THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT Young urban conservatives like Ryan Mitchell (left) and Dave Benedetti blend in with their liberal friends — until politics enters the conversation. "I don't like to talk about politics," Mitchell says.
Arthur Brietman thinks of it as the "Oh no" moment.
Brietman is a French national living in New York City, and people assume that his accent means he's a laissez-faire liberal. Not so. In fact, he's a conservative libertarian. "I'll be at a party," he says, "and the person I'm talking to realizes that my politics are completely different than theirs. They give me a look, like, Oh no."
>> READ: "Conservatives to watch out for" by Eugenia Williamson <<
Nearly every city-dweller has experienced at least one Oh no moment, often from the other side. My own most recent such frisson occurred at a barbecue in Union Square filled with Girls Rock Camp coaches. Across the dessert table were two floppy-haired fellows in skinny jeans and tight plaid shirts. As I mulled my pie choices, I listened in on their conversation: they were talking about how wrong it was to build a mosque near Ground Zero. I felt like I was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, that I should run into the crowd screaming into the faces of the feminists: "They're here! You're next!"
Signs of hipster conservatism are busting out all over. Last month, conservative-owned poseur lifestyle chain Urban Outfitters came under fire for selling Mitt Romney T-shirts. The best one, bearing the slogan "2 Legit 2 Mitt" written in early-'90s chunky font, featured Mittens's head superimposed onto the body of MC Hammer.
"What's your pleasure, young person who lives in a Mormon Williamsburg of the mind?" wrote Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams. "What's revolting about the latest Urban Outfitters gambit is its sneaky ploy of making conservatism seem so uncool it's cool, all funny and retro. . . . Which, in turn, is how some doofus winds up using his chest as free advertising for a candidate he'd otherwise never in a million years vote for."
What Williams doesn't consider is that some who buy this T-shirt really will cast their votes for Romney. Last week, Vice — the magazine best known for making ironic trucker hats fashionable — ran a piece characterizing libertarianism as the natural result of disillusionment with the two-party system.
Gone are the days when Phyllis Schlafly and William F. Buckley reigned as conservative Barbie and Ken. The new conservative archetype is more like Meghan McCain, the right-wing libertarian daughter of our almost-president, now on tour to promote a book (titled America, You Sexy Bitch) written with her friend, the liberal comedian Michael Ian Black.
In fact, in every urban enclave in every blue state contains a small, barely visible contingent of libertarians who move, undetected, in liberal social circles. Undetected, that is, until the veneer of consensus slips away.
But what's it like on the other side? What's it like to know that your political beliefs don't align with those of your friends, your scene, or your town, to know that expressing them out loud might clear a room? I hunted down some Blue State libertarians to find out.