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Question: I’ve got an Obama button pinned to my jacket, which I wear everywhere—including to the office. Though nobody’s said anything to me about it, I’m concerned it might be inappropriate in the workplace. Any tips on how I can keep my job without hiding my political beliefs? —Emily C.
Answer: Your question is all too timely, as you are no doubt aware that things have generally been getting quite out of hand in the area of office etiquette. If you’re not getting punched out in the company gym for defrauding your investors, then people are claiming you were punched out in the company gym—either way, conventional wisdom says you deserve a public beatdown. It also claims, in regard to more sensitive matters such as politics and religion, that such topics of discussion are off-limits in polite or professional company. The paradox here, of course, is that not only do we as a nation desperately need to find common ground on political issues and a civil way of expressing these beliefs, but only an uninterested nitwit who’s been living in a cave in Waziristan for the past year could not be totally losing their shit over the presidential election coming close at hand. Furthermore, if your office is anything like mine, it’s damn near impossible not to constantly dish about what the papists are up to.
The question, then, becomes how to interact with co-workers in a professional manner and not let on that, considering how tense things are, you could strangle them for their foolishly dangerous worldview. I’d like to tell you exactly how to navigate this fine line between cordiality and charges being pressed, but as a Non-Expert I am only qualified to tell you how not to do so.
Luckily, I worked with someone at my office earlier this year who is a perfect model for how not to broach a subject of political persuasion. Let’s call him “Elliot” because that’s his name and I don’t like him. He was a liberal extremist of the nuttiest order, a conspiracy theorist, a disgraceful freeloader, and a prideful blowhard. He also did “silly,” sometimes racist, accents a propos of nothing, which made him one of the more insidiously toxic people I’ve had to not strangle at work. An example exchange with him while filling a cup at the water cooler, per se, would go something like this:
Elliot: (in a terrible British accent) Crikey, leave some for the rest of us, gov’nor!
You: (sighing) Hi, Ellio—
Elliot: (interrupting) Did you know that Dick Cheney, a week before 9/11, had the strategic air defense patrol reassigned to training exercises in Alaska just as he was paying to have secret operatives line the support columns of the Twin Towers with explosives? Do you know what the melting point of steel is? It’s all in my blog. You should read my blog. Dick Cheney inside job 9/11 George Bush.
Much to my salvation and the general relief of my department, Elliot was let go, largely due to his tendency to corner and force his insanity upon his co-workers. Wearing a pin in support of your candidate is barely even a politicized act by comparison to the egregious kind of thought-assault we were subjected to, but I’ll humor you. Let’s set up a few scenarios of potential political discussions in the workplace so we can contrast what Elliot would have done with what you, a decent human being, would do in response.
The coffee pot in the break room is empty. A coworker was just seen leaving the area with what must be the last cup. The coworker did not start brewing a new pot.
The Elliot response would be to immediately leave the empty coffee-maker and follow the coworker back to his or her desk. He would then say something like, “Thanks, Jack Abramoff! What are you? A Reaganite? You should be ashamed of yourself! Death to capitalists!”
You, however, would quietly set a new pot brewing and not say anything to the coworker: An Obama supporter should rise above it.
Over a department lunch, a senior executive mentions that, with the current state of the economy, he or she has decided to sell off the bulk of their stocks due to the unstable markets.
Elliot, while stuffing his pockets with sandwiches, would say, “That McCain d-bag has 15 mansions! I’m pretty sure I speak for the rest of us when I say that property is theft. If the Republicans could get that through their thick skulls, then I’m sure we’ll finally be able to prove that George Bush and bin Laden are the same person, and that person eats babies.”
You would merely say, “I don’t have any investments. Or health care. I’m a temp.”
A new employee joins your team, and you notice that he or she has a “Pro-Life”-emblazoned Precious Moments figurine decorating his or her desk.
Elliot would tell that person’s superior that he or she is creating discord in the workplace—immediately after calling the new employee a hatemonger and smashing his or her figurine against the wall.
You probably shouldn’t say anything at all, but, when elected to executive office someday, try to appoint judges that have a healthy record for upholding legal precedent.
Ultimately, the more subtlety you can employ to deliver your message, the better. In making your political beliefs known around the office without being too overt or unprofessional, the best catch-all response to any potentially politically incendiary comment made in the workplace is currently, “I’m not a racist.” See how easy that is?
You already show a great deal more concern than most of the people I’ve worked with, so ultimately I wouldn’t worry too much about something as minor as an Obama pin. The question you have to ask yourself is, should such a slight display of your political affiliations become a problem, would you really want to work in such an environment? Just as unconscionable as it is to fire U.S. attorneys for not prosecuting on political grounds, or pushing to have a state trooper fired for issues of a personal, Jerry Springer-esque nature, not allowing employees to respectfully and openly express their political identities is downright un-American. Having no opinion is, I should think, a greater cause for concern, and you deserve to work for someone who feels the same.
My final words of advice to you, then, are to quit.