Wing Man: How I Survived Three Days of Right-Wing Peace, Love and Music

Part One: Gorillas in the Missed: In the 1970s, Dian Fossey spent a great deal of time living in a habitat with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, in an effort to learn all about their way of life. She wanted to separate the truth about the mountain gorilla from the Hollywood "King Kong" myth of an aggressive, savage beast.

I was very inspired by her story, and so I decided to do the same thing. Just not with gorillas, though.

Last weekend, I spent three days of ‘peace, love and music' with that very rare animal in New Jersey, the Republican-Conservative-Libertarian (herein after referred to as the ‘RCLs'). I wanted to separate the truth about the RCLs from the national political rhetorical myth of being passionless, humorless, narrow-minded, and not-very-bright politicos. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Most are bright, spirited, passionate, insightful folks, whose values very largely differ from mine, as well as other Left of center Democrats. Oh, they have plenty of whackos, for sure. But ALL of the RCLs should be not defined by those whackos.

While the Daily Kos Netroots Nation conference was happening at the Westin Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, just across one of the Three Rivers, the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) were holding their own counter-conference—the RightOnline Conference. This is where, at the Station Square Sheraton Hotel, the RCLs gathered with their ilk for some information, inspiration, and instruction from the likes of commentator/blogger Michelle Malkin, economist Stephen Moore, Bush tax-cuts creator Grover Norquist, and (even) Joe The Plumber—just some of the aforementioned RCL whackos.

I decided to go for the full-tilt-boogie RCL experience: I traveled with them. I stayed in a hotel with them. I ate meals with them. I hung out in between sessions and ‘joked' with them. Yes, that is right—contrary to popular belief; the RCLs do have a sense of humor. They cracked jokes about Gore ("Yup, he invented the Internet…..and Global Warming."); President Obama ("The Anointed One even needs a teleprompter to take a dump."); and the Netroots Nation people across the three rivers ("We can tell where the Left-Wingers are—from the smoke haze above Pittsburgh—they're all smoking dope, wearing tie-dye and singing ‘Kumbaya'".) Well, maybe, that last observation is not too far off.

I rode with them on their AFP bus from New Jersey, leaving bright and early at 7am in Bordentown, NJ, and picking up several other Pennsylvania RCLs along the way in King of Prussia. After that stop, we were on our way to Steel City. While I was disappointed that Mr. AFP-NJ himself —Steve Lonegan —was not on the bus, I was treated to a plethora of various RCLs of different species during the six-hour plus ride. Some were more CL than R. However, all seem to be pro-life, anti-marriage equality, anti-any tax, and all solid Reaganistas. And they were all on the bus to fight against health care, cap and trade, and any further bailouts.

I seem to ‘fit' in just fine. Being fat, bald, and white-bearded, I seem to ‘blend' in just fine. It did not hurt that I know many of the required RCL ‘buzz words', and know my Constitution fairly well. No one asked me about my politics—-which I would have shared gladly. At one point, however, I was asked who I voted for in the presidential primary. I declared that "I hold my secret ballot sacred, but I will tell you one thing: I did not vote for John McCain." Nodding knowingly, she said, "Neither did I."

Like out of a Hollywood casting call, there were RCLs of every shape and size. While the names here are not going to be changed to protect the innocent—these folks were hardily innocent—I will, respectfully, just use initials.

There was ‘M', a very religious Evangelical Christian who carried a photo book of a trip he made to see Bush speak in New Jersey a few years back.

In a conversation we had about the Iraq War. I asserted that I was opposed to the war (in part), because there was never a formal declaration of war under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. For that ‘infraction of conscience', he actually reported me to the bus captain as being opposed to ‘peace through strength'. Really. More on 'M', later.

There was ‘L', an African-American woman who handed out copies of the Constitution from the fine folks at the Heritage Foundation, "Here you go, take it before we lose it under Obama,". She obviously never heard of John Ashcroft.

There was chain-smoking ‘R', a newly elected Republican State Committee member, who was furious that his State Committee refused to adopt the Pro-Life/Anti-Gay RNC National Platform. There was ‘D', a 40ish former media professional, who hated Affirmative Action, who asked me, "What's the problem with those people? We have a black president? What else do those people want?

There was ‘N', a teacher who was a former Liberal Democrat (‘LibDem' was the self-describing term she used), who was converted over the airwaves by the magic of Rush Limbaugh. She now argues regularly with her brother, a solid ‘LibDem'. She said she was in a quandary over his assertion that "healthcare is a right, like ‘police protection, and an education.'"

For the next twenty minutes we looked diligently at the Constitution copies we had been given, trying to figure the whole thing out.

I came up with the idea health care was a ‘right' under the "promote the general welfare" assertion in the Preamble. And that the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution had been interpreted by the Supreme Court to require prisoners, as part of their humane treatment during detention, to be guaranteed the right to health care under ESTELLE v. GAMBLE, 429, U.S. 97, 1976. "And certainly citizens have rights greater than that of prisoners," I said, to which all nodded.

"So, health care must be a right. And, after all, what more important way to ‘promote the general welfare' than promoting the ‘health' of the populace. And it's so important, the Founding Framers chose to put it up front."

This did not sit well with ‘M', the former LibDem. Fighting against government health care was the reason she was on this bus. I got that "Deer in the Headlights" look from her.

I would get that look periodically through the weekend from several other RCLs.

More later, in Part Two: Lonegan and the Conference.

Wing Man: How I Survived Three Days of Right-Wing Peace, Love and Music