The Rise of the Independents
The Rise of the Independents"I don't want everybody to vote. Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." – American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) co-founder Paul Weyrich, 1983
A true democracy may be the least efficient form of government, but that's because it includes more freedom than any social construction ever devised. You need consensus for it to work well; you need to seek solutions on common ground, and you need mass participation by engaged and informed citizens. Those are hard things to find in 21st Century America.
Just like every other country on the planet, we have a diverse population with multiple points of view regarding how a citizen-owned government should operate. Our electoral system, however, is dominated by two political parties that aren't nearly as different from each other as they want voters to believe.
Flash back to 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, then jump forward to 2016 when Barack Obama leaves office. During that time frame, a Republican has been our president for 36 years while a Democrat will have held that office for 28 years.
From 1959 through 1969, there were at least 64 Democrat senators every year while Republicans were often outnumbered by a 2-to-1 margin in the House. Aside from that decade, control of Congress has swung back and forth between the two parties over the past 64 years, usually by a slim margin and usually in opposition to the president. During that period, America has experienced a slow but steady decline in the quality of life for its people and a similar decline in stature among the nations of the world.
So it seems that no matter which political party holds a majority in government, our society keeps heading in the same general direction – uphill for the elite few, downhill for everyone else. That result is a true measure of the similarity of each party's priorities. Despite all their divisive language, members of Congress always support military action anywhere in the world and generally agree on the big picture when legislating free trade and finance. They may fight hard and dirty over some of the details of how to go about spending the People's money, but they both stay on the same page when it comes to politics and power.
About every other decade or so, a third party has risen up and drawn enough support to run a legitimate presidential candidate, but none have evolved into a national organization that could break the Democrat/Republican stranglehold on governance. That hasn't happened in more than a century, but it was happening during our last great attempt to build the kind of equal society America is supposed to be.
From 1897 through 1901, there were at least ten US senators who belonged to either the Populist of Silver political parties. Both parties held a similar level of representation in the House. Those years were at the center of a two-decade era when enough citizens got fed up with the sorry state of things and elected just enough independent, uncompromised representatives to break up some of the so-called "robber baron" monopolies and their corporate stranglehold on government.
Other big changes to the way we govern ourselves happened during that time in our history. During that era women were gaining the right to vote at local and state levels for the first time. It's probably no coincidence that voter turnout was always above 73 percent before 1900 but has never reached even 70 percent since then. That's just not enough. We need about 80 percent of the people to vote in every national election for the next decade if we want to make meaningful, lasting changes to a failing system.
A third or even a fourth active, viable voice in our local and national debates would encourage the 50 million citizens who can't be bothered to vote to get involved in the process. More independent candidates who aren't affiliated with any political party would help to change the way we all talk about governing ourselves, which would also encourage non-voters to pick up a ballot.
Electing more independents and Greens and Libertarians is the only way to change the structure of government from within. Even if they don't win, those candidates and the issues they raise make our elections more interesting. We should encourage them every chance we get, because every vote they receive is also a vote against the politics of the past.
But that won't happen in 2016 if potential voters only have a choice between two candidates who both represent a small group of people that doesn't include me or you or the folks next door. To get back to the level where we can claim to be a legitimate democracy, we'll need more voices and better listeners all across the spectrum.
That's really not too hard, but like rehab, it takes one step at a time. One of those steps involves Trueing The Vote – a subject for some other time...