The great political divide

I emailed a funny story about Obama to a friend the other day — not a good idea, I suppose, but it wasn’t offensive, and my friend and I have been close for years. My friend (I’ll call him Paul) is a writer, same as me, so there is shared interest. We’re both Irish. We’re both film buffs. We’re both Roman Catholic —- not in name only, but church going.

Not once in 15 years have I heard the man cuss. I’ve seen him get angry a few times, but fudge and shoot are about as much profanity as he allows himself. Me, I slip on occasion. Not Paul. He is that kind of guy.

I’ll never forget how he was there for me when my ad agency was taken over by a 36-year-old with perfect teeth — little experience, but nice teeth — and he fired all the writers and art directors over the age of 50. I should have seen it coming. Even supermodels get dumped when their breasts drop like sandbags and Cosmo stops calling. In advertising, it’s all about presenting a youthful image. When scouting news business, a nose ring plays better than 30 years of experience in the trenches.

My writing career up to that point consisted of TV commercials for aerosol cheese and Ballantine beer (now defunct; not my fault) and Muse Airlines (also defunct; not my fault) and cellulite-dissolving bath beads, which sold well because I said the stuff was good.

Then came Black Friday. It took two days to reach rock bottom, and since the Brooklyn Bridge had yet to become an option, I called Paul. “We’ll meet at Starbucks — my treat — and get this figured out.” Over coffee — we’re not into lattes — he convinced me to write a memoir, a novel, or short story — something. A month later, I was back on my feet.

But politics lifted its middle finger the other day, and I’m not thick-skinned enough to separate myself from the moment. Did I not know he supports Obama? Reading between the lines — not always a good idea — I sense that our friendship is now strained. Paul never said it was. Then again, he wouldn’t.

Maybe, I’m overreacting. Then again, maybe I cut too deep. Politics divides. But never has it seemed so hateful. In the Fifties and the Sixties, my dad and his closest friends, Tom, Dick and Harry (yeah, their real names), were politically at odds, but it never got in the way of their friendship. Heated battles, they had many. But afterwards they embraced Happy Hour and prayed for whoever was elected. Country first.

Nowadays, ideology defines us. MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, The New York Times — and yes, Fox News — have seen to that. Chris Matthews is no Walter Cronkite. Rush Limbaugh is no Edward R. Murrow. And Maureen Dowd could learn much from Katharine Graham.

Nowadays, those on the left are branded as baby-killers or Marxists; those on the right are Nazis or racists or homophobes. Any middle ground has been removed, intentionally. Divide and conquer is now the order of the day. God help us.

Pat Fagan is a former creative director/writer at New York and Midwest ad agencies.