Young RepublicansThere’s no better way to get boring than to hang out with people that always mirror your beliefs. How do you even know what it is you believe if you don’t test it? I’ve spent my whole life hanging out with artsy liberal slackers, and I gotta tell you, they can be pretty boring. I lived in Richmond, VA for five years, and that town does the same thing with punk rock that it does with the Civil War.
In the days since September 11th, America has gotten so partisan that it seems like we’re all at each other’s throats. You can’t befriend across party lines anymore or it’s some kind of loyalty issue. Nobody has intelligent, reasoned debates that end with agreeing to disagree. I’m a big fan of Michael Moore, but I can’t honestly say that I think he’d be a nice guy to go on a picnic with. We all know that Ann Coulter is actually some rare species of venomous bipedal lizard—but what about regular Republicans? My dad is the most loving, giving man I can think of, and he’s voted Republican since Nixon.
We all know that less than 50 percent of America voted Bush in 2000, but even 40 percent of America is an apeload of people. They can’t all be violence-obsessed people who don’t care about poor kids. There’s got to be some abusive alcoholic Democrats to balance out Republicans like my dad.
So I went to the meeting with a concerned but open mind. And I got to tell you; I met some really nice people. I talked with four strangers in depth, and only one was a total dipshit.
What follows is a transcript/impressions of the four conversations, reconstituted from my scribbled note almost a full week after the fact. They’re accurate in spirit, if not necessarily word-for-word.
The writer from American Partisan was far and away my favorite. With a head so bald it gleamed and a tendency to wink that bordered on a Tourette’s-like tic, he radiated an uneasy, anxious charm. True dorkiness transcends generation, and this fortysomething man and I clustered like comic book fans at the prom.
“I’m not actually a party-line Republican,” he confided in hushed tones. “I consider myself conservative on most issues, except healthcare. Man, our healthcare system is fucked.”
A warm, relieved smile exploded across my face. I love to cuss healthcare in the States to anyone who will listen. Before I could get out my soapbox, he grabbed the mike.
“My father just passed away,” he elaborated, “and my mom is getting ready to go as well from the same condition. And you know, for two people that worked their whole lives to have to petition drug companies for free medication because they can’t afford to take care of themselves? That’s just fucked up. Sorta, actually not really luckily at all, I went through some of this with my dad so I know what forms to fill out and who to petition on my mom’s behalf, but that’s just so fucked.”
Partisan or no, the guy’s got a real point.
We chatted more, just about writing and travel and other stuff I don’t even remember, but then got into this debate…
Him: “So why is it you like Kerry, exactly? What is it about the guy?”
To be quite honest, I have no idea why I like him. I mostly like him for not being Bush, but there’s got to be more. My response was actually pretty lame:
“Well, look. They’re both politicians, and we know they’ [re both great big fat liars. But at least Kerry tells me the lies I want to hear. Bush isn’t even trying to say the right stuff. And he’s got a proven track record of lying and getting people killed. I guess my feeling is that with Kerry’s record of being in a really controversial, unpopular, just pretty much totally wrong war, he’s not going to get us into conflict unless it’s really really necessary.”
“True,” concurred the bald man, “but military service is not a prerequisite for being President of the United States. A lot of Presidents haven’t been in the military.”
“Well, FDR is the biggest example. The guy led us to victory in WWII, for god’s sakes.”
Crap. He had me on that one, and I had to think fast.
“Well, the other thing Kerry’s Vietnam service indicates is that he’s been out of America for something other than a long weekend in Tijuana.”
The bald man smiled huge and snickered, saying “I gotta give you that one.” We celebrated our friendship over a plateful of shrimp and tiny slices of pizza from the buffet.
I met an undercover cop as well. He’s 26, and lived right down the street from me at college. He was extremely proud of his efforts to get head shops in Virginia Beach to stop selling weed paraphernalia. True, nobody really believes that that double-chambered hookah shaped like a wizard is really used to smoke Drum, but it seemed a little obsessive to me.
I just don’t see marijuana as that big of a problem. It’ll turn you into one of these dudes if you’re not careful but I hardly see it as a crime.
His take was valid, though. The Vice guy felt that drugs are illegal for a reason. And if we make drug paraphernalia harder to get, drugs are therefore going to be that much more of a pain to do. Apparently he’s never hung out with the sort of marijuana geniuses that can turn two apple seeds and a tic-tac into a bowl.
Vice felt that America couldn’t handle the more relaxed approach to drugs that the Netherlands has. Ours is a culture of excess, he reasoned, and most people in this day and age could not responsibly handle legal, government-sanctioned narcotics. And you know what? He’s right. Americans, as a people, cannot handle their shit. There is no concept of “a little goes a long way” here.
The chairman was a really friendly, welcoming guy. For a mental picture, close your eyes and imagine Conan O’Brien with 60 extra pounds on him. Red-faced and earnest in a way that only a friendly big man in the dog days of a southern summer can be (I know because I am one), Chairman’s eyes, smile, and handshake were “on-message.” That message was “welcome, friend!”
I told him that while I was a Kerry supporter, I was really curious to see how the other side worked. I mean, we’re all after the best leader for America, right? So if we all want the best for America, how different can we really be?
Here goes the transcript:
Me: When I had to explain the American two-party system to my friends in Australia, I had a really hard time doing it without resorting to name-calling and sweeping generalizations. How would you describe the Republican Party?
Chairman: Well, I really think that in our time, it’s more the difference between liberal and conservative rather than Republican or Democrat. Zell Miller is a Democrat, but very conservative, for example. I would have to say that conservatives value individual liberties, and trust people to make their own decisions about what’s right for them, the best decisions for their own lives. Whereas Liberals tend to lean more towards government being an answer to people’s problems—they think the government ought to give things out to people. We feel that government intervention hold people back instead of allowing them to provide for themselves.
This is an unfair interjection after the fact…call me crazy, but how does a government-funded breakfast prevent a malnourished third grader in South Carolina from eating breakfast? What are his choices otherwise, a few mentholated cigarette butts or an apple Jolly Rancher? You got any ideas, put ‘em in the comments on this post. Back to the transcript…
Chairman: Generally speaking, and this is an extremely sweeping generalization, liberals will take money form everyone and buy fish with it and hand it out, whereas conservatives will teach people to fish.
Me: Hmmm, interesting. How do you feel about the perception that Americans are way overworked, and in desperate need of some more holiday time to relax?
Chairman: Well, again, I think that it’s up to the private sector to provide the time off and compensation that they feel comfortable with. And some of them are.
Me: Oh, come on, sure, you read about those freak companies with the nap rooms in the Wall Street Journal, but how many actually exist? You know, we as a people get so much less time to relax than any other country…
Chairman: Yeah, like the European-based model, like the siesta in Spain, or what have you. And you’ve got a point, it would be pretty nice. But our economy tend to be much more robust than the economies of any of those countries…I know we have more people, but even if you scale it…
Me: True, true. But what’s the point of having a robust economy?
Chairman: Having a better quality of life.
Me: But if you don’t have time to see your family or friends or do anything but work, how good is your life in the first place? What it was like Australia where people maybe made less money compared to Americans, but everyone liked their lives better?
At this point, lightning struck me. I had a total brainstorm and I had to spit it out right then. I wasn’t trying to be a clown, this was revolutionary!
Me: Holy shit.
Chairman: What, what’s wrong?
I jabbed him in the chest with my finger.
Me: Naptime, dude! NAPTIME! If you want to put Bush in the White House this fall, keep Allen as Governor, do whatever you want as republicans for the rest of your lives, flex a little tiny bit on this big-government thing and federally mandate NAPTIME! You hate it when you’re a kid, but after about age 12, it’s crucial.
Chairman: (blushing a little, looks around. Obviously he wants to leave but is way too nice to just split.) True, you have a point. But…
Me: But, nothin’! You’re an attorney, and you work some insane hours. What if you had a naptime? What about doctors having naps? You know the quality of our healthcare would skyrocket! This could change everything!
Chairman: You know, I, uh
Me: Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be a clown there. I mean, I know it’s ridiculous, but I mean it. Thanks for talking to me, I know you’ve got to make the rounds. But I’ll be in touch.
He smiled broadly and shook my hand again. Again, it takes a special man to open up about his beliefs and tolerate a nutjob like me. These Republicans, they’re not all bad.
Tanner was the dipshit. Covered in an orange-based tan, her impressively toned body looked like it had been poured from a rare form of wrinkly milk chocolate. The one thing you could say for her is that she lived up to her namesake. She looked like she’d been subjected to prenatal tanning the way that the children of more motivated parents have French lessons or Mozart broadcast through the walls of the womb.
I was definitely on the back foot through the whole conversation, as the undercover cop had been laying some heavy rap on her as I approached. I don’t think the world needs more republicans, but I didn’t wanna lay an accidental cock-block on the guy either.
The topic of healthcare came up (again!) and I let it drop that Australia actually has free healthcare for everyone 30 and under.
“Really?" she replied, astonished. "Is Australia a socialist country? I thought they were our allies?”
That was pretty much it. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and went to see Sonic Youth instead. I’m all for having an open mind, but there are limits.