The Independent Voter — the Hope for Developing Democracy and a Twenty-First Century Economy
Do partisan voters, politicians or the media understand what it means to be an independent voter? No, but that’s starting to change. Independent voters are often portrayed as people who don’t want to get involved in politics, or as partisans who want to maintain their privacy as to their political opinions, or as people who are “centrist” or “wishy-washy.” But the recently published book, The Independent Voter, by Thom Reilly, Jacqueline S. Salit and Omar H. Ali, actually opens the curtains as to who we really are . . . people who consciously reject the “us versus them” mentality, reject being plotted one-dimensionally onto the traditional ideological spectrum, and reject the two-party system that we’re boxed into. We are people who understand that there are better ways of “developing democracy,” and we’re hoping that society can envision with us a new paradigm, and that together we can have the courage to bring it to fruition.
The book shows how the political Parties have been able to maintain power and how independent voters, voters not affiliated with a Party, have been misunderstood, ignored, and even suppressed, and how the deck is stacked against independent candidates . . . despite the fact that independent voters represent a greater share of the electorate than either Republicans or Democrats. Chapter 6, titled, Free the Voters, opens with a 1992 quote by Theodore Lowi:
There is a dirty little secret that sophisticates have been hiding from the masses for three or four decades. The secret is that the two-party system is dying . . . the two-party system has been kept alive with artificial respiration through state laws biased against third parties and through artificial insemination by federal subsidies and other protections sold to the public as ‘campaign reform.’ The two-party system would collapse in a moment if all the tubes and IVs were pulled out.
Exploring this idea alone would be a big eye opener for a lot of people who don’t realize the many ways in which the currently arranged structure continues to perpetuate a flawed system that breeds corruption. There are so many ways in which the Parties have inserted themselves “between the people and their government.” While we’ve been seeing progress lately, it’s not a quick, steady march to full recognition and equal rights for independent voters. Every time we start to move the needle, the power dynamics have a way of slowing it down. The book alludes to how partisan polarization keeps people from opening their eyes at the present time:
While the Democratic Party reform agenda is built around Protecting the Vote by battling various forms of suppression (real or imagined), and the Republican mantra is to Stop the Steal by combatting fraud (imagined or real), the need to Free the Vote and the Voter from the heavy restraints and manipulations at the hands of institutionalized party politics remains largely ignored.
So many people are so preoccupied with “the other side” that they fail to see that reforming the system itself is the real answer, that it could create new and healthier dynamics that would go a lot further to solving current issues than our current yo-yo of the back-and-forth full-scale attack. The keepers of both major parties seem to feel threatened by the rise of independent voters because the only world they know is seen and understood through a partisan lens, and their sole focus is about which party will win control in the next election, and independent voters can’t be predicted or controlled.
The book provides an example of the political prism of independent voters:
Whereas Democratic Party activists tend to see the corporate sector as the pinnacle of corruption, many independents believe that while Wall Street is guilty of many sins, the political system itself produces the most pernicious and actionable corruption. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans often preach that Big Government represents the fundamental evil in US society. Independents have a strong libertarian streak. But they also see a particular and necessary role for government in redressing the overreach of capitalism.
We can’t create something better if we’re boxed into a corner that we can’t get out of. The book quotes Pat Choate (Ross Perot’s vice presidential running mate) in Saving Capitalism (2009):
We are at an in-between time – a tumultuous moment when free market absolutism is dying, but a widely acceptable form of sustainable twenty-first-century capitalism has not yet been born.
Choate’s quote seems even more true today than it was then, and we urgently need to implement the kinds of reforms that will “free the voter” and allow us to develop a twenty-first century economy. This book — its authors, collaborators, and the work they’ve done and are doing — represents the Hope that it can be done. And it’s a joy to see more and more people understanding and joining the movement.
Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.