Last night, I joined about a dozen or more local political activists at a restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg for about two hours. As the title of this piece implies, the group was a social gathering called Drinking Liberally.
Now, it seems likely that many of you might question why I, the author of a blog entitled “The Virginia Conservative”, would willingly choose to spend any time with a multitude of self-avowed liberals. After all, aren’t these people our political enemies, a group that should be shunned at every turn?
When I first became embroiled in politics a number of years ago, I held a similar view of political activists across the aisle. These people are unreasonable, intolerant, and best avoided. As far as I could tell, they didn’t care much for me, so why should I treat them any differently?
However, in recent times I have come to a somewhat different realization. For example, prior to attending a number of Libertarian functions many years ago, I held a rather dim view of those sorts of people. However, the more time that I spent around them, the more I realized that we actually did share a number of common interests, that they were not some radical monolithic group that wanted nothing more than to spend their day smoking pot and abolishing all forms of government. Perhaps the best aspect of all was the friendships that came about as a result of our time together, including one that I treasured more than all of the rest combined.
Now, I admit that I don’t share much, if any, political ground with most liberals these days. Issues that might normally unite us, like a concern for the erosion of our civil liberties and a rejection of an interventionist foreign policy seem less likely given that President Obama has been promoting policies that stand in stark contrast to these views. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean, nor should it mean, that each and every self-identified liberal endorses this course of action simply because a Democratic president does as well. Just a handful of conservatives (not enough in my mind) opposed these same big government policies of Republican George W. Bush.
It is natural for people to band together into like-minded camps such a liberals, conservatives, libertarians, statists, and the like. However, the sickness in American politics is that there is very little communication between these groups these days, in part, because we are constantly bombarded with an “us against them” mentality promoted by the talking heads on radio and television.
However, I believe that this widening gap is a situation that can and ought to be remedied, which is why I attended this gathering last night. Now, I didn’t, of course, either literally or figuratively enter the group wearing a sign proclaiming my conservatism; doing so would likely would have created an air of hostility and suspicion from the onset. Rather, I sat down with a number of folks and spoke to them one on one about issues, current events, and predictions for the future. Yes, believe it or not, the other side isn’t some collection of political monsters.
As some of you may know, I am currently in talks with a local radio station to craft a new radio program about state and local politics that explores a multitude of political opinions. Ideally, I hope to showcase the entire political spectrum, not to degrade these other viewpoints, but to create an atmosphere where discussion and rational thought is encouraged rather than simply shouted down.
Although I am not a liberal, nor do I have any plans to become one, I still enjoyed my time with the Harrisonburg and Rockingham liberals last night. Despite our differences, it is my hope that we can expand this interpolitical dialogue so that each of us can express our viewpoints without fear of rejection or immediate condemnation. That, I believe, is the hallmark of a classically liberal society, an ideal that we should all strive to achieve.