In May of 2011, Outnumbered: Chronicles of a Manhattan Conservative was released, a series of anecdotes that chronicled my journey in Manhattan as a teacher and high school Dean throughout the 2008 presidential election season and beyond. One of the most common questions I have been asked by those who have read the book is “Has Manhattan changed this election cycle as compared to 2008?”
Some things certainly have, and I believe those changes are directly in line with a significantly lower enthusiasm for Barack Obama among his 2008 base. Gone are many of the stands on Manhattan street corners selling Obama t-shirts, pins, and other accessories. Gone are many of the voters willing to passionately defend Obama’s 2008 promises of “hope” and “change” or to attack those who dare to question his presidential record. Gone are many of the wide-eyed expressions, tears of excitement, and overwhelmingly optimistic words of praise for the man who many believed was going to change politics as we know it forever.
Sure, Barack Obama has some very loyal supporters in Manhattan, some equally as loyal as they were in 2008. However, I believe it is safe to say that the wave of Obamamania that swept through this city in 2008 has quieted significantly, leaving many who were once hopeful now doubtful, and some who were once captivated now apathetic.
One thing is certain: The challenges for the Right in Manhattan remain ample. Just last week, I spoke with three women, all Democrats, who have grown disillusioned with President Obama’s promises and policies. They certainly won’t be volunteering for his campaign, donating their hard-earned cash, or championing his potential to their families and friends. However, they also haven’t been attracted to the Republican alternative. The mere mention of the word “Republican” immediately soured their expressions, and they were quick to parrot academia and media-driven false talking points about Republicans being allies of the rich who stand in the way of minority rights and low-income voter interests. Not surprisingly, when I detached the policies of freedom, limited government, and debt and deficit reduction from the word “Republican,” the women found themselves embracing many of the ideas I presented. However, the stereotypes of what it means to be a Republican–or worse for them, a conservative–are quite heavily ingrained.
All three women were stunned to discover that you can be a Republican and support gay marriage. They were surprised to hear me talk fondly of the racial and lifestyle diversity of my friends. They admitted that my leather jacket, combat boots, and Wonder Woman logo tee instantly caused them to assume that I was a liberal. They were astonished to discover that I am an organic food lover and Whole Foods enthusiast, and that if I were rich, I would likely open an enormous animal shelter and spend my days caring for some of God’s most defenseless and wonderful creations. And yes, of course, they were shocked to learn that I am not, nor have I ever been, rich.
Discovering that I didn’t fit the pre-packaged image they had been sold about what a conservative should look like, talk like, and think like caused those three women to open their ears and actually hear what I had to say. Those moments are priceless. They are the moments that open minds. They are the moments that change hearts. And they are the moments when we on the right define ourselves, rather than allow the Left to do it for us time and again.
It is a fact that many individuals born and raised in liberal cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston–or those emerging from liberal academic institutions–will possess negative stereotypes about conservatives. It is fiction that you can’t dismantle those stereotypes. I do it daily, simply by engaging those of differing political perspectives and sharing who I am and what I value. My life, my choices, my passions–heck, even my wardrobe–challenge those stereotypes every day.
So yes, the energy in Manhattan has changed this election cycle. Obamamania has quieted down. Month after month of high national unemployment, a ballooning debt and deficit, and the lack of a clear forward vision from our President will do that.
However, the bigger challenge of defining conservatism and the Republican Party to those who have lived much of their lives detesting both for the wrong reasons–well, that challenge clearly remains.