Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Republican Third Place?

In teaching a course about coffee houses, we went to lots of independent coffee houses, and a few chains. The independents were overwhelmingly – no, uniformly – left of center in their feel. The corporate ones were more politically neutral, but even Starbucks feels more Democratic than Republican. I have taken to asking people if they have ever been to a Republican coffee house. So far, no examples. It seems possible that there are some evangelical Christian coffee house ministries that might serve GOP lattes, but I haven't met one yet.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine what, exactly, a Republican "third place" would be like. I know about some redneck bars that have a right-wing stance, but I don't think they are really for party regulars and primary voters. And I suppose the average country club restaurant is more R than D. Still, it is hard to think of the kind of place where Republicans would normally go to hang out and talk about the world with strangers who gradually become acquaintances.

Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Republican version is private: salons to which one needs to be invited by a regular, but where one meets many strangers.

Perhaps the Republican style of Third Place is larger: resort areas.

When I lived in liberal Ann Arbor, Michigan, I joined a fitness club and was surprised to find that it was, in fact, just such a third place. It had been started as an indoor tennis club, and gradually expanded into swimming, equipment, and the like. There was a lounge area where food and beverages were served. The conversation was sometimes political, and usually right of center. Nonetheless, it was primarily focused on families and businesses, not politics.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about the leftist vibe, but I wonder if you're taking too much from the baristas and less from the entrepreneurs who make the coffee houses happen.

Here are my hunches: The people who make the places happen want profit AND community. They want order AND art. They want to build wealth AND share it.

Either consciously or below the surface, I'd bet the people who run viable coffee houses are centrists over and over--and have been for centuries.

Jody Harrington said...

Sporcupine makes a good point. I'm a Republican (as is almost everyone down here in my congressional district) and we are often found meeting for coffee and discussion of lots of topics at Starbucks or the local wine bar. I don't find our local Starbucks reflecting any overt political philosophy. They would loose customers if the stores promoted an overt liberal political point of view around here.

Michael Kruse said...

Conservatives don't hang at coffee shops. They are at home raising kids or at work creating jobs and wealth so lefties and centrists have enough money to go hang out at coffee shops and complain about conservatives.


Mark Smith said...

How about the corporate office, or the corporate watercooler?

I've experienced some of this (Repubs chatting about politics and life) at lunch in the company cafeteria.

Michael Kruse said...

Actually I was being somewhat tongue in cheek but I did recently read Arthur Brooks book about charity "Who Cares?" He measures both financial contribution and time speant volunteering at various events. He concludes (contrary to what he wanted to find) that religous conservatives both give more of their time and money.

"First, imagine two people: One goes to church every week and strongly rejects the idea that is the government's responsibility to redistribute income between people who have a lot of money and people who don't. The other person never attends a house of worship, and strongly believes that the government should reduce income differences. Knowing only these things, the data tell us that the first person will be roughly twice as likely as the second to give money to charities in a given year, and will give away more than one hunderd times as much money per year (as well as fifty times to explicitly nonreligious causes." (p. 10, emphasis in the text)

Religious conservatives also give more of their time. Non-religious liberals are among the least likely to volunteer and give. Religious (as defined by church attendance) liberals are more similar to religious conservatives.

All that is to say that I think conservatives tend to be better networked in the civic and religous institutions they participate in. Centrist, and particularly liberals, are less likely to be married, to be in families, and to be engaged with civic institutions.

Conservatives are having their conversations at the water cooler, at the Rotary club, at dinner after church with friends, on the sidelines at the kids soccer or softball game, the Boy Scout event, etc. They aren't looking for a "space" for conversation and to connect offered at a coffee shop.

Anonymous said...

Plug for conservatives aside i think michael does make an interesting point about the lack of community, or at least communal gathering spots, that can occur in liberal populations. It often seems to me that even though church, backyard barbques, and kid's soccer games have liberals the conversation is ruled by conservatives.

I think this goes back to the differnces in how the majority of these populations process information and react to new information. All in all the liberals, especially the intellectuals frquenting coffee houses, are moderatley to vehementl irreligious and all about rational well-talked out, and well-thought out discussion, whereas the general population of conservatives champions morality and a feeling or reading of what is right.

I think that the most obvious way these differences are viewed is the different parties view and control of religion within their base.

Gruntled said...

I thank you for this excellent commentary and set of examples -- all of which supports my initial contention. The idea of a third place (different from home and work) is that strangers can come together, interact, and become acquaintances. The regulars don't need to become intimates to create a public sphere. Most of the Republican civic conversation examples given above come within first and second places, or at least in institutions of people who already know one another. This is not at all to denigrate their civic value -- quite the opposite, as the "Who Cares?" study shows. Still, it may be that family oriented, church-going, conservative people don't need or frequent places with strangers much.

Which leads to the question: where to the secular, non-familial Republicans go? Are there libertarian coffee houses?

Michael Kruse said...

Drew, as someone who is a right of center intellectual, here is my frustration. I often find (not always) the conversation in conservative venues to be anti-intellectual platitude laden bonding. I often find (not always) the conversation in left-leaning intellectual circles elitist and philosophical to point of having become disconnected from practical realities. (The philosopher kings on Olympus speaking down to dolts in the valley of daily life.) Centrists often seem to me to be preoccupied with not to being perceived as liberal or conservative rather than candidly conversing.

In other words, I find genuine intellectual conversation rare in any venue.

Gruntled said...

Michael, I agree on the paucity of intellectual conversation. It requires both trust and a diversity of views. I like coffee houses because I can keep casting my intellectual bread upon the waters, and see who comes back for more talk.

Anonymous said...

Southeast Christian Church, a Louisville mega commonly referred to as Six Flags Over Jesus, opened a coffee shop this summer called Cafe 920. It seems like an attempt at creating a “third place” for Christians, though in many ways it is completely counter to the principles of evangelism.

They have attempted to pattern it after a typical coffeehouse (albeit a commercial feeling, Starbucksian one), even going so far as to place it adjacent to their bookstore. However, the café is located in the heart of the sprawling, suburban megachurch itself, and I doubt that many outsiders venture there. It seems purposely closed off from the rest of the world, though its website calls it a “great setting for catching up with a friend, meeting a colleague or introducing a neighbor to your church family.” Still, I imagine that the patrons are WASPishly homogenous. So perhaps it fits the bill as a Republican “third place,” one purposely created to counter the popular, left-leaning coffeehouses where Joe R. might be, gasp, confronted by a differing opinion!

My favorite part: The website for Cafe 920 has a section called “café lingo” to explain scary words like “latte” and “barista" for the timid first-timer.

Gruntled said...

Is a megachurch large enough that you can meet stranger at its coffee house, albeit pre-screened ones?

Anonymous said...

You can find plenty of Republicans from all walks of life hanging out, discussing the issues of the day or telling tales of days gone by any morning at any of the local fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald's, Arby's or Dairy Queen, or at local diners, such as the Red Rooster. There's plenty of conversation and the coffee is a whole lot cheaper.
Would a liberal go to such a place in search of Republicans?

Gruntled said...

Ah, that is a good suggestion. Which also implies that this issue is a class issue (the coffee is cheaper).

Phil 314 said...

The juxtoposition of these two comments is striking:
"I often find (not always) the conversation in left-leaning intellectual circles elitist and philosophical"

"Southeast Christian Church, a Louisville mega commonly referred to as Six Flags Over Jesus, opened a coffee shop this summer called Cafe 920...Still, I imagine that the patrons are WASPishly homogenous"

Gruntled said...

There are a couple of further comments on this post accidently posted on the next day's post, "The College and the Coffee House."

Anonymous said...

Try the Old Louisville Coffeehouse, or Coffeecrossing on Charlestown Rd in New Albany, IN.