I emailed the Chicago Young Republicans, and for the first time ever someone from one of the official conservative organizations wrote me back! (I’ve been writing Republican and Tea Party organizations in towns wherever I go without any luck getting anyone to agree to talk with me.) The leader of this organization emailed me back, saying the invitation sounded interesting and to meet him after work at a Starbucks. But when we arrived to meet the coffee shop was closed – so we went down the street to a bar that was run by somebody he know from his frat days and had a drink.
He was from a Mexican immigrant family and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He wasn’t very interested in politics when he was young but during college a friend asked him if he was going to vote, and he promised that he would – but then had to figure out who to vote for because he had no opinion yet about which party was better. He went to the different political clubs on campus to research what they stood for and decided that the Democrats where too much of whiners, and that while the Republicans were nerds, he agreed with what they said. Since that time he has gotten more and more involved in politics. He has become one of the main go-to people for a conservative points of view in Chicago since he is willing to speak up and he likes the limelight. He considers himself to have a very pragmatic approach to politics and strongly believes that less government = more liberty. He said that at heart he is probably a libertarian, but he is not willing to be a martyr for his ideals – he wants to see a more conservative president elected and that means throwing his weight behind the Republican candidate, whether or not he thinks they are that great personally.
He talked about how growing up in an immigrant family there was never any government assistance for him or his family or community and implied that this life experience is personal proof that people don’t need to be coddled by government services to succeed. He said he understands why minorities were pro-government/pro-democrat in the sixties, because there was serious racism then, but he believes that it is less prevalent now. He claimed that if states were allowed the freedom to have racist policies, over time those states would fail because they would be financially uncompetitive and it would become obvious that racism was not in anyone’s interests. He briefly brought up the subject of immigration reform and said that it was a subject that neither political party wanted to deal with because it is so touchy. He said at least Bush attempted to pass a plan but the Democrats shot it down because it didn’t go far enough, and now they aren’t putting anything else comprehensive forward. He talked a lot about the local charter school called Uno, where they focus academic excellence for Hispanic students, which he used as an example of how a more privatized, libertarian model of education could do a better job than state-run public schools. This lead down the path to what looked to me like the vision of a society where all of our institutions would have to be financially successful primarily and then also serve a public good. I asked him whether he really believed that all of the things that we value in our lives could be accounted for under purely economic logic, and he responded by asking me whether I thought government really does a good job protecting those precious and intangible values – which seemed like a fair retort to me.
On my way to meet at the Starbucks I was stopped by two bicycle cops sitting at a sidewalk cafe who wanted to read my sign. I read it two them and the older looked at me and asked whether I thought it was right that a working middle-class cop’s kid couldn’t get into pre-school because the schools get more funding for each certifiably poor kid they admit. I was a little taken aback and asked him to explain. The younger cop, it seemed, had had something of this sort happen when he had tried to enroll his kid in public preschool and found that no school wanted to take the kid because they could increase their overall budget by admitting more kids on public assistance – to the point where he couldn’t find a public school for his kid. I agreed that it wasn’t fair but tried to argue that it was an unfortunate unintended consequence of trying to solve the problem of poverty by making education more accessible to low income kinds.The older cop then said, ” some people think I’m the 1% just because of my skin color.” They wouldn’t let us take a picture of them but Lexa got one with their bikes. I would have liked to stay because they were so ready to get into things, but I had to rush off to make my appointment.