by Nancy Hanks
During the past several weeks, while I've been pushing "content" into The Hankster--little scraps of news items from the independent campaigns for governor getting off the ground in Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois, the fight for an open primary initiative in Oregon, the ongoing and recurring initiatives for independent redistricting commissions in California, Ohio and Florida--several op/ed pieces have come out in the New York and national press forewarning a third party presidential run in 2008.
Recent Gallup polls tell us that 34% of the electorate is now independent, while 33% are Democrats and 32% are Republicans. (This was news in the bipartisan world because in 2004 Dems were at 34% and Repubs were at 36%, independents at 30%, and what they noticed was that the Dems are now 1 point ahead of the Repubs.) Scott Rasmussen is nervous about the ultimate "spoiler" campaign by a third party candidate on the hot button issue of immigration, Thomas Friedman is "hoping" for a third party campaign built around the hot button issue of energy, New York Magazine splashed quite a bit of ink on The Purple Party, and John Avlon continues to advocate for a "centrist" third party.
I like Avlon's stuff the best for two reasons. One, he's the only one talking about independent VOTERS, as opposed to the magical third party candidate who might drop from the sky after the major parties drop another notch or two in popularity. And two, I think what Avlon is raising about "centrism" is important for independents to understand, discuss--and object to vigorously.
Independents are centrist (some other pundits use the term "moderate") because if you have Dems on the left and Repubs on the right, there must be a middle, right? The Gallup poll creatively places the independent column in the middle. Most mainstream media and polls talk about Dem- or Repub-leaning independents. But unless I missed something, the Cold War is over and "left" and "right" have little meaning in today's global economic/political world. It's too late for centrism. And independents are not in the middle--we can't be categorized that easily according to ideology.
Independents are people who are beginning to create some options that aren't in the playbook of the two-party left/right system. They split their votes. They vote for the person, not the party. They abandon unhealthy long-term loyalties, such as black New York City voters did in the 2005 mayoral election. (See Jackie Salit's analysis "The Black and Independent Alliance".) They don't like partisanship. They don't like political parties and the exclusive clubhouse culture that dominates American politics.
Some of us might even be considered extreme independents. And it's not too late for creative responses by independent voters that can lead the way out of the crisis we face in our democracy.