Saturday, February 23, 2008

In Love? In Line?

It seems like at least half of the adage is true: Democrats really have fallen in love with their two leading candidates for the nomination. Obama and Clinton supporters get weak-kneed at the sight of their icons and go all gooey when hearing their sound bites on the evening news. Republicans, on the other hand, aren't quite where they need to be to hold up their end of the adage. The most powerful single faction in what they refer to as their "big tent," the Christian conservatives, those who like their politics with a heavy admixture of that old-time religion, aren't yet falling in line. Sure, evangelicals/fundamentalists have held their noses and taken the plunge for McCain, but the Huckleberries, the Reverend/Governor Huckabee's die-hard supporters across the Bible Belt, are in danger of leaving the tent.

For the Democratics there is the charm of genetic diversity. Both candidates are visibly, genetically different from every person who has ever held the office for which they are running. As the party that has certainly gone farther out of its way to champion diversity, it must make their hearts go pitter-patter that, regardless of which of their candidates wins the nomination, they will have the chance to produce the first president who is not a white male. There seems to be, floating around the rank-and-file Democrats, an attitude of "It's about time" with regards to this.

It has, in fact, become almost impossible to focus on any differences between Clinton and Obama, except for their gender and race. Excluding the occasional shrill note, both Democratic candidates seem to be involved in a genteel, gloves-on type of campaign. How could they not? The angles and lines of their positions are so similar that they are nearly congruent. Is Obama masking his relative lack of experience by becoming Hillary's policy doppelganger, a less divisive, more charismatic offering, who brings most of the benefits with fewer of the disadvantages of a Hillary candidacy? Is Hillary hewing so closely to the same policies and themes, which she knows are largely mirrored by Obama, because she lacks the vision and/or the charisma to strike out into the uncharted territory of new ideas? Or can we believe that their common policy positions are so nearly perfect that they do not require change?

The Democrats' choice will finally boil down to which voting constituencies believe they have the most to gain from choosing either the experienced, but divisive, woman or the charismatic, but relatively unknown, black man. This is not—repeat: NOT—really a step forward for either a colorblind or a gender-neutral society. Other than their personalities, however, their avowed policies give us little but their race and gender to tell them apart.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have already found their candidate, but Huckabee's Huckleberries don't seem to have noticed. Or they just don't care. I have written at length in previous posts about possible motivations for the Reverend/Governor Huckabee's remaining in the race, despite the statistical impossibility of winning. I have written almost nothing about the Huckleberries. The truth is that they are behaving like Democrats: they have fallen in love with their candidate. The Reverend/Governor is everything the Christian conservative wing of the Republican Party wants: a rock-ribbed social conservative, who blurs the church/state line and whose powers of communication rival that of Ronald Reagan. For them, the chance to vote in support of an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian presidential candidate, who has clearly intimated that he would favor their religious convictions over those of their fellow citizens, trumps the possibility that they might be damaging their party's chances to win the White House in November.

Besides, they can't really wrap their hearts around supporting McCain, who has yet to convince them that he will be any more conservative on social issues than whichever candidate the Democrats serve up.

This state of affairs represents quite a change from the fight for the Republican nomination in 2000, when quite a few Republican moderates were falling in love with John McCain. It might be difficult to recall, after eight years of watching him kiss up to a more than moderately incompetent Bush administration, but McCain was a maverick candidate, who offered a breath of fresh air after two terms of Hillary's husband. We must, in deference to the Truth, admit that Barack Obama is right in saying that "the wheels have fallen off the Straight Talk Express," but eight years ago McCain's brand of straight talk won the hearts of moderates. Although it could overcome neither the inertia of the evangellically-anointed Bush candidacy nor the wiles of Karl Rove in the South Carolina primary, McCain's candidacy struck a chord with those moderates who had fallen in love with the idea of a Republican candidate who did not kowtow to the religious right on every issue.

This time around McCain, despite the fact that he kowtows daily to the religious right, has acquired an inertia of his own, having allowed Romney and Huckabee to split the Christian conservative votes in the early primaries while he built up a substantial lead in delegates. When Romney dropped out, Huckabee's numbers surged and he began to win states in the Bible Belt, but the miracle necessary to overcome McCain's inertia has not materialized. Most Republicans are falling in line behind this candidate, who seems unappetizing to some, but appears to be the best option on their party's menu to win in November.

Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line. This year Democrats' love for their both of their candidates seems to be uniting their party far more than dividing it. For the GOP, however, the Huckleberries' love of their candidate, which has extended past all reasonable hopes of his winning the nomination, is widening the cracks in the coalition that has brought them such great electoral success.

In 1988, the far right wing of the Republican Party fell in line behind the more moderate George H.W. Bush because he had served under Reagan and because he made the right noises about sharing their values. Now, after decades of having been the gatekeepers for their party's nomination, the Christian conservatives are having difficulty falling out of love with Huckabee and into line behind McCain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reverse-Engineering a Perfect Marriage, Part II

In the first part of this attempt to reverse-engineer a perfect marriage from a perfectly dysfunctional one we looked at anger, taking your spouse for granted, avoiding your spouse, lack of communication, and refusing to compromise as ways to really mess things up. In the conclusion we hit the final five of our top ten ways to really screw up your relationship.

Some readers of part one were quick to offer sympathies on the horrendous state of my marriage—and I do appreciate them—but these steps to a marital hell are not especially autobiographical. Sure, we’ve had issues with just about all of these things at one time or another, but even at our worst we didn’t really put in the time and effort that would have been required to make our marriage the worst marriage on earth.

Here is the second half of our list of ways you can make your marriage as far from perfect as possible:

6. Eliminate all physical demonstrations of affection. These include: hand-holding, hugging, kissing, walking arm-in-arm, back rubs, foot massages, and any other pleasant physical contact, including S-E-X. These outward signs of a functioning relationship can sometimes interfere with the inner path to true marital dysfunction. Recently, a preacher, concerned with the divorce rate in his area, made the news by telling the (married) couples in his flock to have sex daily. He’s right, sex usually makes marriage more pleasurable; so avoid it if you want to up the ante of misery.

7. Deception is ideal for making your marriage worse. It really isn’t important what you choose to deceive your spouse about, just make sure to do it often. The increased stress and anxiety you feel while weaving your tangled web will surely be rewarded by the anger, disappointment, and distrust that result from your spouse’s discovery of the truth. In a similar vein, breaking promises you have made to your spouse can certainly become a kind of deception if you do it often enough. So keep at it!

8. Make sure that your marital problems greatly impact the lives of your children. Vent anger at your spouse in their direction every so often. Display for them the appropriate way to show contempt and scorn for one of their parents. Teach them that name-calling and shouted profanity are appropriate means of interacting with those you love. Criticize them by tellng them that they’re just like your spouse. Emphasize spending very little time doing things “as a family” because family things aren’t as important as being upset/angry/hurt.

9. Share your problems with the world. Understand that in order to truly enjoy a dysfunctional marriage, you must ensure that friends, family, acquaintances, and more than a few strangers are aware of what a bastard/bitch your spouse really is. The aim here is to belittle and/or humiliate. Ideally, this information should be imparted to the third party in question in the presence of your spouse, but behind-the-back slander is better than no slander at all if you are seeking true dysfunction. If your audience can still sympathize with your husband/wife after they’ve heard you out, then you need to work on your delivery.

10. More extreme measures such as verbal or physical abuse or adultery can be employed if the above guidelines have been tried and have failed to produce a terrible, dysfunctional marriage. Be careful, however, because both adultery and abuse have a tendency to lead quickly to the end of a relationship, rather than the proudly dysfunctional marriage you hope to achieve.

After reading and memorizing the list, a near-perfect marriage is only a single step away. All you have to do is to avoid doing any of the above and you should have a perfect marriage. Simple, eh? Good luck!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Reverse-engineering A Perfect Marriage, Part I

Long ago, before we figured out that whatever is making our marriage sick cannot be cured by marriage counseling, our marriage counselor asked the following question: “What do you imagine the perfect marriage would be like?”

Needless to say, we were stumped. While marriage is something the vast majority of the population will experience, few people claim to have achieved perfection at it. My friends and I are not among that few. We had no idea what a perfect marriage looked like, let alone how to achieve one for ourselves.

Later, like the proverbial bolt from the blue, it struck me. The specifications for a perfect marriage would have to be reverse-engineered from a truly lousy one.

All that remained was to figure out how to have the most miserably dysfunctional marriage possible in order to discover what a perfect marriage would be like. After considerable thought on the matter, here are ten steps to take in order to have a terrible, dysfunctional marriage:

1. Get angry all the time with each other. Whether it is appropriate or not, just get mad and vent your anger on the other person. Overreact to small provocations. Take out your frustrations with things outside the home on your immediate family. Try to ‘win’ every fight/discussion. Be sarcastic--and verbally abusive, too. Use anger to get out of tasks/situations you’d rather not be in. Make venom and bile part of your family’s daily menu. Provoke your spouse to get them angry—pass it around! Damn the emotional damage it causes, full speed ahead with your wrath! And always, Always, ALWAYS hold a grudge.

2. Take your partner for granted. Hold the belief that they’ll just always be there. Make sure that it seems like you don’t care enough to appreciate their efforts. Don’t bother asking them to do you favors or help you out—tell them to do it with an attitude that says, “Be damned if you don’t.” Certainly, try to place no emphasis upon what your spouse believes to be important. Make no effort to seek their input before making plans or spending large amounts of money. Criticize their efforts harshly if they do not meet your expectations—regardless of the circumstances or extenuating factors—because the only thing that matters is results, to hell with intentions. Most important of all: if you make an error, never EVER admit to it, let alone apologize, because to apologize is to lessen yourself and to elevate your spouse higher than they deserve.

3. Try to spend as little time as possible with your spouse. Try to ensure that through your words and behavior your spouse understands that you’d rather not have them around or that you’re annoyed/embarrassed by their presence. Avoid them and always make sure they know it’s their fault that they are being avoided.

4. De-emphasize communication. Proper communication makes appropriately vituperative fighting far more difficult and makes it less likely you will remember to take your spouse for granted. Communicating also counts as spending time with your spouse and should be avoided for that reason alone.

5. Never compromise. In a genuinely dysfunctional relationship one spouse is always right and the other is forever wrong. Compromising means that you are unsure as to which spouse you are. Don’t make that mistake.

As you can see, just mastering the first five of our ten steps to dysfunction would make your marriage an almost perfectly miserable place to be. Come back later this week for Part II and see how deception, abuse, adultery, public humiliation, and children can help you make things even worse.