Liberal politics? They'll drink to that

Published January 10, 2007

BRANDON - For members of Drinking Liberally, left-wing politics is part of the brew. Drinking is how they stay engaged.

For more than a year now, a troop of tipplers has turned up Thursday evenings at Old Chicago Pasta & Pizza, 2042 Badlands Drive, to down beers and swap perspectives.

The local chapter of a national group felt like a support group for political outcasts, founding president Ben Whetstone said.

Until the November elections.

"We were all buying shots for each other," said Whetstone, 24, an Iraq war veteran. "I think we all pretty much expected the House. The Senate was a bonus."

Politics, partying

The national Drinking Liberally organization describes itself on its Web site as an "inclusive progressive social group." If there is a necessary connection between drinking and liberalism, no one in this group knows what it is.

"We are growing way faster than Drinking Conservatively," jested Joe Litton, 49, at a recent gathering.

Like some conservatives, a lot of the Drinking Liberally regulars distrust the media and turn to the Internet for information.

"It's that they are omitting things they should be reporting," said contractor Dave Hamel, 61, a visitor.

Mike Russo, who works at a Home Depot, tries not to talk politics on the job because he assumes his views would put him in the minority. Over time, he came to feel less isolated.

"I have realized that not everyone is blatantly conservative," said Russo, 25, a co-leader of the Brandon chapter.

Worrying aloud

One midterm election may not absolve the sense expressed by some in the group that they are out of step with society.

"We are willing to put ourselves in debt so we can have better toys," said Chris Ranung, 55, a movie caterer.

Like some other Drinking Liberally members, Ranung cultivates a rich inner life. He once started, but never finished, a screenplay, Bleeding Kansas, about the life of abolitionist John Brown.

Whetstone also has dabbled with a screenplay. Chincoteague was to be a soap opera similar to Dallas or Falcon Crest. He lifted the title from a 1947 novel and subsequent movie about a pony, Misty of Chincoteague.

The evening's only moment of discord came when newcomer Mia Hamel, Dave's wife, said she believed that the U.S. government - not 19 hijackers - caused 9/11. Whetstone cut her off with a wave.

"We're a lighthearted group," he said. "I don't want people to think we are a bunch of 9/11 conspiracy theorists."

The group drank to that.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or  ameacham@sptimes.com.