Trouble in Paradise

The Presidential Debate as Seen by a Conservative Husband and a Liberal Wife

Susannah Breslin and her husband are polar opposites politically, and life, she writes, is never boring.

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On November 19, 2011, my husband I eloped in Las Vegas(PDF). We’d met nine days before. In a little chapel off the Las Vegas Strip, we vowed to spend the rest of our lives together. There was no mention of our political allegiances.

I was born and raised in Berkeley, California, quite possibly the most liberal city in America. As a child, I danced around the living room to Free to Be … You and Me, an album of self-empowerment tunes created by the Ms. Foundation for Women, attended a hippy grade school alongside kid with names like Sunshine and Storm, and was told I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. I always vote Democrat, support gay marriage, and believe it’s our collective responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

My husband is a Republican from New Jersey. He’s a corporate strategic planner and an officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserve who deployed to Iraq twice. He believes in limited government, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and a strong national defense. In the last presidential election, he voted for John McCain. Recently, he received a letter in the mail from Mitt Romney, who was looking for donations. My husband revealed his intention to contribute to Romney’s campaign--under both our names. In response, I shrieked in horror.

At the polls this November, we will cancel out each other’s votes.

We’ve navigated this election year as newlyweds. Every morning, my husband sits at the kitchen counter, reading out loud the latest headlines, and a political Ping-Pong match ensues. We disagree on Obamacare, the economy, the federal deficit. He veers right. I veer left. We may be married, but our politics are engaged in a bitter divorce battle over custody of the presidency.

For our first presidential debate as Mr. and Mrs., we take our seats on opposite ends of the sofa, cheering the opposite sides of a screen split down the middle. Even before the podiums are occupied, we have pledged our allegiances.

“Mitt’s the underdog,” my husband declares. “He’s like the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

“He looks like a robot,” I point out.

“It’s the hair,” my husband counters.

“Look, I’m Romney,” I announce and smile freakishly at my imaginary opposition as the president and the robot tackle jobs.

“Romney’s lapel pin is bigger,” my husband asserts.

“Romney looks constipated,” I counter.

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“Well, he’s not talking,” my husband explains.

I writhe as it becomes clear my husband’s pick is winning. Considering the deficit, Obama stares at the podium like he’s trying to solve a particularly challenging crossword puzzle, and Romney recites a list of solutions to the nation’s problems. I wonder silently what happened to the hope-inspiring orator I stood in a line the length of several city blocks to vote for four years ago, a president so passive on tonight’s stage it seems he’ll do anything to avoid having voters dismiss him as an angry black man.

“Did you know I was a liberal before you met me?” I ask my husband as the men dissect social security.

“Yes, but I thought you could be reformed,” he confesses.

“Would you rather I was a conservative?” I propose.

“No, because then you wouldn’t be any fun,” my husband replies, undermining his own platform.

My husband claims I’ve become more conservative since we wed. “You’re not so liberal-ish,” he observes. I’m unsure whether I should take this as a compliment or an insult.

My husband’s approach to the economy is Darwinian: “I go out and kill the bears. Liberals want the bear to live because they care about the bear. As soon as the bear attacks them, they’ll be screaming."

As the debate turns to Obamacare, I decide to launch a counterattack. Four days after we eloped, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I’m fine now, but I was lucky.

“What if I was poor?” I want to know. “What if I couldn’t afford treatment? Should I be left to die?"

“The death panels!” my husband hoots and pumps his fist in the air.

I try not to take his gesture personally.

Finally, we find one thing upon which we agree: Jim Lehrer’s total inadequacy as a moderator.

“He’s like a replacement referee,” my husband offers, and I concur. “He needs a whistle.”

As we see it, if you marry someone who agrees with you all the time, you’re going to have a very boring marriage. In our case, we may not agree, but we’ll always have something to talk about, and the key is being willing to listen to the other side.

No matter how wrong they are.