Had a very curious and rewarding experience on the airplane from Dallas to Omaha. I boarded late (due to my connecting flight loitering on the taxiway for 30 minutes or so), and sat across the aisle from a US Army NCO in combat fatigues. He looked over at me with my long hair and my Birkenstocks and said, “Excuse me, are you a liberal?”
I smiled and said, “Why, yes I am. Do you need a position statement?”
We proceeded to have a long, very involved conversation about the war in Iraq. The gentleman was on mid-deployment leave from his third tour there, coming home to see his wife and son. He was quite genuinely baffled about what he considered to be the liberal perspective on the war. I explained my own perspective, pointing out that I was the only liberal I could speak for, and was unfailingly polite and very nonconfrontational. We spoke for about an hour.
I don’t suppose I convinced him of anything different from the opinions he already held, and I don’t believe he changed any of mine, but I may have succeeded in humanizing what he had seen as the faceless and irrational opposition to a cause he firmly believes in. He obviously needed to talk about this, and I was happy to participate in welcoming him home through civil if occasionally tense political debate. Eventually we talked about his buddies who had died over there, his personal sense of commitment, his (well-informed) understanding of world affairs, and the book he was thinking about writing.
Before we got off I gave him a copy of Mainspring. He shook my hand, apologized for coming on strong, and thanked me for speaking with him.
I’m very glad we spent the time together. The gentleman had an immense amount of passion about what he clearly saw as his life’s work and his commitment to democracy. That we agreed on almost nothing in the grand political picture, and disagreed on much in the details, did not detract from my pleasure in having a spirited policy discussion with a fellow citizen.
I wish him well, and all possible safety on his return to Iraq.