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It seems most people come to politics through an issue about which they are deeply concerned. We may have never voted before or maybe our best sleep in high school was during our poli sci class, but when politics actually touches our lives in a significant way we’re motivated to stand up, add our voices to the fray and call our elected officials to task.

This past week, we saw that even Justin Bieber has his political cross to bear. Sure, it was a slightly misguided effort but it’s still pretty cute, the way he’s trying to be all politically-conscious. (If “cute” is what pays his bills, it’s not condescending to note when it’s achieved, right?) It was certainly the first time Bieber got this girl’s attention. And it has clearly struck a chord with Bieber followers, too. The group’s name, Fight for the Future, might be slightly mellow dramatic, but what else would we expect?  And truly, I am loving that some younger people are engaged in politics as a result.

In fact, it was one of the things I loved best about my job working as an aide for a US Senator. Every kind of person you can imagine would come all the way to Washington to tell the story of how a loved one is gravely ill and can’t get the health care they need, or what tax regulation buried in some law needs to change because their hard-working family is inordinately affected or how they just couldn’t imagine our national life would be quite as meaningful without public funding for the arts. And I can honestly say that their stories, told via phone, letter or in person, make a difference in how elected officials vote.

What’s worth noting is that there seems to be an almost inseparable link between whatever drives us to politics and the party with which we end up affiliating. If we’re initially (and I am talking specifically about that first impassioned call to our Senator’s office, the letter to our Governor, the rally we drive 4 hours to attend) driven to politics by a tax issue or a concern for bolstering national defense, we generally tend to find a home in the Republican camp. If our first political t-shirt, campus political meeting or bumper sticker has to do with environmental issues or a concern for the poor, we tend to side with the Democrats.

Why is that? Since the “why” is a longer response to be saved for a different post, I’ll stick to the “why not” for now. It’s not because the Democrats don’t care about fair taxes or keeping our country safe or because Republicans want to see a world of total environmental degradation and people living in cardboard boxes. Although, that doesn’t come too far from the assumptions I made when I was first entering politics as a teenager. What primarily drew me to politics were social justice issues. The rhetoric I heard and the stereotypes led me to believe that Republicans only cared about keeping their money while Democrats actually cared. Or in the reverse, the assumption might be made that Democrats would ransack the nation’s treasuries to make government the solution to today’s problems while only Republicans can be trusted to care about our nation’s fiscal future.

The problem is for some of us, our political understanding never evolves beyond that. Voting happens, political campaigns are run and enemies are made based on those kinds of assumptions. What’s damaging about this type of politics is that most political activity actually seems fueled by a deliberate perpetuation of gross generalizations and divisive oversimplifications. There’s a reason political ads are so ugly. People get revved up and that, in turn, motivates people to open their wallets to donate and to get to the polls and vote. I know we all say we HATE them, but I promise you– they wouldn’t keep running them if they didn’t work. An obscene amount of research goes into it.

I chose to make my first post about this for a reason. On a personal level, the more I actually got to know about politics and about the people that held differing political beliefs, the harder it became for me to make those assumptions and the more common ground I saw. And now I very rarely feel comfortable in either camp, but I’d like to try to build a bridge between the Grand Canyon that we think divides us and gather for a true tete a tete…ok, i could get lost in that metaphor. Long story short (and better metaphor for this blog), I think we’d just be better served if we spent more time around a table sharing good ideas and less time throwing food across the room (red meat, anyone?).

I want to spend a few of my future posts talking about some of the significant commonalities we overlook. And I promise you I’m not talking about the “we love our kids, we care about our future, we all want what’s best…” cliches. I’m talking about the sticky issues like who is to blame for poverty, whether or not to legalize (or keep legal) abortion and gay marriage, and the role of religion in politics.


And I’d love to know what first brought you to the world of politics?

So, perhaps a little lighter fare on the table today than I hope to offer in the future, but here’s a recipe to make up some of the difference. I actually had to do some refrigerator diving last night to figure out what to serve. I had originally planned something completely different, but my family and I took a lovely, late fall walk at one of our local nature centers and ended up lingering longer than expected to watch some busy muskrats. And for most of us, that’s how life goes (maybe fewer kids and muskrats and more chatty clients and traffic jams, but same general idea). Lots of my meals come together this way so in a future post, I’ll share my basic formula for those nights when I feel like I don’t have the time or pantry selection to make a decent meal, so I have to get creative and throw something together. Here’s what I came up with last night.

Brussels Sprouts a la Bieber

4 slices bacon

salt and pepper to taste

1-2 cloves crushed garlic

1/4 c. chopped onions

2 c. chicken breasts, sliced into 1/2″ strips

2 c. brussels sprouts

2 T. fresh thyme, chopped

A box of couscous, prepared

In a large pan, saute the bacon over medium/high heat until crispy but not charred. Remove the bacon and most of the drippings, reserving enough of the fat to coat the pan plus approximately 1-2 tablespoons. Turn down the heat to medium and you may have to add some additional vegetable oil if your bacon was too lean to render the additional 1-2 T. fat. Throw in the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until tender. Add the chicken and lightly brown on all sides. Cover the pan for a few minutes and continue to cook over medium/low heat to ensure the chicken is cooked through. Meanwhile, cut in half then lightly steam the brussels sprouts in the microwave to give them a head start. I would suggest 2 minutes on high. Add the brussels sprouts and thyme to the chicken, stirring frequently until the brussels sprouts get some of that nice brown on the edges but are not wilted or falling apart. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Sprinkle with bacon bits. Serve over couscous. Serves approx 4.