There is an informal political discussion group that happens most mornings in a coffee shop down the block. There I met a man who is nominally a Republican, but seemed to express all my liberal stances on current events. He gave me the contact info for his friend who is the chairman of the local Republican chapter, who also agreed to talk with me. We met on a rainy afternoon and he told me about what it means to him to be a Republican in this overwhelmingly Democratic city. He described himself as moderate and a little right of center, but he feels committed to the Republican party, in part to resist the growing extremism that he sees happening in national politics. He said that he considers listening to be an important skill that is dearly lacking in the political sphere. He came from a family that encouraged their kids to be politically active, but didn’t talk about being Republican or Democrat. He doesn’t know how his parents voted but he knows they did – and they encouraged their children to take voting seriously.
He became involved in politics by being a small business owner and having a stake in how the city was managed. At first he got assigned to a political committee that was responsible for the local dog pound but he now heads the committee that takes care of the downtown area in hopes of making a more hospitable environment for small business customers. One of the political moments that solidified his commitment to the Republican party was when one of Connecticut’s Democratic Congresswomen – a woman who was very pro-choice even though she was also Catholic – made a big deal out of supporting the defense of marriage act because gay marriage was against her faith. He found that hypocrisy aggravating, and is generally frustrated about how much hypocrisy he sees in politics. He believe less intrusive government is better government. He thinks someone should introduce a simple piece of legislation that says the federal government will recognize any legal union between two people that has been recognized by State law, and that if people want to protect the institution of marriage they should make stricter divorce laws. He gets frustrated with his own party trying to make decisions about people’s personal lives, which includes most of the social conservative positions. He said, “The conservative thing to do is to leave people alone.”
He sees a growing shift in union members towards the Republican party because those people see that the government prioritizes the economic interests of public union employees over private unions. He says there is a real difference between the trade unions where people get paid more as they gain more skills, verses a clerk in a government office who gets regular raises but offers no increased labor value as the years go by, just costs the tax payers more.
He is disappointed in Obama for not taking a personal stand clearly stating what kind of healthcare reform he wanted to see. Instead Obama evoked the general idea of change but then left it up to congressional committees to decide what that would look like. He would like to see political leaders take a stand for what they believe instead of making vague statements and then deferring responsibility to other people so that they can avoid blame.
He would like to see transparency in all campaign funding and thinks it is fine for people or corporations to advocate for their preferred issues with money but thinks it should all be out on the table.
So many of the issues that mattered to him and his political and ethical reasoning matched what I would personally want from a political candidate. And yet I could see how he was coming from classically conservative perspective to arrive at similar conclusions as I arrive at with my lefty assumptions.