Lessons of Massachusetts from a National Organizer of Independents

Lessons of Massachusetts from a National Organizer of Independents


Jackie Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org issued the following statement yesterday:

“The Obama team needs to learn a lesson from Massachusetts. If you don’t attend to the political dynamics in the independent movement, you’ll pay the price. That movement is in the early stages of its development and is subject to many pushes and pulls. While the progressive leadership of the movement played the key role in swinging independents to Obama in 2008, the Obama team has turned a blind eye since then, choosing instead to focus only on the Democratic Party base. But if you do that, instead of finding ways to cultivate the progressive voices in independent politics, you’re going to lose elections like the one yesterday. And, you might even lose the White House if you don’t wake up to the fact that there is an emerging political universe – the independent movement – that you know nothing about.”

  • Apparently at least ONE Dem agrees. From CNN Analysis by Marc Preston: Brown’s win changes political narrative for 2010: One of the biggest challenges for Democrats is wooing back independent voters, who broke Brown’s way Tuesday to help him beat Coakley. “If we don’t figure out a way to talk to independent voters, we are done,” lamented another high-level Democratic staffer, speaking freely on the condition of anonymity. (Marc Preston, CNN Political Editor)

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      I really hope that the future bring continued growth of the influence of independent voters and a diminishment of partisan influence. Yet I question whether the election of Scott Brown is due to a “movement.” It feels to me a lot more like a populist uprising of anti-establishment sentiment in response to hard economic times. Historically, such trends have proven to be tides that fade as quickly as they rose.

      I don’t see any evidence of an actual cohesive voting bloc of independents. I don’t see enough common ground there for a sustained “movement” in the usual political sense. Until someone demonstrates otherwise, I presume that much of what progressive independents support is anathema to others who imagine themselves to be independents.

      Now, I do understand that there is somecommon ground when it comes to political mechanics like promoting open primaries and seeking to curb gerrymandering. Nothing wrong with that IMO, but is it enough? Even if this movement were to see some success on the kind of common ground described, what happens when the members of such a coalition realize that they are all supporting common means towards vastly different ends?
      Disintegration, I think.

    • Tillyosu

      “Progressive” Independent? Excuse me while I catch my breath. From Ms. Salit’s own definition of an independent:

      “a postmodern progressive counter weight to neo-conservatism, or the neo-cons.” (I’m sure she couldn’t resist throwing the pejorative in there.)

      A liberal with a D behind their name and a liberal without one…is still a liberal.

      This is just more self delusion from the left. I hope Obama does heed Ms. Salit’s advice, that way TRUE Independents will continue to send more people like Scott Brown to Washington.

    • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

      Jeez guys. You are going to scare Nancy off. OTOH – probably not. She’s been fighting the “independent movement” battle for a while and I expect she has heard it all before since independents are – you know – so darn independent. So… I’ll just pile on.

      My issue is with some of Jackie Salit’s claims. I’ve become somewhat familiar with her work via Ms. Hank’s posts. After reading her stuff, it strikes me that her narrative of the independent movement as “a diverse and decentralized center-left movement for political reform that carried Obama to his victory” is highly dependent on some breathtaking extrapolations from a pretty meager data set. Specifically the percentage of independents that voted for Obama:

      “Obama polled 52% of the independent vote as compared with McCain’s 44%, strong evidence that independents have become more progressive than conservative.”

      It seems to me that it is a problem for that narrative that on Tuesday in Massachusetts, Rasmussen showed that “Brown pulled off the upset in large part because he won unaffiliated voters by a 73% to 25% margin.” Which by the same logic would be even stronger evidence that independents have become more conservative than progressive.


      It can be explained (as Jackie is quoted in this post) as a failure on the part of Obama to find “ways to cultivate the progressive voices in independent politics.”


      It can explained by simply acknowledging that there is no such thing as a coherent “independent movement” at least as it relates to any kind of common cause on policy or candidate preferences.

      You decide which explanation is most plausible.

    • Doomed

      1. Financial integrity.
      2. Fiscal responsibility.
      3. Social Moderation.
      4. Non punitive legislation.
      5. Reining in the hateful rhetoric.
      6. Stop listening to the Progressive nut jobs who are determined to ruin the Democrats coalition of governance.

      Everyone knows that the GOP or the Democrats have and need a coalition of the willing to maintain power. Everyone knows that the hard right and the hard left do the most screaming and throw the most fits and make the most threats.

      Everyone knows that their policies. Left or right are bad for America.

      Period. Progressives can go jump in a lake and take their righties with them and then we would be the center right….AND center left nation we have always been.

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      @Tilyousu, doomed

      I do understand your objections. My experience with folks who fashion themselves independent is that they are all over the map, so that really needs to be accounted for too, right?.

      Now, I think it’s fair to argue that over time, a genuine independent would have cast votes for candidates from more than one party, and hopefully more than once, and probably for something other than the same single-issue reason every time you “crossed over.” Whether this means voting for both republicans and democrats on different occasion is IMO open to question. Logically, I think people who vote one major party and also for a minor party can comfortably be viewed as independent. Especially if the common ground for the movement is anti-establishment sentiment that includes hoping to break the death grip of the two major parties.

      I do think there’s the possibility for a narrowly defined independent movement that wants to find ways to foster the viability of candidates who are neither democrats nor republicans. But since this concerns political methodology and not political ideology, I think such a movement would necessarily fade as soon as substantive successes on methodological changes were achieved.

      I support such an independent movement, as long as it sticks to a narrow agenda restricted to things like open primaries, redistricting reform to curb gerrymandering. Another worthwhile idea is the encouragement of media coverage of 3rd party candidates, especially when those candidates are expressing views that are not being given serious consideration by major party candidates even though they have popular support. So, for example, if an independent candidate has been making a big deal about say redistricting reform, the media should be encouraged to cover and credit that candidate and not help major party candidates co-opt the issue by paying lip service to it in response to a little swell of public interest.

      Should any such movement gain popularity, here’s the obvious risk. Suppose, for example, that there was a loosely organized independent movement and it was really being run primarily by either progressives or conservative tea partiers. It’s likely that such leaders would be unable to resist adding some plank that sounded like a fair-minded way to foster independent candidacies, but that in practice would grossly favor one wing while hindering the other.

      That would lead to a bail-o-rama on the part of folks who think like me. So, fair warning.

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      kranky – re: “I don’t see any evidence of an actual cohesive voting bloc of independents. I don’t see enough common ground there for a sustained “movement” in the usual political sense. Until someone demonstrates otherwise, I presume that much of what progressive independents support is anathema to others who imagine themselves to be independents.”

      The independent movement isn’t so much of a thing as it is an activity. The independent movement is getting built. It’s small and it’s young, and it’s hard to see it through the lens of the msm — which is why I try to bring forward a picture from the scraps that exist.

      The common ground is anti-partisanship, a dislike of political parties. Hence the drive for open primaries and a disregard for party labels while in the voting booth on the part of 40% of the country.

      The movement that was sparked by Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential run (which by the way was made possible by Lenora Fulani’s historic 1988 run) has been impacted on by progressives, as seen in the role that independents played in the 2008 primary and general election that gave us President Barack Obama. I highly recommend that you take a look at How the Independent Movement Went Left by Going Right by Jackie Salit http://www.independentvoting.org/news/ASpecialPostElectionReport.html. This movement is historical, not categorical. (mw skimmed the article, but misses the history — no doubt because of his staunch commitment to the status quo…)

      Now we take a look at Massachusetts following losses by Dems in other state races. Independents can’t be taken for granted. Independents supply the uncertainty and anti-status-quo energy that might (hopefully) move us out of this frozen storm that has gripped the country.

      There is an important example of a coherent independent progressive voting bloc which doesn’t get much attention here on Donklephant. The NYC Independence Party just pulled 150,000 votes on the Independence Party line to elect NYC’s first independent Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The basis of this vote is an alliance of independents and Black voters in the city who have been working together for many years. We are having increasing success. We have a collective (meaning all 5 boros) county committee of 4,000 people and a collective Executive Committee of 94 people, about half of whom are black and Latino and other people of color. I think people who are genuinely interested in independent politics should study this example and learn from it.

      Tillyosu and Doomed, thanks for you (very different) comments. The solution to bad liberalism, bad reactionariness, hard left, hard right politics is democracy. Everyone has a right to their opinion. It’s a free country. I think we’re better off without the labels — and partisan interests.

    • http://www.frankhagan.com/blog/ Frank Hagan

      People who self-identify as “independent” in polls are often a-political; if you ask these folks about a recent Supreme Court decision, they are unlikely to know what you are talking about. These “independents” are the swing voters, who often make comments such as “I vote for the man, not the party”, and remain uncommitted until the final weeks of a given campaign. They can be animated by issues, as the independents in MA were this past week, but that happens only so often. These folks are very different from Nancy Hanks’ “Defined Independents”, to coin a phrase, who are politically aware and, like those of us in partisan circles, have a defined set of principles to which they can point.

      As a movement, the “Defined Independents” can sweep up many of those a-political types right before a contest. But it will be a rare event to get them excited about a candidate without star power. Bloomberg, Perot, John Anderson, and others had that star power. But barring that kind of personality at the top, or a compelling national issue like health care reform, the a-political will choose the candidate that feels the most comfortable to them when they vote. And studies show they often choose that candidate in the last few days of a campaign.

    • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

      “mw skimmed the article, but misses the history — no doubt because of his staunch commitment to the status quo…” – hankster

      Just as a matter of accuracy, I read every word and I also watched the entire video of her 1/25/09 presentation to independents that you linked before.

      Her historic fable is fine when she limits herself to the actual history of the movement, It is interesting to learn about the long, strange trip from Perot to now.

      The problem is when she imposes progressive triumphalism on that narrative arc, culminating in the notion of Barack Obama being “America’s first independent president”.

      “This much is clear. The independent movement, realigned from center-right to center-left, gave Barack Obama the edge he needed to realign the Democratic Party, away from Clintonian centrism to a black-led nonpartisan movement for change. Thus realigned, the Democratic Party, with the continued support of independents, defeated conservatism and realigned the country. “ – Salit

      I just don’t see how that assertion is even vaguely supportable from the one fact that he carried more independent voters in 2008. If she is going to make that extraordinary leap, at least she should be consistent now and herald the emergence of “America’s first Independent Senator” based on Scott Brown capturing an even larger proportion of the unaligned vote on Tuesday (ok – 2nd Independent Senator after Lieberman). Instead she is forced to contort herself into a logical pretzel now with that claim, because it just does not comport with the facts on the ground one short year later. Is it really credible that the reason for Brown’s victory is a failure of the Obama team to find “ways to cultivate the progressive voices in independent politics.” as Salit asserts? Really?

      The truth is probably closer to Kranky’s thesis. 2008 was a continuation of 2006 trends, extending inchoate reaction by centrists to the spending policies and arrogance/abuses of entrenched concentrated power of the Bush administration. Brown’s election is an early indicator of an inchoate centrist reaction to spending policies and arrogance/abuses of entrenched concentrated power in the Obama administration.

      As regards my alleged “commitment to the status quo” – well that is the subject of another (long) post. But if you are interested in what I actually advocate as a voting heuristic for independents of a certain mindset, that has at least a potential of herding these cats into a coherent and meaningful voting block, you can find it linked here.

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      mw — re: “I just don’t see how that assertion is even vaguely supportable from the one fact that he carried more independent voters in 2008.”

      This has to do with the actual people on the ground (activists, organizers) who made this happen.

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      Frank Hagen — re: “Defined Independents”

      I’m not advocating for a defined refined or otherwise confined independent. The value of the independent movement is that it’s not definable. Not corralable. Not organizable by current cultural standards. Isn’t that a positive?

      Independents are the hope of the future exactly BECAUSE they are not lock-step with the parties (the powers that be).

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      MW, I think you make some really good points. I think its especially worth accounting for that large fraction of independents who don’t pay very close attention to politics and are seldom motivated to be informed and involved.

      I am untroubled by the claim that Obama was the first independent President, It’s no less preposterous that the one time claim that Bill Clinton was the first black President. It’s no more than silly hyperbole used to attract attention towards what is in fact a much, much more modest point. Namely, that independent support helped elect Obama. Worth ignoring the hyperbolic part, IMO.

      Nancy, my serious reservations about “progressive independents” endure. This still suggests to me an undesirable stew of the ideological with the desire for methodological election reforms. While I’d have no objection to being part of a larger independent group that included progressive independents, the PIs are not a group I’d consider joining, or letting steer the independent bus.

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      kranky — there is an independent movement (movement as opposed to what some are calling “coherent” – read ideologically united — and/or as opposed to being a party) of people who don’t consider themselves to be aligned with either of the major political parties) that skews across the political spectrum from left to center to right. My only point about progressive independents is that they have a voice in the movement and they also have built some important campaigns, coalitions and organizations. It’s part of the mix. I myself am a proponent of radical democracy.

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      @Nancy That description of the movement sounds reasonable to me.

      Since I had no clue about “radical democracy,” I wiki-ed it. And I have to say that I found the entry utterly inscrutable. It reminded me of the kind of stuff I tolerated with a wan smile in graduate school. It was filled with phrases that the writer implied were freighted with special meaning and extraordinary significance, all of which escaped me. Lots of codewords like “difference” and “oppression” (Always, always, always oppression) and casual name-dropping of theoretical champions. Many of whom I’ve never heard of, except for Friere and Hooks.

      I’ll leave aside any consideration of the merits of the concept. Or of the quality of the underlying scholarship. Because I am mostly ignorant. But I must say that it mystifies me when people who support radical reform seem to take so little care to make themselves understood to regular folks.(Not that the always do, but IMO too often) Although I am sure someone has a clever answer for why its not importantright now or how it can be overcome, theoretically.

      Suppose such radical notions had all the insight and promise for improvement to the human condition in the world. They’d still be a complete waste of time and have no chance of actually improving things, because 999 out of 1000 people have no idea what you’re on about.

      I’ve said stuff like this to radicals before, in a spirit of, you know, helping radical hothouse flowers communicate with the real world. And the downtrodden masses they adore. Inevitably I’ve been told sooner or later that I really need to check out genius x or genius y. Wrong. If the only hope for spreading the word of beneficial radical change lies in everyone doing the sort of stuff that grad students do, it’s time to break camp, head home, and go back to the drawing board.

      Hope that rant doesn’t put you off to much, I appreciate your voice, Nancy. The wiki entry really irritated me. I’ve read enough and written enough and edited enough so that I recognize when it’s not really my fault that I don’t understand something I’m reading. From trying to teach people simple concepts in math textbooks, I believe audience should matter to everyone who writes. And if you want a bigger audience, well then… connect the dots.

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      kranky — hmmm…. well, I guess it’s fine to look up words on Wiki, and I’m not opposed to their definition, but Wikipedia isn’t my frame of reference. As an activist involved in building successful grassroots organizations such as the NYC Independence Party organizations which pulled 150,000 votes on the IP line for Mike Bloomberg last November, just for one example (IndependentVoting.org aka CUIP has a network of activists and supporters in 40 states and raises over $1 mil a year — I’m part of the fundraising team), my frame of reference is real independents who agree that we need to create a different kind of political culture that is inclusive of everyone. The one we have right now is a glorified Good Ol’ Boys Club. I’m proud of my history of doing grassroots organizing for independent politics for decades now. And I appreciate how hard it is to understand what we’ve built if you aren’t involved. Hang in there!

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      Here’s the deal though, Nancy. I can presume that one of your primary goals here is outreach, right? You are passionate and want to spread your perspective, right?

      What do you think happens in the audience’s mind when you drop a phrase like “radical democracy” without providing any explanation?

      Because I’ve been an editor so long, I’m encouraging you to consider your audience closely, and to remember that human inertia could well be your biggest enemy as an acitivist.

      I at least did you the favor of making an effort to discern what the f%%^&k you meant by radical democracy. Wanna bet that 3 or 4 or 10 times as many readers simply presumed you’re a kook?

      Instead of dropping a term like that, you could have tried to describe a primary motivation behind that philosophy, in terms that regular folks might identify with.

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      Further, notice that you seem to have understood the wiki def’n, since you say you don’t object to it.

      Meanwhile, I made a good faith effort, and I’m not appreciably closer to understanding what it means or why you brought it up. Unless it was meant solely as bait for the closely like-minded.

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      kranky — I appreciate your concern (and I take it to be genuine) about my being able to communicate with an audience, however, I’m a little suspicious about your choice of “form” over “content” here. Is it the “radical” part or the “democracy” part that you don’t like?

    • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

      umm… yeah.

      I just read that wiki definition of “radical democracy”.

      This is what I’d call a “slow fat rabbit”. Tempting, but I’m just not going to do it.

      Too easy.

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s that I don’t know what it means. I found the wiki entry inscrutable. I can’t tell whether I like it if don’t get it. My sense is that this entry makes sense to people who already believe they know what “radical democracy” means.

      I’m not trying to be obtuse, or play gotcha. Care to dumb it down for me, and toss in areal world for instancs, sort of a “if you believe in RD, then you’d opt for appraoch x instead of flawed approach y.”

    • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

      kranky, my point is that you are changing the subject from what I’m claiming to be substantial organizing success to a wikipedia entry… suit yourself. I’m going to keep organizing at the grassroots. Sorry I can’t be more clear.

    • http://stubbornfacts.us Simon

      Nancy, KK isn’t changing the subject and you’re ignoring his question, a question which is well-taken. You claim to be “a proponent of radical democracy”; what do you mean?

      To preempt your recycling your question to KK, I’m against radicalism and although I wouldn’t say I’m against democracy per se, I don’t fetishize it as some do. We don’t live in a democracy and I’m very grateful for that fact.

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      I simply want to know what you meant when you said this:

      I myself am a proponent of radical democracy.

      You said it. Presumedly you had some reason for mentioning it. And as I have previously stated 2 or 3 times, I don’t know what you mean. I tried to find out. Wiki didn’t help. So I asked you in good faith.

      Either you’re willing to explain what you mean, or you aren’t. I am utterly mystified about why you are unwilling to help a reader understand your own words. At this point, I can’t possibly credit the idea that you don’t understand my question. You’re being intentionally evasive.

      kranky, my point is that you are changing the subject from what I’m claiming to be substantial organizing success to a wikipedia entry… suit yourself. I’m going to keep organizing at the grassroots. Sorry I can’t be more clear.

      Congratulations on your organizing success, I have no interest in discouraging your efforts.I am not sure why “changing the subject” is material here. I am trying to understand something that you said. In my world, if someone asks what I meant when I said x, I make a good faith effort to respond, unless I believe the asker is asking in bad faith.

      I AM asking in good faith. I’m unfamiliar. In the absence of an answer, I must assume that you are either unable to explain, or afraid to explain.

      I’m against radicalism and although I wouldn’t say I’m against democracy per se, I don’t fetishize it as some do. We don’t live in a democracy and I’m very grateful for that fact.

      Simon, you seem to have no sense of how tedious it is that you regularly insist on splitting this useless hair. We live in a republic that functions via the mechanism of representative democracy. So what. Does this mean that we don’t “live in a democracy?” Of course not. We live in a nation that regularly practices representative democracy, so we live in a democracy for all intents and purposes. Democracy and Republic are simply not mutually exclusive. America is a democratic republic. Get used to it.

      I know how you adore clear bright lines, but surely you’re approaching an age and a level of maturity where you can accept that theoretical lines are blurry in the real world, and that concepts often overlap. Is a playtpus a reptile because it lays eggs, or a mammal because it suckles its young? It’s a platypus, and the classification system is insufficient.

    • http://stubbornfacts.us Simon

      KK, I dispute that the distinction is ever useless, but even if you won’t buy that, you surely must accept that the distinction can be important in some situations. Since the issue here is what Nancy means by “radical democracy,” this may well be one of those issues where the distinction may be of heightened importance. We won’t find out for sure until Nancy stops ducking your question (on which point I join the balance of your comment). If “radical democracy” means an expansion of direct democracy—i.e. direct public participation in governmental decisionmaking—rather than, say, registering more voters, then it is entirely relevant to question whether democracy is a boon. And since saying that will get you a funny look, it is relevant background to note the distinction between democracy and republicanism.

      Frankly, I dispute that “[w]e live in a republic that functions via the mechanism of representative democracy.” That’s imprecise. We live in a republic where some components of the system function via the mechanism of representative democracy, and still others are subject to some measure of democratic control. As originally conceived, membership of the House of Representatives was the only inherently democratic component of the federal system. The Senate was selected by the state legislatures, which in turn either might or might not be democratically elected. That did two things: it made selection of Senators indirect democracy at worst and nondemocratic at best, and it made it difficult to say that Congress made positive decisions in a democratic fashion. (Negative decisions where bills were killed in the House could be said to be Congress functioning democratically in the sense of representative democracy.) Meanwhile, the President was and is selected by electors appointed in such manner as the same state legislatures which chose Senators, although most of the states quickly added another indirect democratic component to the system by delegating selection of electors to a ballot. Lastly, far from being made by “the people,” executive branch agencies make most governmental decisions—before you balk at that, remember that prosecuting or not, or buying a new staple gun or not, etc., count—under the superintendence of officers (appointed not by the people, but by the President and the Senate, who were themselves selected by actors in turn selected by the people) and ultimately the President (who, as just noted, is not selected democratically). If this system is a cousin of representative democracy, it is once or twice removed.

      And that was a good system. At various times, more democratic elements have been introduced to the system. Some have made the republic stronger and better; others have made it worse and weaker. The delegation of Presidential elector selection to popular ballot by state legislatures is an example of the former; the direct election of senators is an example of the latter. (These should not be deemed water over the dam, either: I have advocated rolling back the latter example.)

      Unfortunately, Americans have developed what Pat memorably dubbed “a fetish for pure democracy.” If I sometimes seem to love splitting that hair, KK, it’s partly a reaction to the blind assumption that more democracy is better, that an ever-greater realm of government decisionmaking should be subject to ever-closer directly democratic control. Think of the initiative process, for instance, and the untold chaos it has wrought in the name of “democracy.” These proposals often lead to worse government (for instance, the insane idea of electing the attorney general independently of the chief executive, which is common at the state level and which is proposed for the feds after every “scandal”), and in some cases, paradoxically, to less effective democracy (for instance, when a multiplicity of elected officials blur lines of responsibility, the chances of the officer actually responsible for a blunder being held to account diminish immensely). And let’s not even start on the staggering foolishness of electing judges, an idea so stupid that it amazes me that a due process claim doesn’t lie against almost every decision. (After Caperton, one might!)

      For my part, as I’ve said, I’m skeptical of democracy. I’m skeptical of its virtues, and I’m actively hostile to the blind, unthinking manner in which it is held up as a virtue. Democracy is a system, one that has costs and benefits like any other. It does not deserve a thumb on the scale in its favor as weighed against other allocative theories. Using it should be considered when it seems the most efficient way to accomplish a particular task within a system, but it shouldn’t be held up as the gold standard—a government should not be judged on how “democratic” vel non it is—and it certainly should not itself be the system. I’m not against democracy, I’m just against fetishizing it.

      At any rate, all of this arises simply because Nancy was ducking your question, and in asking her to answer it, I wanted to preempt her ducking again by asking me the same question she asked you. We shall see what she meant (and thus, whether any of this matters except as a brief if welcome distraction from an project I’m working on) when she stops ducking and answers.

    • http://politeaparty.blogspot.com/ d.eris

      As a late comer to this thread, it is interesting to see how the arc of the conversation has moved from a discussion of whether there is such a thing as “the independent movement” to the question of what “radical democracy” is. imho, the former is the more interesting topic, and I agree that the Wikipedia article on the latter is not much help. Though I’m familiar with Nancy’s position (I follow her blog, the Hankster, and we are co-contributors at Third Party and Independent Daily, which I started up earlier this year), I’m not sure that she equates “radical democracy” with Laclau and Mouffe’s work from the mid-eighties as the Wikipedia article does. By ‘radical democracy,’ I would assume that Nancy means empowering people over parties and people’s interests over those of entrenched incumbents and the largely corporate interests that have captured the Democratic and Republican Parties, and by extension, our government. So, I guess you could say I’m equating “radical democracy” with independent populism. Which brings me back to the original question, of whether there is such a thing as an independent movement in the United States today. I’ve considered this exact question before at some length. It would be difficult to dispute that more and more people are identifying themselves as independents. But independents are not a monolith. At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver has argued that there are at least six categories of independents. He writes:

      “Part of the problem is that ‘independents’ are not a particularly coherent group. At a minimum, the category of ‘independents’ includes: 1) People who are mainline Democrats or Republicans for all intents and purposes, but who reject the formality of being labeled as such; 2) People who have a mix of conservative and liberal views that don’t fit neatly onto the one-dimensional political spectrum, such as libertarians; 3) People to the extreme left or the extreme right of the political spectrum, who consider the Democratic and Republican parties to be equally contemptible; 4) People who are extremely disengaged from politics and who may not have fully-formed political views; 5) True-blue moderates; 6) Members of organized third parties. These voters have almost nothing to do with each other and yet they all get grouped under the same umbrella as ‘independents’.”

      Independents span the ideological and political spectrum and vote Republican, Democrat, third party, independent or they don’t vote at all. These are disparate groups, to say the least, but they are united in their refusal to identify with the Democratic or Republican Parties. This negative development is a positive sign, and arguably signals a movement away from the major parties. But I prefer to take a hard line here and argue that if one votes for or otherwise supports Republicans and Democrats even when presented with the choice of a superior independent or third party candidate, you are not independent strictly speaking because you have yet to overcome a co-dependent relationship with the major parties and the ideology of the two-party state. With the wide array of declared independent and third party candidates for office this year, I hope the many newly declared independents will soon put their money and their votes where their mouths are. This, I would argue, will be the real test of the strength of the independent movement.

    • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

      Good points all Simon. I agree with much of what you point out. I agree that more democracy can in some instances bring undesirable results. And I’ve long thought that electing judges is a troublesome practice.

      I still think it’s silly to say that we don’t live in a democracy. The length and depth of your elaboration suggests to me that maybe you say it as a way of getting people to invite you to unleash the latest version of your well-reasoned chautauqua, as shown above.