The book, A Declaration of Independents, How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream by Greg Orman is a thoughtful analysis of the political crisis that faces our country and the role that independent candidates such as Greg Orman can play in breaking the two-party stranglehold. The author is a Kansas businessman and political independent who ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 and is now running for Governor of Kansas. I enjoyed reading the book and learned a lot from it, however I discuss in the second half of this article areas in which I differ with the author.
In the chapter An Independent Run, Orman recounts one of many important conversations with voters: early in his 2014 campaign for U.S. Senator during a meeting with a group of local leaders that included a retired schoolteacher, a Democrat who initially “was skeptical why any Democrat should consider supporting an Independent. When the conversation turned to education policy…,” Orman spoke about “the New American Paradox” his belief “that it’s harder than ever for the average American to get ahead and, yet, paradoxically easier to do nothing with your life.” He went on to discuss the summer slide for low income kids, “High income kids simply have access to more enriching opportunities during the summer, while lower income kids tend to regress, leading educators to conduct remedial lessons during the first weeks of each new school year…” The opportunity to participate in the American Dream has never been fully available to all Americans.
The conversations between people of different parties and different points of view are examples of the vital role that independent campaigns can play in bringing people together. One of the barriers in the way our politics is set up is that people from different parties seldom have the opportunity to dialogue in a nonpartisan environment in which it is possible for people to listen to each other.
This example was of great interest to me because of my involvement in supporting new approaches to education and youth development for poor youth and communities through the All Stars Project (www.allstars.org) and also because I believe that dialogue between ordinary people from different backgrounds and across the political spectrum is vital for a truly representative democracy. Public policies can only be helpful and effective for people if they are not mediated by political parties. Matters from education and housing to health care and public safety become political footballs in the hands of the parties.
I think the following statement by Greg Orman is very important.
“I believe that in framing possible policy solutions as “either/or” choices, both parties leads us to believe that there are only two answers to any problem. Generally, these answers have been hyper-distilled to such an extent that they’re troublingly simplistic. At that point, they become litmus tests. Even worse, they are made into labels that harden a false choice into a single word: “pro-choice” or “pro-life”, for example. Even on that ideologically and morally charged subject, the great majority of Americans have nuanced views that wouldn’t pass muster with party gate-keepers.”
I very much appreciate the author’s careful analysis of how both of the parties distort matters of consequence to our country including fiscal policy, Medicare, social security, and immigration reform.
A major theme of the book and of Greg Orman’s independent political advocacy is “Problem Solving, Not Partisanship”, a mantra on his bus tour through Kansas. “There’s no requirement for an Independent to engage in empty games to support a particular political party. Independents can focus exclusively on solving problems.”
He speaks about how he and his wife though both have lived in Kansas many years, (his wife having spent her entire life there and he having lived there for over two decades) “were constantly acquiring new information about the people I wanted to represent in Washington and gaining new and deeper understanding of their needs.”
Though I agree with much of the book I cannot subscribe to the author’s equation of the Constitutional Convention compromise that allowed slavery as similar to or the other side of the position of advocating for states’ rights in the following passage from the book:
“Some might agree with DeMint and insist that sometimes it is better not to compromise – and point to the Constitutional Convention to make this point. Papering over the differences on slavery only forestalled resolution of this great moral dilemma, ensuring that untold millions lived in bondage and forcing the question to be resolved on the battlefields of the Civil War at great loss of life. It’s a fair point, and not a new one. Nineteenth century abolitionist firebrand William Lloyd Garrison celebrated Independence Day in 1854 by burning a copy of the Constitution, which he labeled “a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell!” “Similarly, certain conservatives would claim that when the Constitution failed to recognize an explicit right to state nullification of federal laws a great wrong was committed.”
Slavery was a violation of the first sentence of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and others argued that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were anti-slavery documents. I agree with them. The Southern Democratic Party states’ rights position against civil rights and voting rights for African Americans was not an ideological counter point to liberal views it was a violation of the principles of human equality that are fundamental to our nation.
One of those principles that independents are advocating is that every voter should have an equal right to participate in all stages of elections and that no American should be required to join a political organization as a condition for voting. The function of the independent movement is not to help the parties work better together but to lead in the movement to revitalize our democracy so it works for all of the American people.
POLITICS for the PEOPLE
With Author GREG ORMAN
A Declaration of Independents
How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream