Sometimes it seems as if the political divide in this country is so great that dialogue with members of other political parties is impossible. We have our side and they have theirs and damned be he that even thinks about extending his hand across the chasm.
But should that be the case?
Four years ago, local Republican sheriff candidate Bryan Hutcheson agreed to speak at a Democratic event. It sounded like a positive idea to me. After all, the sheriff ought to represent and protect all of the citizens of his or her locality, not simply those within his own party. In addition, there was no Democratic candidate in that race. Now, of course there would be political disagreement between a candidate and an opposing party, but who knows? They might actually find some common ground and give some of them a reason to support him; it is good for people of all political stripes to learn about their choices. However, when the Republican establishment heard of this idea, they quickly put an end to it. Nevertheless, facing no major party opposition, Mr. Hutcheson was elected that November.
In 2013, I repeatedly encouraged the Obenshain campaign to speak to Libertarians. After all, there was no Libertarian candidate on the ballot for that office and thus Libertarians would need to choose between a Republican, a Democrat, or simply leaving the attorney general’s race blank. However, the Obenshain campaign steadfastly declined to do so. Once all the votes were counted, Mark Obenshain lost by a scant 165 votes.
When I ran for city council last year as an independent, I put this philosophy in action, speaking to whatever group would host me, be they Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian. As was the case with the sheriff in 2011, some leaders of these three political camps were quite upset, furious that I would have the audacity to reach out to their members. How dare I suggest that I might have more in common with their professed ideology than their anointed party nominees? Unfortunately, I discovered running without a party label created massive hurdles in terms of both funding and a volunteer base and thus was in no danger of winning.
Just recently, I received word that April Moore, the Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate in the 26th district who is challenging Senator Obenshain, has reached out to the local Libertarian community and will be speaking at the next meeting of the Rocktown Libertarians on April 21st. Whatever your thoughts happen to be regarding Ms. Moore or the Libertarian Party, I see this move as an encouraging sign, an opportunity to expand political dialogue and bring together people who may never associate otherwise.
Are we more than our party labels? I should think so. Is there only one kind of Republican…or Democrat…or Libertarian? Of course not! Are all Republican candidates conservative? Or all Democrats liberal? Or all Libertarians libertarian? No. Just like ordinary individuals, they are as varied as grains of sand.
It is easy to ignore and demonize those who follow a different political brand, choosing to simply follow a label without checking the contents, voting for the candidates of the same party year after year. And I know it may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to do anything else. But maybe, just maybe, if we reach across the aisle, speaking to those who think differently or attending meetings of a different political party, we just might learn something new about them, expand political dialogue, and find common ground. And, just as important, by doing so we might learn something new about ourselves.