Lunch last week with two friends who approach life from opposite ends of the political spectrum:  Fred First, Floyd County’s “first blogger” and Jim Connor, a relatively-recent addition to the area’s population of bloggers and diverse characters.

Fred — for the most part — is an unabashed liberal, an ardent environmentalist with a passion for resource conservation.  He is one of the driving forces behind Sustain Floyd.

Jim is a proud conservative and a gun-safety trainer and with strong beliefs in his causes.  He serves as sergeant-at-arms for the local tea party and moderates their on-line discussion forum.

As most readers know, I don’t fit into a conservative or liberal mold. For the most part, I’m a political agnostic.

Yet the three of us are friends.  We share a common love of writing and photography and we all three have Internet sites where we freely express our opinions.  We also love our country, even if we think it should be headed in different directions.

The fact that we can have lunch together, poke fun at each other and laugh and have a good time makes us an anomaly in today’s overly-stressed and overly-tense political environment where different beliefs become personal vendettas and turn friends into enemies.

As someone involved with politics for most of his professional life — mostly as a journalist and for a while as a Capitol Hill staffer, political operative and a political action committee executive — I’ve watched politics shift from just being part of a person’s life into a controlling influence that dominates thought, actions and the sole determining factor of lifestyle, social interaction and litmus test for friendship.

Because of political differences, some who once called themselves my friend now send letters to editors of publications I write for and demand that I be fired. Some have contacted the advertisers on this web site and others that I have and called on them to drop me as a client because of views I have expressed publicly.

Fred First and I have had differences over the years but we have always worked them out because we value friendship above politics. We’ve have the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.

That’s how true friendship works.  My granddaddy once told me: “A friend will help you move. A true friend will help you move a body.”  Haven’t had to move any bodies lately so I can’t vouch for that litmus test of friendship.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the companionship of friends from widely-varying political and philosophical beliefs.  My circle of friends includes liberals, conservatives, independents, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, heterosexuals, bisexuals and gays.

Yet a growing number of folks I know can no longer do so.  They limit themselves to social interaction only with those of similar political views, obtain news only from sources that agree with their own political bias and attend only events that agree with their narrow views of the world.

Life, in my opinion, is far too short for such limitations.

We all need to remember that this nation was founded on the desire to welcome — and embrace — all forms of opinion, religion and beliefs.  We all need to remember that the expression of a differing opinion does not make one a moron or wrong.  We need to relearn how to enjoy the company of others without labels, stereotypes or bias.

In 1982, I worked on the re-election campaign for Rep. Manuel Lujan of New Mexico.  During that election, I became friends with the campaign manager for Jan Hartke — Lujan’s opponent.

We had dinner, shared beers and campaign war stories and respected each others opinions.  After the election — which Lujan won — I recommended him for a job on the Congressman’s staff as a veterans affairs caseworker.  Manuel did not care if he was Democrat or Republican.  He did care that he was a veteran with a strong commitment to helping those who served.  He became one of the best case workers on a staff known for its casework and constituent service.

Could that happen in today’s highly-charged, overly-personal political environment?  Probably not.

The sad fact that it cannot may explain the mess we’re in as a nation and a society.

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