Can centrists and independents come together on systemic policy issues?

Can centrists and independents come together on systemic policy issues?


JP Avlon says “Photo-op centrism is not enough” and I agree.

Here’s a “round” roundup of what’s on the minds of independent pundits and voters from Florida to Massachusetts to New York.

John P. Avlon, senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the new book “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.”, says in his CNN post yesterday “Why centrist voters are fed up“:

But photo-op centrism is, of course, not enough. It must be followed by substance. To really change the culture of Washington, we need to change the rules that reinforce this predictable partisanship.
The quickest policy cure would be to change the rigged system of redistricting that creates congressional ‘safe seats’ and replaces competitive general elections with closed primaries, where party activists reign supreme. Nonpartisan redistricting and open primaries would reward politicians who reach across the aisle, and would empower independent voters.

Can centrists and independents come together on these systemic policy issues? I think so! And because independents do (NOT) = centrists, we have a shot. (-NH)

And while you’re here, have a look at Florida’s redistricting issues, or a possible new Massachusetts independent party.

And as for New York — what’s going on in the Empire State? Well, the first independent mayor of New York City (Michael Bloomberg), backed by the NYC Independence Party county organizations, also gave money to the NY State Independence Party, or something

And a note about the “other” third party, the Working Families Party, which (having played a major role in the election of the “other” city-wide offices City Comptroller (former Queens City Councilmember John Liu) and City Advocate (Betsy Gotbaum’s old job) is now under attack from the official election regulation bureaucracy. Small wonder…

For more news headlines for independent voters, see The Hankster

  • Simon

    Still thinking about that “radical democracy” business, huh?

    Well. In the meantime, Avlon writes:

    Health care is just the latest example of government dysfunction; it’s been derailed by hyper-partisanship, over-spending and the disproportionate influence of special interests.

    Healthcare is just the latest example of the ordinary operation of a wel-designed legislature. America is divided on healthcare, to is her legislature, and as John Adams wrote in Thoughts on Government, the legislature of a republic “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.” If HCR has been derailed (and that is, alas, an overstatement), it is only because the public has rejected the Democratic position. More on this anon.

    When Ross Perot ran for president as an Independent in 1992, the self-made businessman presented himself as a nonideological problem solver.

    A representation that was vapid to the extent it wasn’t disingenuous. There is no such thing as a “nonideological problem solver.” Which things you believe to be problematic is ideological. What range of policy responses you believe are appropriate is ideological. Who should respond to a problem and how is ideological. The claim that there are platonic solutions to neutrally-defined problems is wildly exagerrated by people who are ideologically uncomfortable with choosing one ideology over the other. True enough, there is a more plausible claim that many problems can be described at a level of generality that commands significant support—”the deficit,” for instance—and a compromise solution framed. But this underestimates the role ideology plays at every step of the process.

    Ironically, the people who most decry ideology are often pungently ideological—see, e.g., the “independentist” website linked by Gwen the other day.

    the subsequent health care debate was derailed in part because it was seen as adding additional spending and leading to the growth of government.

    I thought it was derailed “by hyper-partisanship, over-spending and the disproportionate influence of special interests”? Wasn’t that what you just argued thirty seconds ago?

    In reaction, independents reasserted themselves, their numbers growing quickly and reaching 43 percent by September 2009…. In Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts’ elections, independents voted by at least a 2-to-1 margin for Republican candidates.

    So having just claimed that the healthcare reform train was derailed by “hyper-partisanship” and excessive “special interests,” now you’re saying it was because independents flung their support behind the opposition? And get this:

    Independents’ anger today is focused on familiar targets: hypocritical politicians, over-spending and a lack of agreement on solutions from Washington.

    Avlon treats independents as if they are an ideologically cohesive bloc. We might doubt whether this is true, but ironically, if we accept it at face value, it underlines a point that Avlon studiously avoids meeting: that “independents” are a special interest. This is a particularly strange omission since it is the most efficient way to reconcile his competing claims that independent anger and special interests have brought healthcare reform to its present situation. Either way, his claim that “hyper-partisanship dunnit” isn’t going to fly.

    The quickest policy cure would be to change the rigged system of redistricting that creates congressional ‘safe seats’ and replaces competitive general elections with closed primaries, where party activists reign supreme.

    I can agree, at least in principle, in redistricting reform. It should be noted, however, that the devil is in the details: someone has to draw legislative boundaries (or write the program that draws the boundaries), and that someone will always be apt to manipulate the process for political gain. Unfortunately, the way to the very best, discretion-minimizing approach, is blocked. If districts could simply track pre-existing county or township boundaries, the prospect for manipulation would reduce immensely. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Reynolds v. Sims and its progeny foreclose this sensible approach by insisting on mathematically precise population parity between districts.

    But substantive efforts to depolarize our politics will lead to the politics of problem solving.

    Our politics are polarized because our country is. If our politics weren’t polarized, that would be an indication of dysfunction, because it would suggest that the legislature is disconnected from the views of the people. And then the reformers would be using that as an excuse for demanding change. The excuse may change, but the goal is always the same: hack away, bit by bit, at the system. Demand change, constantly. What new damage can be wrought today? Which new portion of our inheritance can be hauled before the tribunal of our oh-so superior intellects?

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

    Alas, they really aren’t.

  • Adam Herman

    I think a better approach is simply nonpartisan elections at all levels. That doesn’t mean parties can’t put forward their preferred candidates or hold primaries. It just means that party affiliation won’t be listed on the general election ballot. It’s always been an unnecessary subsidy of sorts to the political parties to helpfully list the party next to the names on the ballot. Why not also list their positions on health care or abortion? Or how about we just put their names on the ballot and be done with it?

  • superdestroyer

    Non-partisan districts would violate the Voting Rights Act since non-whites are overwhelmingly Democrats and the law says that non-whites must be insured winning in a certain number of seats.

    Non-partisan redistricting for overwhelmingly white districts coupled with partisan redistricting for majority non-white districts would results in the Democratic Party become the one, dominate party faster than the Democrats were going to become dominate anyway.

    Everyone should realize that the U.S. will soon be a one party state and that independents (white moderates) will just be one faction voting in the Democratic primary.

  • Simon

    Adam Herman Says:

    I think a better approach is simply nonpartisan elections at all levels. That doesn’t mean parties can’t put forward their preferred candidates or hold primaries. It just means that party affiliation won’t be listed on the general election ballot.

    A silly idea, because it eliminates the information-providing function of party labels, thereby undercutting the ability of the vast bulk of rationally ignorant voters to participate meaningfully in the election. See, e.g., this. As the dissent noted in Washington State Grange, “the ballot is the only document voters are guaranteed to see, and the last thing they see before casting their vote”; eliminating party labels from the ballot presents busy, rationally ignorant citizens with a morton’s fork between participating randomly (which is an inefficient outcome) or not at all (which fosters apathy). The alternative—evaluating in some detail the positions of every candidate on the ballot and selecting accordingly—is of course the optimal situation from a societal perspective, but from an individual perspective, is an irrational use of limited time for most people. Most people are not political professionals, and do not have the time to learn every candidate’s view in detail. The likely upshot is an even greater dominance in elections by motivated special interests, and even worse voter apathy and cynicism.

  • Simon

    superdestroyer Says:

    Non-partisan districts would violate the Voting Rights Act since non-whites are overwhelmingly Democrats and the law says that non-whites must be insured winning in a certain number of seats.

    That’s something of a misstatement of the VRA, see 42 U. S. C. §1973(b) and, e.g., LULAC v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399 (2006), but the more important point is that the reformers must surely be open to the possibility of repealing or reforming the VRA? Combined with the shot across the bows in NAMUDNO, I would think there is strong incentive to do so.

  • PatHMV

    Short answer to the original question: NO. Nobody has yet demonstrated, despite quite a few years trying, a centrist set of policy positions which are supported by any substantial number of people, “centrist” or otherwise.

    The last major attempt was Unity ’08. I discussed many of the fundamental problems with Unity ’08 a couple of years ago. Simon also weighed in on Unity ’08’s real issues.

    Here’s the thing. That many people share a concern about a possibly flawed process in no way suggests that those same people will agree on what ultimate policy outcome they would like. That’s why I think ideology is good.

  • Nancy Hanks

    Adam Herman — I agree completely — nonpartisan elections is the most democratic, least party-controlled type of election around.

  • Agnostick

    Despite the highly irrational fears expressed by some, Adam Herman offers a compelling idea. As if a little “R” or “D” next to a name makes someone’s participation any more meaningful? Puh-leez, that’s a bigger pile of horse manure than you’ll find at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Political parties have become nothing more than money-sucking Rube Goldberg machines. If voters can’t or won’t take even a couple of hours before an election to make themselves more familiar with an individual candidate’s positions on certain issues, how can party affiliation mean anything at the ballot box? One might surmise, “Oh, I always vote for the Republicans–they’re against government spending.” Really? Then how do you square the actions of 2001-2009 with that ideology?

    Is a little letter next to a name really going to help an “ignorant” voter make a better choice? What, they’re ignorant about individual candidates, but they’re scholarly experts on political parties, and what they stand for at any particular moment? To think that party affiliation somehow even momentarily alleviates voter ignorance is like suggesting that someone suffering from severe malnutrition can be cured by a steady diet of candy bars, soda, and Little Debbie snack cakes. Political parties are nothing more than vapid ideological junk food. You may as well put frosting and sprinkles on a turd. The “turd,” of course, represents the special interests that feed money into the party… assisted by the massive sewer pipes that give those special interests highly efficient and speedy avenues of pouring money into elections, via the conduit of political parties.

    In the 19th century, when you may have had to wait a week for the latest newspaper, party affiliation may have been moderately helpful. But in the 21st century, when we turn on the TV in the morning… listen to the radio in the car, or read the newspaper on the train or bus… surf the web and keep an eye on the news at the office… receive “breaking news” emails and text alerts on our smart phones… and watch even more TV at night… I’m highly suspicious of the notion that voters would look at a ballot and recognize John McCain-R, but be completely baffled by and unfamiliar with John McCain.

    I’m not suggesting that political parties be outlawed–that would be unconstitutional.

    But their usefulness on the ballot has run its course. They belong on the junk heap with great-grandma’s wash board and ice box. They confuse and confound much more than they inform and educate.

    [email protected]

  • Agnostick

    Don’t take my word for it…

    I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on Geographical discriminations.—Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.

    This Spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.—It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

    The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.—But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.—The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

    Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

    It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.—It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the Government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another.

    There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty.—This within certain limits is probably true—and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party.—But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged.—From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose,—and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it.—A fire not to be quenched; it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

  • kranky kritter

    Repeated assertions that the government is functioning just as it should (” the ordinary operation of a well-designed legislature”) are absurd on their face. Unless such assertions are backed up by some description of the possible conditions which would show when it is functioning extraordinarily poorly.

    There’s no real reason for any of us to to debate this with you Simon, since the virtue of the 2-party system i’s basically an article of faith.

    I agree that there is insufficient common ground among independents and centrists for long-term formation of a new party. But I support procedural changes that diminish 2-party dominance.

    As always, I am willing to notice that the American people are certainly not immune from being deeply dissatisfied simply because circumstances indicate that they can no longer have their cake(Tax dollars) and eat it too(consume entitlements). There is surely some of that going on with the populist anti-establishment tide that is still rising today.

    It’s not the ordinary operation of a well-designed legislature for 41 of 100 senators to put the kaibosh on just about everything they don’t support. It’s the de-evolution of a rarly employed mechanism into a common tool. Notably, the problem with the filibuster is not so much design as it is how legislators have come to use it as a cudgel.

    And it’s not the ordinary operation of our government when most regular people are convinced that our leaders are mostly out of touch and full of shit. The people seem poised to remedy this problem withpart of the government that actually does operate well in an ordinary way. We can vote the a-holes out. Which we seem ready to do.

    The enduring problem seems to be that elections are not the same thing as actual effective governance. We can kick out defective democrats and defective republicans. But we mostly have no choice but to replace them with other defective democrats and defective republicans.

    It’s a garbage in, garbage out problem. You are actually right in many respects, it’s not the design of the legislature, it’s the poor quality of the source pool of legislators. The two parties. The two group that have been granted dominance over American political leadership are producing a leadership product that Americans currently deem a gross failure.

    Americans are ready to exercise our prerogative to undertake some “free market” reforms to break the monopoly of the two parties over government. Open primaries and redistricting reform are free market reforms.