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The politics of Pawnee

Parks and Recreation” is one of my favorite television shows of all time. Not only is it creative, hilarious and endlessly re-watchable, but it’s also friendly and optimistic, without a single cynical bone in its body.

Beyond critical and financial success, the show created truly great characters like Chris Traeger, Andy Dwyer, Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope. The crux of the show’s thoughtful charm comes from the relationship between the latter two characters, Ron and Leslie, played perfectly by Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler.

These two people could not disagree more politically. Leslie is clearly progressive and liberal while Ron loves the free market and wants the government to stay out of absolutely everything. If Democrats and Libertarians were concentrated into two physical people, Leslie and Ron would fit the bill.

Yes, they are polar opposites. Leslie is a social butterfly, Ron is as private as it gets. Leslie loves the city. Ron loves the woods. Ron got married in his house, alone, and Leslie threw the biggest gala her town had ever seen. They fight constantly about everything, but — this is important — they do not hate each other. In fact, they’re best friends. They genuinely like each other.

They have conflicting worldviews, but they are both good people. They would do anything for their friends and have deep affection for those around them. No fan of the show, regardless of political affiliation, would say either Ron or Leslie are mean to or about one another.

Granted, the show is largely unrealistic and steers away from the most contentious issues of contemporary politics. Gun control, abortion, gay marriage, the economy: none of these are even whispered about in the world of “Parks and Rec.” Leslie isn’t grandstanding about immigration or guns; she’s just trying to keep her parks afloat.

The show’s politics are detached from the tense, poisonous debates of today, which allows Ron and Leslie to be best friends despite their differing worldviews. Still, the fact such a fiction needs to be created in order to build a believable friendship between a liberal and a conservative is very telling of today’s political climate.

In modern-day America, there is always more to the issues than the issues. We tend to link our identities to our beliefs, so opposition to a certain government policy or implementation of a new one can feel like a personal attack. Politicians insult one another so often, it is surprising when they actually talk policy.

Ron and Leslie, however, value friendship and respect above that, and they have found a way to share the world with each other. The characters of the show may attack each other’s ideas, but they never attack each other. This is not “House of Cards” or “Scandal” or the 2016 election, where one side sees the other as a two-dimensional enemy.

We tend to stay within our bubble where we think that anyone who disagrees with us is ignorant, wrong or evil. It would be nice if we could all be a bit more like Leslie and Ron, holding fast to our own principles without demonizing those who oppose us.

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