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Red-blue workshop seeks to correct partisan stereotypes

Workshop seeks better understanding between red and blue

A starting point for resolving any conflict is to understand the other person’s point of view.

For three hours Saturday, Democrats and Republicans came together to try to better understand each other. Generations Community Church in Nicholasville hosted the first in-person gathering of the local alliance of Braver Angels, a national group that seeks to bridge the partisan divide.

Participants must be equally divided between “red” and “blue,” and there and there must be a facilitator from each party. Political science professor Steve Clements played that role for the Republicans, and history professor Carolyn Dupont, the state coordinator for Braver Angels, substituted for the Democratic leader, Beth Garrett-Logsdon, who had a scheduling conflict.

After discussing the ground rules, the Republicans and Democrats split into separate groups to come up with lists of stereotypes about their own parties, then narrowed those to four.

The Democrats believed the Republicans thought of them as socialist, unpatriotic, anti-police “baby killers.”

Republicans assumed the Democrats believed they were racist, conservative, anti-poor and either stupid or anti-intellectual.

The two groups then discussed their actual beliefs in the context of what the other party thought and considered whether there was a “kernel of truth” in the stereotypes. And they came back together to discuss those ideas with the whole group.

“We’re the party of Lincoln,” Max Vanderpool, said, defending Republicans against the charge of racism. However, he admitted that if you got some of them together in a room today, they were likely to be “a bunch of white guys.”

That was true in this case. There were no people of color and only one woman in the Republican group.

State Sen. Tom Buford, explained that Republicans aren’t against helping the poor, they just don’t think handouts are always the most effective way of doing that. He pointed out that instead of using their stimulus checks to help themselves by paying off student loans, for example, he said many people.

Buford brought laughter when he mentioned someone who “took his whole family to Las Vegas.”

Doug McLaren, said the Democrats in the group don’t believe abortion at nine months is a “viable option,” contrary to the misperception of so-called “born alive” legislation.

“We all want to decrease abortion. The question is, how is the best way of doing that?” Democrat Judy Metcalf said.

Cavalia Radford described herself as a pro-life Democrat, but said not all women have the kind of support she had when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant.

As for the charge about being unpatriotic, McLaren said Democrats love their country, but: “You can love and also want more in any relationship.”

That made sense to Vanderpool, pastor of the church that hosted the meeting.

“In church circles, we say that if you love someone, you love them enough to want to see them change,” he said.

As for what the two groups thought about themselves, Clements noted that fiscal conservativism has traditionally been a core principle of Republicans.

“We haven’t been fiscally conservative for quite some time,” Tara Hall, another Republican said.

The Democrats mentioned equality of opportunity as one of their core beliefs.

But Democrat Anna Wilson said, “Equality does not mean equity.” Give everyone the same tools, she said, and some are still going to be disadvantaged.

Gary Goldey, another “blue” participant, agreed, saying that a manager can’t treat all employees the same because all are not the same; they are individuals.

Coke Shukla said one thing the two sides agreed on was what the other side thought about them.

Republican Bill Beach and Buford and Democrat McLaren all blamed “the media” in part for the partisan divisions.

“The news media … distorts and taints what really takes place behind the scenes,” Beach said.

But Democrat Jacquie Shukla, who said her son-in-law writes for The Chicago Tribune, disagreed, pointing out that not all media are the same.

“The way we get our news now has changed so drastically,” she said. “A lot of news sources, unfortunately, are not credible,” and one has a responsibility to choose those that are.

Coke Shukla offered the observation that the reds and blues weren’t as far apart as some believe.

“You know, we really agree on more things than we actually realize,” he said. “That small difference has created a big divide among Democrats and Republicans,” but it would be better to focus on those areas where they agree.

Dupont also emphasized personal responsibility.

“No one is coming to save us,” she said.

Clements invited those who participated in the red-blue workshop but who aren’t yet part of Braver Angels to consider joining.

“We don’t have a particular agenda. There is no rally component. We get together and try to have good, constructive, civil conversations,” he said.

“One of the best things I think about it is, this is really a regular way to have interactions with people that you might not interact with otherwise. And relationships are the best anecdote to this kind of polarization,” Dupont said.

The next meeting of Braver Angels is scheduled for May 22.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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