I had a fascinating real-life conversation with an African American woman and a man from Ireland who is now an American citizen. We were talking about why American conservatives perceive Obama to be a socialist. They both, initially, found the claim inexplicable.
The Irish American man is disgusted with the way Americans approach politics. He said that in Ireland, Obama would be viewed as a conservative moderate.
I said, sure, in Ireland.
Then I started talking about the textbook definition of socialism - public ownership of the means of production.
The African American woman is an Obama supporter, but her daughter is a Republican who voted against Obama. She saw right away how the public ownership issue could be perceived in Obama's bailouts of banking and the automobile industry.
To the Irish American, it seemed that these industry bailouts were the opposite of socialism - they were government support of private industry.
It was an interesting conversation, because we were able to proceed, after some initial misunderstandings and emotional frustrations, to at least agree on what some of the underlying disputes were.
Political discussions that actually clear the air
are distressingly rare.