In the midst of the people thronging by, the pulsing digital display screens, the men handing out glossy color cards advertising full service escorts, and the woman sitting on the corner telling fortunes I knew my little flag wasn’t going to grab enough attention for anyone to stop and talk with me. I decided I was going to have to work for it. I tried various ways of asking passers-by what they thought about our country, democracy and politics. People would make eye contact with me and sometimes smile, but mostly didn’t reply – or in some cases said things like “I’m not broke enough to talk politics yet .”
Eventually one man middle age man in a plaid shirt stopped and calmly said, “ok, what do you want to discuss?” I told him what I was trying to do and asked him about where his politics fell on the right/left spectrum. He said he was a little bit left of center capitalist and that he worked as a personal finance advisor. He commented that conservative people are only willing to help people they know personally. That sentence struck me as one of those statements that circulates in liberal communities as a way of disparaging conservatives for being less than ethical. I recounted how all the conservative people I’ve been talking with have been railing on the idea that the US has a whole class of people who don’t work and just want to be supported by the government and asked him whether he saw assistance programs as being helpful or not. He said that he believed in having safety nets but agreed that there is a real problem with abuses of those programs, just nowhere near as big of a problem as conservatives make it out to be. He suggested that unemployment benefits should be reduced in amount each time someone renews their benefits as an incentive to go out and get a new job, even if it is a job that they feel is beneath them. He had a financial advising client who lost his job as an architect and didn’t try applying for any work until his benefits ran out completely – and then he quickly got a job, though not in architecture. He implied that this was an example of benefit programs being a disincentive for people to try to take care of themselves. I noted that his vision of reigning in the time-frame when people would receive benefits was actually one of the most concrete examples of a fiscally conservative approach to assistance programs that I have heard, and it was coming from a Democrat.