Confession time: I’ve been a liberal since 1962, the year I was born to a pair of Kennedy Democrats. When I was in high school in Washington, DC, I would cut class and spend whole days down on the mall, marching and protesting for the ERA, the legalization of marijuana, the Nuclear Freeze and the Sandinistas. I protested against South African Apartheid and both for and against the Shah of Iran (Okay, I was a little confused on that one…)
More recently, I was ordained as a minister in the most theologically and — statistically at least — politically liberal denomination in the country. And as it drifts further and further to the left, have found myself doubting whether I belong there.
As a law enforcement chaplain, I’ve spent the past 14 years or so assuring the mostly-conservative officers I work with that I’m their token, Birkenstock-and-Socks Liberal. They love me anyway; I love them anyway. We have great conversations, and agree about a lot of things, which I have always taken to mean that these guys are a lot more liberal than they think.
Never occurred to me that I might be more conservative…
Help me out here, people! What am I, and why do I like Ricochet?
Fact: I’m not a vegan.
More facts: I’m not interested in alternative medicine, I vaccinated my children, I eat meat, have killed my own and approve of hunting and fishing. Having seen what welfare dependency looks like up close, I have serious reservations about the efficacy of government welfare programs as they are currently structured and administered. I am only reluctantly and ambivalently pro-choice. I support single-sex marriage and think religious organizations should be able to do what they like. I think the answer to bad speech is more speech so I oppose speech codes and PC on college campuses. I’m big on the separation of church and state, even though as a state-agency chaplain I literally combine the two in my person. Perhaps for obvious reasons, I do not believe that the primary cause of officer-involved shootings is racism. I joyfully went to Obama’s first inauguration… and am deeply disappointed in the way the president and his administration responded to “Ferguson” among other issues. I would not vote for Hillary Clinton (even before the e-mail thing) and my preferred alternative is Jim Webb. The Star Spangled Banner is my favorite song. I admire courage, and I love men. My first husband was a police officer and my father and son both served in the U.S. Marines, and I am very proud of these men. I think the valor of American troops should not be squandered. I think waterboarding is torture, and torture is both morally wrong, damages the torturer as well as the tortured, and is ultimately ineffective. I’m not a pacifist. I care a lot about duty and honor and I love my country. I get tears in my eyes when I see the flag.
What does all of that add up to? Am I a mole at Ricochet, or am I a mole in the rest of my life?
One evening, a couple of years ago, while hanging out at a bar with a bunch of cops, I fell into conversation with a Boston police officer who cheerfully described himself as “the only conservative working for the city of Boston.”
“Terrific!” I said. “I’m a Birkenstock-and-socks liberal! Let’s talk about gun control!”
The conversation did not go as you might expect. We didn’t yell at each other or come to blows (which is just as well since he was packin’ heat and I was not). In fact we came up with a solution to the question of what to do about guns in America in less than an hour. (I can tell you what our solution was in another post, if you like).
If the distance between a conservative position and a liberal position on an issue really isn’t that great, then the Birkenstock-and-Socks liberal and the Only Conservative Cop in Boston simply accomplished what any conservative and liberal could if they just sat down and yakked over a beer for an hour.
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree About Religion and Politics, would probably point out that the Boston cop and I had an advantage: we belong to the same tribe. Politics tends to be tribal. We get born into our political tribe, and most of us probably stay there. Political parties develop a patois and use clothing and other signaling devices to identify one another and affirm membership. Hence the Birkenstocks and socks.
But law enforcement is a powerful alternative tribe, and — because its members depend on one another in life-and-death situations — we will resist the potential for disagreement to damage the bond between us. This is how I explained our accord before I joined Ricochet. Now I wonder: does the fact that I can discuss a volatile subject and reach agreement with a conservative cop just mean that I am a conservative too?
It seems to me, after two months of hanging out on Ricochet, y’all have developed a tribe here that accommodates a very wide range of beliefs under a pretty big and carefully-tended tent. I’ve had long arguments with some of you and come away feeling challenged, stimulated, provoked to new and expanded thought… And I’ve also had to admit, at times, that some long and mindlessly-held opinion of mine wasn’t just different, it was wrong. Wrong facts, wrong conclusion, wrong opinion.
There are people on Ricochet who are passionate about one subject, and people who are interested in everything. There are some who express themselves beautifully, with patience and restraint. And there are those who just like to kick the hornet’s nest and see what comes flying out.
And I’ve watched “threads” that go deeply into very difficult terrain—“like running through a field of mesquite” as one of you wrote — and resolve themselves not in agreement but in what the same writer described as “kindness and the honest attempt to understand views we may never personally hold…” It’s impressive. It is, frankly, what my liberal church claims to be and wants to be but, increasingly, isn’t.
n the most recent Ricochet poll, I scored as a libertarian. I don’t know if that’s quite true…there’s a lot I don’t know, actually. But yesterday, I told my Tea Party boss (and dear friend) that I think I’m going to have to stop calling myself a Birkenstock-and-Socks Liberal… my preferred alternative pro tem? I’m a bleeding heart, tax-and-spend conservative.