Newsweek ran a profile of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. It seems Barbour might
want to run for President. He is buoyed by recent Republican victories in the Virginia and
New Jersey governor's races. The Newsweek piece says Americans are disenchanted with
Obama and will reward the Republicans in 2010 with more seats in Congress, thus opening
the door to a strong challenge to Obama's reelection. Barbour is the former head of the
Republican Party. He is described in the article as a man with a confederate flag on his office
wall signed by Jefferson Davis, a picture of a confederate army unit wiped out at Gettysberg,
and as the founder of one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Washington. He helped
turn the South Republican in the 60's and 70's which followed the Southern strategy of
Richard Nixon playing white voters against black voters. All of this adds up, according to
Newsweek, to a formidable challenger to the President.
The victories by Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey were hinged on the vote of
Independents, the fastest growing political group in the nation. Independents voted
overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. Most political scientists believe about 35% of the
electorate is currently Democratic, 35% Republican, and 30% Independent or decline to
state (Independent defined as those with no major party affiliation or those who take the
guarantee of voter privacy seriously). As Democrats and Republicans vote party line, the
Independents are becoming major players in many elections. In Virginia and New Jersey,
for instance, Independants swung the races in favor of the Republicans. So, here's my
question: Exactly who are these Independents? Will they be attracted to a "good ole' boy"
who still reveres the Confederacy, is a power broker/lobbyist who loves SUV's, and only
believes in recycling if it means throwing out Democrats and electing Republicans? Are
these Independents already disenchanted with our Democratic President; the President
who plans to expand healthcare, prevent economic collapse by throwing vast sums of money
at the rich, continues to maintain two wars he promised to end, and hasn't been able to put
a dent in the unemployment rate?
Are you an Independent? Could you envision voting for a Republican in one election
and a Democrat in another? What issues will cause you to draw a line in the sand over which
you won't step or vote for anyone who does? If Tom Campbell were the Republican nominee
for governor running against Democrat Jerry Brown, I could vote for Campbell. Does that
make me an Independent? How are we to define this new political phenomenon in today's
Congressman Barney Frank once said the purpose of government is to give money away.
Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat depends on who you want to see get the money.
Former San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto once said he wanted to live like a Republican, but
vote like a Democrat. Democrats have traditionally been the party that believes government
has a role to play in society. It's the government's job to protect the powerless from the
powerful. Government must buffer the excesses of rampant free market capitalism through
oversight and regulation. Government should strive to ensure equal opportunity and equal
access to all Americans to the corridors of power and influence. Republicans, by contrast,
have traditionally believed in a weak central government. The market should be left free to
pick the economic winners and losers. Governmental interference in the free workings of
the market will always be problematic. Republicans have traditionally opposed everything
from Social Security to Medicare to strong labor laws, along with Head Start and a woman's
right to choose.
Up until recently, Republicans and Democrats were fairly similar when it comes to
foreign policy. Democrats took our nation to war four times in the 20th century. So far,
Republicans have taken us to war twice in the 21st century. Democrats and Republicans
supported a containment policy vis-a-vis the Soviet Union; and both parties supported
dictators and totalitarian states as long as these leaders and nations were friendly to us.
Both parties have been strong supporters of Israel; and both parties welcomed normalized
relations with China.
Perhaps the widest separation between the two parties is on social policy. Conservative
Republicans, who are in favor of smaller government, support government restrictions on
abortion and access to birth control. They are in favor of the government telling individuals
what kind of sexual activity is legal in the privacy of their bedroom. On the other hand,
they don't believe in the separation of church and state and in never passing laws infringing
on the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. Democrats favor laws expanding the rights
of women, gays, and other minorities. Democrats believe in legal abortions and the wide
distribution of birth control technology; but even this is becoming one of those gray areas.
Democrats in many states favor the decriminalization of marijuana for medical use and most
oppose the death penalty. Many Democrats and Republicans support the government spying
on you and both parties voted for the Patriot Act.
So, who or what is an Independent? In Virginia, the Independent voters favored the
candidate who they perceived would address transportation issues and restore the economy.
In New Jersey, Independents seemed to move toward the candidate who would address rising
property taxes and declining tax revenues. They wanted someone who would manage the state
well; and in both states Independents seemed to vote for the candidate who proposed the
clearest agenda for addressing local problems. In both races, the Republican candidates
deliberately played down social issues. In both states popular right wing figures like Sarah
Palin were ignored. In both races the Republicans promised to be good stewards and played
down ideology, all of which attracted the Independent voters.
So, what is an Independent? How do Independents feel about reforming healthcare,
the economic stimulus package, energy legislation, and expanding the war in Afghanistan?
What do Independents believe about a woman's right to choose and ending "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" in the military? What is the Independent position on fighting terrorism, more
foreign aid to Pakistan, and the rising threat of an economic and militarily powerful China?
Do Independents believe the President should have let the banks fail, especially if the
federal government stands by as its states go bankrupt and millions of Americans lose their
homes? Are Independents happy or sad that nothing of substance came out of the
environmental summit in Copenhagen? How do they feel about Israel building hundreds
of new homes in East Jerusalem?
Were Independent voters in Virginia and New Jersey turning the clock back to a different
era or were they sending a message that the new role of government must be to get things
done, not just attack each other? What is the middle ground between Democrats and
Republicans, and can Independents occupy and hold that ground with any sort of consistency?
As I have written before, the terms left and right, liberal and conservative have no
meaning any more. Is the rise of the Independent voter a reaction to the way politics are
being done in America? One thing for sure, the two old "traditional parties" are not weary
of the game; for the prize of political supremacy in the U.S. far surpasses anything common
folk could ever imagine.
The year 2012 doesn't seem like a long way off, but it's an eternity in political time
keeping. I am certain of only one thing. If Republicans think nominating a confederate-loving,
SUV-dependent, wealthy K-Street-lobbyist to run for President is a sound strategy; Democrats
will be non-plussed. However, if they run someone who plays down ideology, promises to
make government work, expands the rights of Americans, and focuses on an expanding
economy and more jobs; it could be a very interesting race. But, "interesting" is not what
the United States needs right now. We don't need another diverting, dramatic, or feel-good
Presidential race. The people of our nation are crying out for change, REAL change, not more
political showmanship and empty promises. Since I still can't identify or define an
Independent, perhaps you might like to weigh in with your definition. What do you think?
I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org