Over the holiday weekend, Timothy Egan (whose work I usually admire) published an uncharacteristically muddle-headed paean to every centrist’s favorite unicorn chasers:
The election this fall will most certainly return to power the most despised Congress in the modern era, if not ever. The House, already a graveyard for common sense, will fall further under the control of politicians whose idea of legislating is to stage a hearing for Fox News. The Senate, padlocked by filibusters over everyday business, will be more of the same, with one party in nominal control.
The fastest-growing, most open-minded and least-partisan group of voters will have no say. That’s right: The independents, on this Independence Day, have never been more numerous. But they’ve never been more shut out of power…
Well, Mr. Egan, maybe that’s because a two-party legislative system is never going to be the happiest place for those who cannot stretch their minds, or their political ambitions, beyond the proclamation that they are, each of them, a proud majority of one. Politics may not be beanbag, but it is most assuredly a team sport. But then, if the pollsters are to be believed, most self-styled Independents are either Republican voters who want to disassociate themselves from the raging nutjobs, or Democratic voters who’d prefer not to be labelled as baby-murdering drug fiends in thrall to the secret Muslim in the Oval Office. (Egan himself: “Pew put the pro-Democratic cohort at 55 percent, the pro-Republican at 36 percent. But the two party brands are so soiled now by the current do-nothing Congress and their screaming advocates that voters prefer not to have anything to do with either of them….”)
I was working on fisking this “Declaration of Independents”, but David “Goldy” Goldstein has already done a far more professional job of it:
… Honestly, I’ve never understood the argument that we should hand political control to the people who can’t make up their minds. No doubt there are some Americans who self-identify as independent because they’re too good to sully themselves with party politics, or something, but adopting a political label that stands for nothing is not inherently a sign of intellectual conviction or rigor…
Is the American political system broken? No shit, Sherlock! Anybody can see that. But where Egan goes wrong is that he sees the rise of “independents” as some sort of a solution, when in fact what it really is, is a symptom.
Independents are by definition less engaged in electoral politics. They’ve opted out. They don’t caucus. They don’t doorbell. They don’t participate in the hard grassroots work that characterizes the very best of American politics. So of course their voices aren’t heard. Have you ever been to an LD meeting, Tim? Have you ever sat through one of those godawful party platform debates? It’s boring, tedious, frustrating hard work. But imagine if the 36 percent of independents who lean Republican got themselves engaged in party politics, how quickly they’d overwhelm their Tea Party counterparts, restoring some sanity to the GOP?…
Goldy’s checklist for actual reform: Proportional representation, eliminating the Electoral College, nationally standardized election laws, and “real campaign finance and disclosure reform. If that means a constitutional amendment, so be it…”
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, only the first of these proposals is even theoretically possible working upwards from the states. On the other hand, there’s the (extremely slim) chance that working for an actual constitutional amendment might be as life-changingly informative for today’s Independents as working for the Equal Rights Amendment was for a generation of feminists in the 1970s and 1980s… and that would be a good thing for our battered Republic, in my opinion.