The Unexpected Genesis of a Flip-Flopping Neophyte Liberal

    It’s Sept. 11, and this writer isn’t feeling patriotic, at least in one sense of the word; I haven’t participated in government. I haven’t voted, paid taxes or made plans to join the Army/Navy/Air Force.

    By Nandini Datta

    I’m a backseat politico, watching and reading the news to jeer, point and shake my head.

    And that’s exactly what I’m doing at the Rancho Bernardo Inn — on the fifth anniversary of America’s most notorious day — where the Conservative Order for Good Government is hosting an address by state Assembly Republican leader George Plescia (R-San Diego).

    The event, which I attended by virtue of another job, is a blue-blooded schmooze-fest with a crowd whose average age is probably triple my own. Common accessories in the room include fancy canes, walkers with hollow tennis balls on the feet, oversized sunglasses and too much perfume/cologne.

    It’s in this place that I made my liberal bones. It’s in this place that I began thinking like a donkey, because everyone else was thinking like an elephant. Flawed logic, yes, but it works the other way when I’m in the midst of free-loving flower children.

    My political history up to that point was short and sweet: I’m a registered Republican and was too lazy to vote on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s propositions last year. Historically, the Nguyen household votes Republican down the ballot.

    I was to be the first to join “the dark side” — my mother’s moniker for the Democratic mindset —and all these aging COGG members at the Inn can smell it.

    It’s because my wrinkled shirt isn’t tucked in. Or maybe it’s the disheveled hair and aviator sunglasses.

    Whatever the reason, they whisper and nod faintly toward my direction in the corner of this posh ballroom.

    The Inn is the pinnacle of old-era wealth. The sand in the ashtrays is stamped with the Inn’s emblem. The food is catered in vats that shine reflections of the dining line: toupees, comb-overs and tacky, Howard Cosell-esque suit jackets. Simplistically, I connect the classical swank with conservatism, then sneer quietly.

    Plescia — a young-looking man with an informal tone — takes the podium, and the room buzzes for San Diego’s favorite son.

    His intro is an ego-orgasm and goes like a Grimms Brothers tale: the assemblyman from San Diego, fresh from face time with Arnold himself, has come down from Mt. Sacramento to reconnect and recultivate his local roots, just in time for the election year.

    The campaign strategy for Republicans this year is “solidarity” behind Schwarzenegger, Plescia says, then heartily flatters Arnie for being the state party’s lynchpin.

    “The mood is bad from the Republican side of the aisle nationally,” he tells the crowd. “In California, we’ve been inoculated from it because of how great Arnold Schwarzenegger has done with the economy.”

    Some in the crowd nod, and Plescia nurtures the ambience.

    “The governor is considering some bills for veto that make us very happy,” he says. “He has guaranteed a veto on allowing illegal immigrants driver licenses, but hasn’t done the same for one that would give them the right to state financial aid.”

    The mood turns nasty. The combination of “illegal immigrants”

    and “aid” has sparked the crowd’s conservative, knee-jerk response, and Plescia is caught in a corner.

    The financial aid bill he’s referring to is SB 160, and upon its mention the room turns into the Wild West.

    A lanky woman in a sundress juts her hand up.

    “These people are criminals!” she says in a voice usually reserved to chase rowdy twits off your lawn. “Don’t college students have an oath to uphold the law?”

    “I guess it’s not against the law to try to change the law or something,” Plescia answers meekly.

    “But can’t we get them on dereliction of duty?!” she shrieks back, then throws her hands up.

    Some giggle, others nod and I bite my lip, ready for tomatoes and to start flying at the podium. Then, Plescia deploys a political lifesaver: “Make no bones about it, I sure do have my disagreements with the governor philosophically.”

    The qualifier is a bureaucratic fence. By sitting on it, Plescia can distance himself from the Schwarzenegger that conservatives hate: the Hollywood strongman who hails from the same region as stanch blue-staters “Big-nose” Barbra Streisand and “Too-tall” Tim Robbins.

    The crowd’s temper swings back from mutiny.

    “I mean, we’ve even had a bill on healthcare for illegal immigrants,” Plescia says with a contemptful shrug. Someone hisses in agreement, and Plescia’s tone strengthens with confidence.

    “We have to stop giving away incentives,” he says. “It doesn’t look like Congress can settle the illegal immigration issues, so we can’t wait for the feds. We have to solve this as a state on our own.”

    There are claps, then more claps and the place turns into a fervent rally for Republicans.

    Plescia has done his job for the reds, and it looks like this room of voters is locked in for the upcoming gubernatorial election.

    Political persuasion has unfolded before my eyes, and its influence on both the conservatives and me is unsettling. But by the end of the experience, I’m glad I’ve finally picked a side.

    I climb into my yellow Ford Focus hatchback and roll down the windows. The CD plays SteppenWolf’s “Born to Be Wild” while I light up, then smile because I’m a young, wide-eyed liberal — at least until I’m around a whole bunch of beatniks.

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