That liberal guy you married is now a vocal Republican

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Well, the Republicans are smiling and unpacking their boxes in government buildings all over the country, and my women friends and I are wearing black and weeping and putting our social concerns away with the baby clothes -- fond memories but with no use right now.

Angry White Men have risen up to reclaim their own, we are told, and the hands that pulled the Republican levers during the midterm elections will now use those guns that they feel they have an inalienable right to own to draw a bead on this country's social conscience. All in the name of lower taxes and a more cost-effective approach to things such as children and the environment.

The national press seems just to have discovered these guys, but my friends and I have known about them for years. They live in our neighborhoods. They share our table. They father our children. Those Angry White Men are married to my Horrified White Women friends.

Women who went to bed 20 years ago with a guy who was at least a Democrat -- if not a philandering, pot-smoking draft dodger -- find themselves waking up beside a Bob Dole obstructionist with Rush Limbaugh on the clock radio.

(This does not apply to my friend Betsy, who says she knew how conservative her husband was when they were dating, but she married him anyway. He still has his Goldwater bumper stickers: "In your heart, you know he's right.")

Some of us don't recognize our husbands anymore. And it isn't the hairline or the waistline, but the political lines they have drawn between us.

"When we moved back to the United States after living in Canada," says my friend Diana, "he told every new person we met, 'Health care is a right, not a privilege.' "

They can't even discuss health-care reform now without veins throbbing in his neck. And don't even mention Hillary.

"I don't know what happened to him," she says. "But I think while I was home with the kids, he was out in the business world becoming more and more conservative."

This gap between the personal agendas of men and women, one that I am convinced has been there forever, was demonstrated with particular clarity this past election.

Nationally, 54 percent of male voters cast their ballots for Republican House candidates, while 54 percent of women voters cast their vote for Democrats. It is the largest gender gap since pollsters started keeping track in 1982.

This election season, men were talking in dispassionate terms about running government like a sound business, while women talked passionately about the welfare of children and education. Everybody worried about crime. But men want to reinstate the death penalty, and women want to fund more Head Start programs.

"I have always had a soft heart for anyone," says Diana. "But I find that the only other ones who share my views are teachers and mothers -- women who are down in the trenches with the kids and see that they all deserve a shot."

The instinct to accumulate and then protect is distinctly male and very primal. Men are out in the world earning theirs, and they don't want shirkers or big government to take it away. They go home after a hard day at the mill and find the wife making a long list of the deserving poor. No wonder they are angry.

When my children asked the difference between Republicans and Democrats, I explained, quite succinctly, I thought, that Democrats care about poor people and children and all Republicans care about is their money.

"Let me clarify that," my husband said. "Republicans don't want people like your mother giving all their money away."

The strains that politics puts on marriages make James Carville and Mary Matalin look like Ozzie and Harriet. My husband greets me most mornings by saying: "Well, your boy Clinton is at it again."

Says my friend Diana: "If some Angry White Male wants to talk federalism and states rights, I'll listen. And I might even agree. But not if he is going to stand there and call me a 'counterculture McGovernik.' "

Her husband doesn't see their political differences as a problem. "Hey, after 20 years with the woman, I know when to keep my mouth shut," he says.

It seems to me that if Angry White Men and Empathetic White Women can share the same address, there is hope for the two-party system.

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