Vol. I. Issue 0901
A blog? Well, having written the book, I’m not sure what else to add. However, on the assumption that many of you—probably most of you—won’t read the book, just prefer to wait until the movie comes out (right!), this may prove an effective way to communicate, reiterate, speculate and at time gesticulate (metaphorically speaking) concerning the phenomenon of political Independents and our federal government, in general.. That, at least, will be the initial assumption here.
My argument is simple: The increasing presence of political Independents means something; it isn’t just happening for no reason. But what? Different commentators draw different conclusions. Some say a body (bloc) of political Independents is mostly a myth. In actuality, they say, they are either Democrats or Republicans, because that is the way most of them vote. Voting statistics support this conclusion.
Now the book goes into considerable detail regarding this argument. Here, let me just say that if the myth argument is right, then why don’t they just register as Democrats or Republicans? Why do they shun these designations? Again, the book goes into some detail in considering this question and considers several possible reasons for this. In the end, it seems more than just a “reasonable conclusion” that the parties themselves are the reason. This is not a conclusion I believe most Americans would find surprising.
Just because Independents shy away from identifying themselves as Democrats or Republicans, that doesn’t mean they shy away from “leaning” conservative or liberal. That preference appears to be a built-in feature derived from our life-long socialization and experiences as an American; how we feel about things social, economic and political. Some of us are way out on the extreme ends of this bipolar spectrum, but most of us cluster closer the middle of it (think of it as a bell-shaped curve). That means our feelings towards these issues are normally not extreme. That propensity for moderation has been characteristic of American life for much of our history. For most of us, our “ideologies” are not extreme, and are to some degree influensable.
Political parties, on the other hand, tend to be more extreme, or biased, in the positions they represent, socially and economically and hence politically. And in recent decades, have become more so. This is not historically something new, but the degree of ideological thinking separating them today has shifted their politics away from where most of us reside, politically speaking, towards the more extreme ends of the conservative to liberal political spectrum. Result: They and their policies really don’t politically represent—either of them— a majority of the American voting public.
But, where does that leave us, the majority of voters, if these two political parties have narrowed themselves—their political arguments and objectives— down to representing just the more extreme ends of the political spectrum? In our electoral system, it leaves us without a political alternative. If your natural tendency is to “lean” toward conservatism, you vote Republican, or one of the even more extreme conservative minor parties; if you “lean” towards liberalism, you vote Democratic, or for one of the more extreme minor parties to the left of them. Today, those are your choices, like it or not. What this represents is a least-worse choice for many voters. You simply have no alternative vote to consider, aside from not voting at all. There is no ballot choice, “None of the above. That, in effect, holds you in a sort of political captivity; perhaps even disenfranchises you. You by default have no choice, no voice, in choosing those whom you would like to represent you in government. Among other designations, that’s a pretty weak definition of democracy; of how we should chose a republican form of government. But, what’s the alternative?
Apparently, for many, it’s registering to vote as an Independent. Given the rather superficial argument above—the book goes into much greater detail on this issue—what else can one do to express his or her dissatisfaction with their political choices? Registering to vote as an Independent really says, in my view, I may be a conservative on most issues, or a liberal on most issues, but the parties themselves, either Republican or Democrats, do not well govern in a manner that represents my views on the issues. It’s a passive form of revolt.
As a houseguest of ours recently expressed it, “It doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power, there is no change in the way things are going.” That seems to represent the feelings of a lot of Americans: dissatisfaction with the statu
s quo, but an inability of either party to really change it, no matter what their political arguments come election time. What we get is simply more of the same.
And why is this? Well, first of all we have to acknowledge that government is monolithic, partisan, and (theoretically) constitutionally handicapped in how it operates. This situation is increasingly compounded by the narrow political interests of the two major parties we have to choose from. Their interest is to either (1) win elections and then govern in a manner that best serves the ends of their social and economic ideology or (2) if not in power, to act in a manner to prevent their opponent from successfully governing in a manner consistent with their social and political ideology. If in this struggle the government they are responsible for actually governs in a manner that is in the interest of those not of their particular ideology, well, that’s a collateral benefit, not a specific objective. To wit: the political parties and their intramural contests to see who gets the White House and Congress really seem to care very little about the larger American Public. The consequence of this: Political Independents, lots and lots of political Independents. Given the facts, the circumstances and the continuing growth of Independents, this seems to point to a growing dissatisfaction with government as produced by either party.
Well, then why do most of us continue to vote for these parties? As pointed out above, what is our alternative? And the Parties know this! Hence, once every two or four years, Independent voters are (a) acknowledged, (b) courted and (c) counted on to win elections. Both Parties know the reality that without a significant portion of “the Independent vote”, neither can win an election. But once elected, independents are (a) dismissed, (b) forgotten and (c) denied any seat at the political table of those they supported and who won. My description of that is being used and abused.
The saving grace for the Parties is that Independents are of such an amorphous nature (as one of the Book reviewers put it) that developing them into a coherent “bloc” for electoral purposes seems highly improbable. Thus, the Parties haven’t had have to worry about them becoming any form of a political rival, even though Independents represent the largest bloc of voters in America. All they have to do, come election time, is to seem to cater to their less than partisan wishes for government, while at the same time not appearing to their “base” to have abandoned it. Not always an easy dance, but they seem to handle it. And in the process, disregard Independents. After all, what can Independents do about it, right?
Well, that’s what the book is about: What Independents can do about it, and there is something they can do to change this situation and improve government for (at least) most of the people all of the time, and all of the people at least most of the time. I challenge either party to claim such ability—or even such a desire!