Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meet Me in the Political Middle: Commentary on the 2012 Race

When it comes to politics, I can be found all over the map depending on the issue.

On some matters, I lean toward the left, on others toward the right. I’ve voted for Democrats and for Republicans. I vote the person, not the party. I vote on character and policies, not on partisan litmus tests. I don’t believe that one of the two main political parties is entirely evil and hell bent on wrecking the nation while the other has only the noblest, best intentions for the United States in mind. No one party corners the market on the most ethical, intelligent, reasonable and pragmatic solutions to the nation’s problems. They’ve both got gigantic flaws and lunatics in their ranks.

There are some politicians who are Democrats and some who are Republicans whom I admire and have enormous respect. There are crazies on both ends of the political spectrum – on the far left and far right of both parties – who try to push their presidential (gubernatorial) candidates and legislative leaders to the outer wings during primaries, rendering the candidates, in the end, looking like unbalanced hypocrites when they turn around and seek to claim the middle, moderate ground during the general election because that’s where the undecided voters reside. (Those folks on either ends of the extremes are likely going to vote party line in the general election, while those who are more moderate could go either way.)

The tactics of our political parties make our candidates behave worse, not better. The parties pressure well intentioned officials to support bills in which they actually don’t believe, to give lip service to issues with which they don’t agree. If an elected official dares to go rogue on his or her party and defy the demands of the party leaders, the fierce partisans and political establishment mete out punishment in the form of party-funded opponents in the primary, of being stripped of one’s seat on legislative committees and of one’s district suddenly seeing public monies evaporate, all as a penalty for not towing the party line. Politicians in our system have a very difficult time remaining true to themselves because not only are they expected to do what the establishment and the party leaders want them to do, but because there are also powerful, wealthy lobbying groups who wield tremendous influence and power over the process (by not making hefty campaign contributions or by throwing support behind a rival candidate, etc.) if they’re dissatisfied.

This makes those of us who find ourselves in the political middle disillusioned with politics and the political process. Watching the primary candidates reach out to the extremists, moderates frequently feel alienated. It’s only when the general election rolls around and the candidates stop staking out positions on the far left or right and try to say, “Hey, I’m in the middle with you guys too” that people who might be a little liberal and a little conservative depending on the issue feel as though the politicians are finally speaking their language. But once that person is elected, he or she is forced to become partisan again because partisanship seems to be the only way of doing business these days.

A confession: I used to hold pretty partisan positions when I was in college. I did not take the time to listen to the other side. I saw the world as fairly black-and-white and invoked lazy caricatures of those folks who lived on the politically polar opposite plain than I did at the time. Then I gradually started to let go of the angry partisanship which marked my college years and actually began listening to the whole spectrum of ideas. Then, after an incident made me feel as though I’d been sold out by the political party to which I was registered, I angrily switched sides (my husband was stunned). In the last few years, however, I’ve started to realize that maybe I’m not a one side of the aisle type of gal after all. I am, indeed, somewhere in the middle.

Just this week, for the first time since I was 18 years old, I unenrolled from all political parties because I’ve had enough. I’m hardly alone (despite the fact that those who reside on the sanctimonious, narrow-minded edges of both political parties say that being an independent moderate means you’re wishy-washy). Earlier this month, pollsters from Rasmussen Reports found that, “The numbers of Americans who are not affiliated with either major political party has reached the highest level ever, as the number of Democrats has reached an all-time low.” In fact, the American electorate is roughly divided into thirds when it comes to party registration, according to Rasmussen:
  • 33.5 percent are Republicans
  • 33 percent are Democrats
  • 33.5 percent are not enrolled in a political party
But even among those who are registered with a party, which I was until this week, they aren’t necessarily dogmatic about their party affiliation. Why else was the term “Reagan Democrat” invented?

This is why a group like No Labels, which calls upon us to ditch the “hyper-partisanship” which “dominates today’s political debates” and seek out moderate solutions, is so appealing to me. Yes, the organization seems very Mr. Smith Goes to Washington idealistic as it aspires to prompt elected officials to be reasonable, given that reasonableness is anathema to partisans and pols who are posturing themselves for re-election and want to look “tough.” But at least it doesn’t represent unthinking, unbending lockstep partisanship that sacrifices the common good at the altar of party unity.

So for the duration of the 2012 presidential election season, I will be periodically weighing in on events from my new post, smack dab in the unenrolled middle, where at least a third of the rest of you reside. I’ll continue to listen to both conservative and liberal radio shows and watch conservative and liberal TV talk shows. (All the better if they’re combined in one like Morning Joe, which features conservative Joe Scarborough and liberal Mika Brzezinski and doesn’t demonize all Democrats or all Republicans.) I will continue to cast a skeptical eye on all politicians’ assertions and assignments of blame for this crisis or that one. And I’ll do my best to try to look at the issues from here in the political middle. I hope you’ll join me.

Image credit: No Labels.

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