Saturday, May 17, 2014

Drinking Liberally

Earlier this week I went to an event called Drinking Liberally.  It's a meeting for liberals (or progressives or whatever) where they drink and talk politics.  Apparently it's part of a nationwide network of these types of things. Neat.

Prior to this week, I knew of the event, but had never been. A few weeks ago Keith Ellison was the headliner and he dished about his electoral strategy and how he uses his campaign funds to get other Democrats elected.  This much I knew, having helped run a race vs. Ellison in 2012, but it was interesting to see him be so explicit about it.  So DL kind of popped back on my radar as something I'd like to observe some time.

This week's featured speakers were Michael Brodkorb and Tony Petrangelo, and they were going to be talking the 2014 elections.  Michael is a Republican and blogs at Politics.MN, and Tony is a Democrat and blogs at Left.MN.  Both blogs are on my regular reading list, and I've been a fan of Tony's hPVI stuff for quite some time, so, last night seemed like a good time to go.

The event is held in a bar called the 331 Club, kind of a dive and smaller than I expected. There were maybe 15-20 people there.

I wandered in and took a seat at the bar. My intention was to keep my head down and try to just observe quietly. Until Mr. Brodkorb noticed I was there and helpfully called over to me, blowing my cover.  Thanks for that.  A few minutes later and despite my best efforts I was recognized by someone else, and I abandoned the effort to blend in.  So much for anonymity in the Internet age.

I shook a few hands and only got one "fuck you," and figured that ain't too bad, so I sat back down to watch the show which had just kicked off.

Brodkorb started with a brief intro, then Petrangelo joined him on stage a few minutes later. They talked for a few more minutes and then the questions from the audience started up.

The topic of the evening was supposed to be the 2014 elections, but the topic on the audience's mind was apparently "big money in politics."  Just about every question from the audience was in that vein. They hit all the big villains: The Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, the NRA, ALEC, etc.  They expressed frustration that it's so hard to rein in all this spending and get a bill passed to restrict it.  No, nobody mentioned that the DFL has total control of state government.

One man mentioned in his question that "union money is not the same as rich guy money" and another woman asked a question about how the concentration of wealth in the upper one half of one percent was coarsening the political discourse in this country. Brodkorb did mention that groups on the left spend more than groups on the right, and specifically mentioned ABM's Rockefeller money, but that kind of fell on deaf ears.

A man suggested that we should just switch to total public financing of campaigns, so that campaigns could be about "issues not personalities".  At this point I spoke up and shared my personal experience with Arizona's public financing scheme, and how it creates a situation where you actually get more extreme candidates because candidates don't have to be accountable to donors, so they really have no incentive to not be crazy.  The man then said public financing works in Europe. I just let that go.

I tweeted at one point that I had the feeling some of the people in the room had never actually spoken to a real-life Republican. One guy asked me at the end of the night if Republicans cared about free speech. After I answered in the affirmative, and used the example of the recent Condoleezza Rice event to illustrate the point, he replied that we only care about free speech "if it wears a suit."  The only response I could muster to this was a blank stare.

I did notice that the crowd at this event was just as old and just as white as any comparable Republican event that I have ever been to.  It was also predominantly male, whereas most GOP events are pretty evenly split.  Of course this was one event on one night, so it's hard to make any broad conclusions, though I'm pretty sure most on the left wouldn't hesitate to do so were the situation reversed.

When we finally got to the predictions part of the evening, Petrangelo predicted an Ortman endorsement in the Senate race, and no endorsement in the governor's race.  Brodkorb didn't exaclty offer clear predictions: he hedged a bit on the Senate race, and thought Seifert had a lead on the governor side.

At then end of the night someone asked a question about the most interesting intra-party divides in each party. Brodkorb spoke about the Tea Party's recent attempts at resurgence. On the DFL side, before Petrangelo could answer, an audience member shouted "Tom Bakk vs. everybody else!" which was met with a lot of laughter, probably not a good sign for Bakk's future political plans.  (Petrangelo has blogged about his displeasure with Bakk in the past.)

Petrangelo then went on to explain that mining was the big divide on the DFL side right now, and that we should watch the convention for some potential mining related shenanigans.  Apparently both the pro and anti mining factions of the party are pushing for changes to the DFL platform, which could make for some fireworks at the state convention. He also predicted State Audior Rebecca Otto could face some backlash, but predicted she would ultimately be endorsed for reelection.

All in all, I'm glad I went.  It was an interesting experience to say the least, and it's important to get outside the echo chamber occasionally.  Not everyone at the event was entirely unreasonable. There were a number of people who were very nice and that I had good conversations with.  I can't say I will be a regular, but if the program is interesting I would probably attend again.

I do think it would be fun to attend a similar event that was maybe held at a slightly more neutral venue that may attract more people from both sides. So if anyone starts that up, count me in.