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It's Their Party

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The Humanist
‘I really admire people who are devoted as artists but nonetheless serve as political players,” says Carrie Thomas, an associate editor at McGraw-Hill. “Winston Churchill was a painter. Benjamin Disraeli was a poet. In art there is communication, and in communication there are solutions.” Heartfelt thoughts for the 26-year-old managing editor of The Record, the newsletter of the New York Young Republicans Club. Though she came to New York to work in publishing, Thomas was under no illusion that she was going to fit in politically. In school at Penn State, she was the only Republican art major she knew. She didn’t meet a single fellow Republican during her first year in New York. Thomas grew up among the coalfields of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, idolizing W. H. Auden and Margaret Atwood. If her Republican views seemed an odd fit in lunch-pail country, it’s perhaps because she arrived at them through an obscure back alley, British Enlightenment philosophy. “The classical ‘liberal’ philosophies—the Lockes, the John Stuart Mills—those are what I would like us to get back to,” she explains. “When I say liberal, I mean individual rights. I mean pro-choice, individual rights for homosexuals. But that’s true for a lot of Republicans in the city. We’re not extreme like the people you see on TV, in the same way that not all Democrats are Al Sharpton.”

But she has yet to convince friends. “I find people want to hold me responsible for everything, like Bush’s DUIs,” she says. “Like that’s my personal responsibility?”

Back in college, she acted in a local theater troupe, but her fellow actors didn’t share her glowing admiration for Ronald Reagan. “People can make fun of his background, the acting thing, but he really did know how to communicate, and I believe that’s why we achieved the reform that we did with the Soviet Union.

“I’m a hawk. I’m very pro-military. I’m not saying I’m in total support of the execution of the Iraq war. I’m just saying there are far worse things than war. September 11 was one of them.” Of course, as a Lockean, Thomas has plenty of quibbles. “I was up at the Young Republicans’ national convention in Boston, and one of the candidates was handing out fliers that said they were anti–gay rights,” she says in horror. “I want our generation to turn this around and say, ‘No, this isn’t how we started out.’ I feel like we’ve kind of gotten away from the focus of the Republican Party, including individual rights. That’s why I’m a Republican in the first place.”

The Student of History
Matt Baer predicts that in fifteen years, tops, there will be as many Republicans on the Upper West Side as liberals. If this seems an improbable fate, Baer understands the irony. He grew up among red-diaper babies on West 93rd Street. Few know Upper West Side liberals like he does.

“The Democrats are old,” explains Baer. Naturally, everyone seems old when you’re 20 and a senior in college. “When I stand out in front of Barnes & Noble on 83rd Street and try to get petitions signed for Republican candidates, the people who come up to me and say ‘I would never vote Republican’—those are the old people. You see these Democratic clubs on the Upper West Side, you go in there, it’s like a senior home.”

“It was while I was in high school at Stuyvesant that I really got interested in Republican politics,” he explains. While this new passion stood out dramatically in the People’s Republic of Riverside Drive, the original source of his political awakening was, in fact, his parents. Both his father, who owns a small tour-bus company, and his mother, who teaches third grade in a local public school, were registered Republicans. “Neither one of my parents was really political,” he explains. Still, his mother was skeptical about liberal policies that she thought were gumming up the education system. “My mom has never been a fan of the teachers’ union.

“I think that the whole system needed to be changed,” says Baer, who is effusive about Mayor Bloomberg’s education initiatives. “I think each school needs to be run by its own principal who can fire teachers when they need to.”

His interest in education policy led to an overall political flowering. By the time he was a junior at Stuyvesant, Baer was working long hours for GOP candidates in various races throughout the city. Now studying history at George Washington University, he’s backed the Republicans against two sacrosanct Upper West Side liberals—Congressman Jerry Nadler in 2002 and Councilwoman Gale Brewer in 2001 and 2003. In each case, his candidate got pounded. But more than anything else, he says, Republican candidates in Manhattan need to be stronger. “Candidates still send out literature and it doesn’t say Republican anywhere on the thing.”

Baer is certain the future is on his side. “The West Side has had such an influx of young people looking to start a family, but they’re not able to find apartments because a lot of old people are still paying $500 a month for rent-controlled, four-bedroom luxury apartments.”

Of course, right now, the “old” people who are feeling the sting of Baer’s political agitating are his parents. “They’ve been yelling at me about the phone bills,” he says. “But it’s a small price to pay.”


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