The Independent Mindset, Beyond Politics?
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Independent Voter, and I congratulate the co-authors for writing a well-documented, highly readable, and timely volume. I especially appreciate the scholarly attention given to the manuscript. Plenty of literature is reviewed, and that will only help readers deepen their understanding of what may be framed as “the politics of independents.”
I was especially interested in reading Chapter 5, Can Independents Be Key to Bridging the Political Divide? as well as the short section in Chapter 9, The Independent Mindset. Reading both sections gave me pause for thought and reminded me of two experiences—one professional and the other personal.
I am a retired academic who, years ago, was given the assignment to lead a group of colleagues to design a new and different undergraduate program. We did what you would expect academics to do: we read just about everything we could about undergraduate education and what others were doing to (use a worn word) “innovate” the student space. The review elevated our understanding, but (as we soon discovered) only within the limits of the subject matter we were studying, that is, what others in higher education were investigating, doing, and writing about.
Frustrated by the feeling of being limited, we reached out to colleagues for advice. One peer encouraged us to expand our frame of reference beyond the literature on higher education—even education writ large—and to explore ideas in other fields that we could apply in our quest. To make a long story short, we did just that and (in the end) found an unfamiliar field to be the most helpful, which was quantum physics.
That decision pushed us beyond our individual and collective comfort zones. But we plugged away at it, and the new program, which was truly innovative, launched with ideas drawn from a field with which we were heretofore unfamiliar. That was over a quarter-century ago, and while those of us involved back then are no longer associated with a program, today, the endeavor is larger and more vibrant than ever.
Now, for the personal story. I am drawn to being an Independent for political reasons, and I suspect one reason is not atypical. I tried affiliating with the parties, first with the Republicans, as a Moderate Republican, influenced as I was by politicians like Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits. After the Republican Party moved more to the political right, I tried being a Democrat for a while, but (again) felt out-of-step with a party that hugged the center as I personally migrated more and more to the left. In each case, I experienced considerable agita from following the party line.
That is the political chapter of my road to being independent. The longer chapter has nothing to do with politics, but it influences my political preferences and choice-making.
I am independent—in spirit and practice—having been disappointed (and burned) multiple times by institutions of all sorts and across all sectors. Being independent means making choices that best meet my preferences and aspirations. While liberating, that choice is not without weighty consequences. I have learned to live with my independent spirit, although doing that has been quite challenging at times.
Although it may seem that my personal experience over time sealed the deal in my being an Independent politically, I know that is not the primary storyline here. I realize today that I have always had an independent spirit. With pressures and expectations in play, I tried to be what others were, which (for want of a better word) I’ll call “affiliated.” But that never really worked for me, even though part of me wishes that it had because life would have been much easier that way.
How many can others relate to my story? If there are more than a few, then that conclusion may open the need to explore works of literature that go beyond the traditional boundaries of political preferences and choice-making.
Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member for thirty years and worked in various administrative positions for nearly twenty years. Frank also writes about issues that intersect sport and society.