I’ve never been a Democrat, and it’s been decades since I really thought of myself as a Republican. Neither are in any way my tribe, unless my tribe is just those who are concerned with politics. But I think it’s important for us all to stay connected to one another, and to make the effort to understand and even empathize with those who may be your opposition, and to not be a dick about it.
At least once a year, I suggest that Libertarians (or Greens, Anarchists, Socialists/Communists, Transhumanists, whatever) make it a point to attend a Republican and a Democratic event, and talk to attendees like they’re people. Because they are. To connect truthfully, but with a heavy focus on listening to them without just waiting for your turn to tell them how they are wrong. This is probably even more important to do if you are a Republican or Democrat – to make the opposing team’s rally without an eye on argument or proselytization.
Now, in practice, this can be excruciating, and a reminder of many of the reasons you really aren’t a part of their tribe. For me this year, it served as a reminder of why I opted out when I was hoping to see some redeeming signals of the tides changing at the local level.
I wish I could report that all of what I witnessed was people acting in good faith out of a duty to promote truth or justice as they saw it, but that’s never been what motivates most voters.
The events I attended were about a week apart, and the negative stereotypes I’ve always viewed as unfair exist for a reason.
The first event was a “conservative” ‘Chicken Burn’. Greeting you as you approached the driveway was an elephant parade float, but also wide smiles, many of which were sincere. Both events lead you past tables meant to promote candidates or issues on your way to the food or drink drawing you in. This event had a table for A Convention of States, a Pro-Life organization, one selling books on economic theory, and several issue-specific campaigns rather than candidates, given there aren’t huge primaries around.
The fixtures were pretty dismissable standard fair for what I’ve seen at GOP events in years prior. This was actually comforting in a certain way. But the attendees were what really stood out.
There was a woman singing (and to be fair, singing well) “God Bless America” on a karaoke machine. She looked like all the other women there of a certain age, which was exactly like any anchor on Fox News. There was no shortage of MAGA hats perched upon white boomers, and the average age seemed to be roughly double mine (when I’m creeping into middle age myself).
Standing in line waiting for muh chicken within the host’s home, I looked around at all the vintage Americana and Precious Moments dolls. I own several American flag themed things myself, but the things here were un-distressed, un-ironic displays which would have been just at home when the 70s wallpaper was new. The first conversation I overheard was entirely about the potato salad, and the first person to try and talk to me without prompting began by telling me just what was wrong with my generation.
A friend of mine who still works exclusively in-party and excuses much of Trump despite his better personal leanings arrived, and I was happy to see a friendly face – and the only black one there. I hadn’t really seen him since I had moved away. He came up with a hug and a warm greeting and asked, “What are you doing here, man?”
I looked around at the crowd, dribbling chicken grease down some all-American bulging guts. The kind of people that use motorized carts in Walmarts and are actively avoided at family picnics once they start on the PBR. I noticed someone wearing a shirt referencing Ilhan Omar and incest which may or may not have had a message about sending her back. The woman on the mic had moved on to some kind of patriotic song that’s more than just a couple of decades old but definitely wasn’t “Living in America” by James Brown. Think more of a Springsteen or John Denver theme, possibly the Star Spangled Banner but definitely not the Hendrix version.
I looked back at my friend. “I don’t f—ing know, Chris.” It took him a couple of seconds to register my misunderstanding of his question before clarifying:
“No, I meant I thought you were down in Texas, now.”
As for the speakers, they said some things I agreed with (but that they didn’t take nearly far enough) and some things I disagreed with (strongly), and overall on policy it was a wash.
Trump has led the party into a place of populism, nationalism, and crass demagoguery… or maybe was expressing a dormant part of the GOP that had already existed that led to Trump. Chicken burn and egg, I guess. But a strain of classical Republican values still survived him in some of the discussions of things like economics, and even the deliveries had more class than Trump would ever be able to stomach.
I must admit that I was nervous pulling up to a Democratic event. The bumper of my car boasts a Gadsden snake, a Gun Owners of America sticker, a worn and weathered Rand sticker, a Libertarian one dead center… and Texas plates. In short, I was trying to calculate the risk of my tires being slashed when I was several states from home. Most of the other cars there were confused between either “Resist and Revolt” and “Coexist”. There was a lot of Bernie love, or other candidates running, and a “fight for 15” and random issue-oriented ones as well.
All the tables were for candidates, given they’ve got an actual primary coming up and this was just outside of Iowa. In fact, both Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard were set to attend. The crowd was much younger and more diverse than the GOP – at least in terms of things like race, sex and style rather than in terms of ideologies or actual policy differences.
The first attendee to approach me for conversation was wearing a JFK t-shirt, which tipped me off that I might like him more than the average attendee, and we actually talked about Eisenhower for a bit. I must have said something un-Democratic to clue him in that one of these things was not like the other, and he asked straight-up if I was one. I gave my standard reply meant to hide my leanings when I told him I was a “Bourbon Democrat”, because Democrats tend to both not know what the phrase even means and tend to be prideful enough to pretend that they do rather than asking me or Googling. But after I was comfortable enough, I confessed as to how out of place politically I actually was, and he for one was happy to have an independent around to make things interesting.
While waiting for Tulsi’s table to be set up, I stopped at Marianne Williamson’s as a place that might have an interesting conversation waiting for me. The volunteer for the table looked exactly like what one might expect. In a style that was kind of Hemp hobo, complete with mystical jewelry, bad tattoos, neck hair and dreadlocks. If anyone here could offer me enough drugs to get through this, it was this guy – and my only worry was that it might be something too strong. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to smell like weed.
He assured me that not only would Marianne get back in the debates, but that she’d be the nominee and the next President to boot. And that he was 100% sure of it. Now, seems to me that’s a dose of optimism not fit for this reality, given that she’s been averaging under 1% in most polls. I asked what made him so hopeful.
And so he told me a story of a time he was with her at a Native American event, where she was huddled up with 3 chiefs or shamans (I’m not sure which) and an eagle flew overhead as they prayed. This is how he knew she would be President with absolute certainty. It sort of reminded me of a more spiritual version of that little bird that once landed on Bernie’s podium. Within a matter of maybe two minutes, he somehow managed to tie in vibrations, frequencies, chakras, and signs that all pointed to her Presidency.
Man, that guy was great.
When Marianne arrived, my very first instinct was to ask her for a selfie. She immediately reminded me, in person, of my favorite teacher in high school, Mrs. Johnson, who taught art and by extension self-awareness. There was not a single trace of deception behind Marianne’s eyes. No guile. No cold calculations. I’ve never seen a politician seem so obviously warm and sincere. The worst you could say is that she seemed tired. But she is, after all, running for President.
I told her about how I’ve been talking her up… kinda… including on the radio and in articles (the last one being The Case for Marianne Williamson as Press Secretary). I told her how absolutely boring these Dem debates would be without her spark. How she was the soul and mascot of her party. How I enjoyed her book, even if it often made the mistake of conflating government with society and republics with more direct forms of democracy. She gave me a hug before I walked off.
I was there, however, to see Tulsi. I had meant to start recording and asking her questions for this. Questions like –
“Do you believe the DNC made the criteria decisions on polling they’d accept specifically to keep you out of the debates?”
“You were on Tucker Carlson the other night talking about the lack of transparency in the process which erodes public trust, which brings up two questions… what’s it like to be on the receiving end of his facial expressions, and how does this lack of transparency eroding trust inform your opinions on auditing the fed, auditing the pentagon, and pardoning whistle-blowers like Snowden?”
“You’ve been endorsed by Ron Paul, and have plenty of support from the liberty community despite your domestic agenda. What’s your pitch to those who lean libertarian that may want to support you for the areas of overlap yet are uncomfortable with some of your domestic policies?”
There were other questions too, but somehow once I was actually there, I lamely just thanked her for running, said how much a voice like hers was needed to return the Dems to their anti-war inclinations, and sorta shuffled off so someone else could talk to her.
I stood alone for a bit, mostly just listening in to conversations between actual Democrats and trying hard not to roll my eyes or interject. After a while, I realized I was right next to Martin O’Malley, whom nobody really made an effort to talk to. We sat there in silence, neither one of us really seeming to have any desire to talk to anyone else or each other. I kind of hoped his band would play this event, but unfortunately he was just there to represent Beto in a speech that was so bland I can’t quite recall its content.
Most of the speakers (primarily union types on literal Labor Day) had much more energy than those measured and monotone speakers at the Republican event. However, much of that energy just sounded angry, resentful, envious, hateful, and rude to someone who didn’t already agree with what they were screaming about. Hard hats protecting hard heads containing little of substance outside of an over-reliance on sloganeering. These were grown men reduced to what sounded like my son whining about how unfair it was that he had to clean his room.
The GOP event hosted speakers with mixed levels of support for liberty – some good, some bad, forcing one to call balls and strikes and decide whether some portions of the GOP might be redeemable.
The Democratic event hosted speakers that left no doubt what scant level of overlap actually existed with the liberty movement. It was exhausting listening to laundry lists of benefits they felt were owed as positive rights, with no realistic plan to pay for any of it at a time when we’re running trillion dollar deficits with the programs we already have.
I have officially endorsed Tulsi for further debate inclusion for as long as possible, and as the best nominee the Democrats could pick out of those actually running.
This isn’t, however, an endorsement of everything she believes and stands for. Rather, it is recognition that nearly every Democrat running is worse.
When fellow libertarians talk about how irrational it is for other libertarians to support her in any way? Well, her Labor Day speech made that case for them. This speech had few references to foreign policy, civil liberties, or basic transparency, and focused on what labor meant to her. Which was just one step removed from practically invocating the labor theory of value.
This doesn’t mean she’s not actually the best Democrat running, however, and she’s unlikely to be a choice on any general election ballot next November.
I left during a speech labeling anyone willing to work to provide for themselves or their family at a time their local union decided to strike as a “scab”, and those who didn’t want to join a union as a “leech”. These words were mild compared to the ones reserved for anyone who had the audacity to employ workers, assume risks with their capital, or use foreign or immigrant labor from disproportionately poor groups that need jobs the most in order to provide poorer consumers cheaper products.
I’m not going back to the Republican Party or defecting to the Democrat Party anytime soon, despite both good and bad seen at both events. I tried to maintain an open mind and listen. I am glad I did, but it only strengthened my disgust with the duopoly. Maybe I’ll try this exercise next year, after a good three hundred plus showers.