"Why do you seem so normal?" he asked.
"I'm from Ohio," I responded.
The "he" was John Hawkins, a conservative attending RightOnline in Minneapolis. I am an employee of The Huffington Post, allegedly an enemy of all the things he cherishes. Over the course of four days in the nexus of Netroots Nation and RightOnline, I spent more time with the conservatives -- and we all seemed to like it just fine.
Many of us met at a "Left Meets Right" happy hour Thursday evening. Hawkins was the first from the Right to show up and he was a great sport. We ended up talking about our similarities instead of our differences, which I guess is what lead me to so many great times with the attendees of RightOnline.
And I was truthful in my explanation of "normalcy". It is because I am from Ohio. I may live in D.C., but I am and will always be a farm girl of the Midwest. Most of my family, including my parents, are Republicans. I love them more than anything in this world. Like all good children, I know a thing or two about negotiating around potentially explosive conversation.
We talked about the joys of Midwestern life -- football, fish fries, local brews and grandparents who took us hunting. Never once did we have to talk about the debt ceiling, health care reform or the 2012 races. Why bother? We were having a good time.
Throughout the rest of the weekend's events, Hawkins introduced me to other RightOnline attendees with, "Have you met Mandy? She works for The Huffington Post." I was at first a curiosity, then we all settled in with talk amongst our real selves, the ones that don't carry press passes or attend political events.
There were photos shared of kids and pets, gentle ribbing about sports rivalries and questions about what it's like to live in D.C. In a weekend that revolved around partisan politics, I was pleasantly surprised to find people can put them aside.
It's probably too much to hope that we could carry these small, shared experiences into the oncoming pre-2012 election madness. If nothing else, maybe as we inevitably get into partisan arguments with our family, friends and neighbors in the coming months, we could remember what brought us into contact in the first place -- and try to keep the vitriol on message.
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