Greg Orman, who almost unseated a deeply entrenched incumbent as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014, and who is now a promising independent candidate for Governor in Kansas, shares some vital insights in his book, A Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream. Not only does Orman informatively expose details about the crushing control the two-party Duopoly holds on American politics, but he does so with unique credentials, and with a vision for how we can return power to “we the people.”
As a previous Republican-party insider in Utah, a state where Republicans dominate, I can relate to Orman’s description of politics in Kansas, also a heavily Republican state. Orman mentions how partisan-controlled politics has forced candidates to take the most extreme views and duke out their chief battles in party primaries (since the general election outcome is usually a forgone conclusion). I found the following observation by Orman to be particularly revealing and important:
“[I]n our current crisis, moderates are partly the authors of their own misfortune. I’ve long held the view that moderates in both parties are the victims of the rule rigging and negative campaigning that they themselves have historically supported. They made the assumption that if it was good for the party, it was good for them as incumbent officeholders. . . . [They] helped to create an environment that was ironically hostile to them.” (p. 106)
By definition, “moderates” are supposed to be more reasonable, more rational, less ideologically partisan, more mainstream – thus, less extreme. They’re supposed to be the types of people who are able to find common ground with the other side. However, the “moderates” failed America. They lacked the political courage to “do the right thing.” They became the entrenched establishment that was ever too happy to rig the rules in their favor, ever too comfortable engaging in cronyism, ever too eager to use their position for permanent career advancement, ever too entitled to not create a permanent class of elites that shut out most of America.
But, “the party people,” rather than blaming lack of ethics (abuse of power), have blamed moderates’ willingness to compromise on complicated issues; they’ve cynically denounced independent rationality itself. Things have now become so highly polarized and partisan that “moderate” is a bad word for parties, and “moderates” are facing extinction in our party-controlled government. The saddest part in all of this is that despite moderates’ concerns about the current state of things, very few have stepped forward and admitted their folly; they’re not actively working to right the ship they’re responsible for damaging. As they lose re-election, they blame the extremists – and then they settle into a lucrative lobbying job. They certainly can’t fathom working to reform a broken system – that would be too radical. And nearly none of them will risk reputation and loss of money prospects to run as independents and/or publicly support independent candidates.
So major kudos to Greg Orman, someone who has been willing to put everything on the line and be a real leader. He understands why our government isn’t working, and he’s willing to do what it takes – despite the naysayers who might call him “a spoiler, dishonest, or just plain crazy.” Orman understands that the only way to fix things is for competent people of conviction who don’t see everything through a partisan lens, to step up – outside the current partisan system – and offer their independent minds and spirits at the solution table; after all, regardless of which side in our duopoly wins, “[w]e haven’t seen any fundamental changes in the [negative] long-term direction of our country.” (p. 274).
I was struck by Orman’s example coming from research by the Bipartisan Policy Center, wherein on education reform proposals, “Democrats preferred ‘their party’s’ plan 75 percent to 17 percent. Yet when the exact same details were called the ‘Republican Plan,’ only 12 percent of Democrats liked it. The same dichotomy was present among Republicans. Only independents answered the question irrespective of which party label was put on it.” (p. 144) Orman gets it: “policy positions [are] not driving partisanship, but rather partisanship [is] driving policy positions.”
With attitudes such as George Will’s indicating that it’s less important to upgrade the “intellectual voltage” in the Senate than it is to get one more Republican elected (or Democrat, depending on who is speaking), we know we’ve lost any semblance of putting country first, but are simply trying to help our team win at any cost. I’m heartened by Orman’s common sense approach of working to understand all points of view around an issue, and looking objectively and creatively to find solutions, embracing diversity of thought and intellectual conflict “as a way to get to the right answer,” calling upon all of us to be willing to change our minds as new information informs us that our prior position was incorrect. This is what it means to be independent of partisan boxes and think for ourselves.
Orman points out that we would never allow our sports teams to shamelessly rig the rules of competition such that the same two teams always make it to the World Series, and yet we have allowed Republicans and Democrats to do this in U.S. politics. It’s time for Americans of good faith everywhere to “cast off the heavy collar of partisanship,” (p. 255) be willing to take bold risks for our country – not only when we have nothing to lose, but especially when we have “everything” to lose – and create a better America for future generations.
Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.