As everyone heads to the polls today, I'm reminded that the CBS series Blue Bloods, about a family of New York cops and lawyers, has become an unlikely balm for my frustration about America's nasty political culture.
The soothing starts with Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg). He's a fascinating character whose personal morality allows him to beat the crap out of suspects who seem to be withholding evidence. He also has a soft spot for "the weak" -- women, children, etc. -- and seems to feel it's his duty as a detective (and a man) to protect them. He's not a misogynist -- the show has worked hard to establish a respectful relationship between Danny and his wife and Danny and his female partner -- but he's got an old-school attitude about the social order.
And although it's never been stated, I'd wager that Danny would identify himself as a political and social conservative. Almost every episode of the show features a dinner table debate among the extended Reagan clan, and Danny always comes down on the ostensibly Republican side. He gets heated when someone suggests that drugs should be legal or that criminals should have inclusive rights, and he often chastises his brother Jamie, who left Harvard Law School to become a beat cop, for being an elite, Ivy League softie who doesn't know how the real world works. In moments like this, I almost expect Danny to quote Sarah Palin.
But here's the thing: Unlike the people who bloviate on cable news about their so-called conservative values, I'm actually willing to listen to Danny. His character is written and played with nuance, with flaws, and with admirable traits... so even though I might disagree with some of the things he says or does, I can't dismiss him as a jerk, a lunatic, or a man who would like to see my rights as a gay man obliterated in the name of what's good for America.
Meanwhile, that's almost always how I see conservative candidates and pundits. They play to their base by underlining their most radical views, and their opponents play to me by underlining them, too. I'm left inside a system that boils everyone down, asking me to make quick decisions about right, wrong, good, evil.
And the truth is, it works. I try my damndest to live a thoughtful life, but after years of exposure to Tea Party vitriol, Red State vitriol, and Evangelist vitriol, I almost always assume that Tea Partiers, Red Staters, and Evangelicals wish me harm.
I know this is unfair. I also know that other people jump the same unfair conclusions about me. But I'm a person, you know? I can be influenced.
That's why I find it almost spiritually refreshing to be presented with a character like Danny Regan, who is so different from me, but who still seems human. I see Danny sit at dinner with his family -- some of whom are his political opposites -- and I see him, I see all of them, talk to each other and listen to each other. Thus far, no one has changed anyone's mind, but no one has been shamed away from the table, either.
Blue Bloods, then, has created a world where different points of view can coexist in the same family. How nice to imagine that metaphor spun outward, to imagine different Americans allowing each other space at the table. How nice to imagine people with wildly different views still finding ways to care for each other. (You see this in ABC's Brothers & Sisters, too, but I don't watch that show.)
Today, on election day, I'd like to believe that I will find more ways to interact with my political opposites in a Blue Bloods manner, instead of a Blue State/Red State manner. I'd like to believe that more and more Americans will find ways to stop shouting at each other and instead start listening over dinner.