an additional post explaining how I believe we can differ politically, even when we share--or are pretty sure we share--the same faith and moral values. Stay tuned . . .