The young black Republicans had arranged, at the Voice‘s request, to meet at SideBar near Union Square to watch the vice-presidential debate last week, but there was a problem.
“They’re having some sort of Obama party here,” said James Davermann, a financial analyst for Bloomberg. Actually, it looked like several different Obama parties had showed up and were now clustered around different televisions. Davermann and his friends were going to be seriously outnumbered.
As if to emphasize how isolated they were, a tall, blond man said, as he passed by: “I’m a registered Republican, but I’m voting for Obama.”
“This is some sort of Obama love-fest,” said Shakera Jones, 26, who works at NYU. At the door, she’d been asked which group she was with—Asian-Americans for Obama, South Asians for Obama, or Filipinos for Obama. When the rest of the young conservatives had showed up, they decided to ditch the Obama orgy and headed for Galaxy Bar across the street.
At a table in the back of the bar, the young Republicans introduced themselves. Some were acquainted only through Republican Facebook groups or had met online at HiphopRepublican.com. A self-professed conservative since the age of 18, Davermann said that his outspoken views have forced his family to ban all politics talk at the dinner table. “My family is all extremely liberal,” he said. “I went to college and studied economics and the free-market system—limited government intervention. My views began to change. My family embraced the Democratic philosophy because when you are black, it’s expected. It keeps people in a state of dependency.”
“OK, so do you all support McCain?” asked Brandon Brice, 25, a junior economist. “I need to know who I’m sitting with.” One by one, they each explained why they were voting for the Arizona senator. “I support McCain for three reasons,” said Davermann. “His stance on foreign policy, he’s a moderate Republican, and his views on immigration.”
“I have an issue with his willingness to engage us in more warfare,” said Jones.
At that point, the group decided to move closer to the television, whose sound was too low to be heard from the back. The room had filled up for the debate, and the crowd was mostly white and Democratic: When Senator Joe Biden was introduced, the place broke into applause.
“Oh, God. Sarah, don’t lose this for us,” said a worried-sounding Jones.
Palin soon responded to her first question, about the Wall Street bailout: “Two years ago, remember, it was John McCain who pushed so hard with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform measures. He sounded that warning bell.”
Brice pumped his fist in agreement, drawing some stares from the crowd. “That’s right—put it out there!”
“She’s awesome,” said Davermann. “They finally let her off the leash. If she can follow Biden up on his points, it’s a wrap.”
Soon, Davermann and Brice were grinning broadly at Palin’s folksy responses. Jones was feverishly texting friends, who were also watching.
“Biden’s doing a great job of not answering questions,” said Davermann. As the Delaware senator described new initiatives, Jones asked no one in particular: “How are you going to pay for everything?”
After Biden said that he supported gay civil unions but not gay marriage, Palin said: “Your question . . . was whether he supported gay marriage, and my answer is the same as his—and it is that I do not.” Jones commented: “It’s mighty bold of her to take that stand.”
By now, some in the crowd were turning to see how the four black conservatives would respond to each of Palin’s statements. One Asian woman, however, wasn’t enjoying the show—she was repeatedly being brushed by Brice whenever he raised his hands to clap at Palin’s remarks.
“Stop pushing me,” she said to him.
“I’m sorry,” he replied. “I’m not doing it on purpose.”
“Oh, please,” Jones interjected. “It is not that serious.”
“I know,” the Asian woman responded, appearing to be more concerned about being brushed by a Republican than by the collisions themselves.
“Where’s the ‘Kumbaya’?” asked Jones.
Biden, meanwhile, was saying that he and Barack Obama had a clear plan to shift responsibility for the Iraq War to the Iraqis themselves over the next 16 months. But Jones was skeptical: “What war have we ever announced an end to?” she asked. “Not even in Vietnam.”
When Palin called the Democratic plan a “flag of surrender,” Davermann clapped loudly.
A man walking by, meanwhile, asked: “Is Biden stomping all over her?”
“No, not at all. It’s pretty close,” Davermann offered.
After the debate ended, the group headed back to their table to talk over Palin’s performance.
“She wasn’t a train wreck,” said a surprised-sounding Jones. “All she had to do was not mess up. There is still stuff she should know.” But Jones was clearly still mystified by Palin’s performance in the Couric interview: “How can she not name magazines she reads?”
“I support her because she is a different type of Republican,” said Brice. “This party is going to die if we don’t change or adopt a new outlook.”
The conversation then turned to Barack Obama and his record in Illinois.
“I’m from Chicago,” said Tiffany Shorter, 28, who works at a conservative think-tank, the Hudson Institute. “Obama is kicking the poor people out of the South Side.”
“If he can’t clean up Chicago under Mayor Daly,” said Brice, “he can’t clean up America. If he gets elected, it will be a dangerous situation.”
“He has good intentions,” Jones volunteered.
“Name three things he’s done,” said Brice.
Jones drew a blank.
Talk then turned to taxes, and Democratic plans to help the underprivileged were denounced. Jones said she wanted mothers receiving welfare to be sterilized until they got off the dole. “If my taxes goes to supporting them, I should have some say in how it is spent,” she said.
Palin, on the other hand, was a mother who set a better example. “Palin is the epitome of family morals,” said Shorter.
“I think African-Americans need to see more of that,” Davermann added.