The Nature of Independents

If Obama wins the Democratic caucus as many polls suggest, or if John McCain has a decent day, the pundits might designate independents as tonight’s big winner. There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere today about independents–most of it unfavorably. What is also rather contradictory is that on the one hand many bloggers claim that we should stick to partisanship because there aren’t many independent votes, but on the other hand they complain about the prospect of Obama possibly winning with the support of independents as opposed to only Democrats.

Steve Benen has one of the more favorable posts on independents as related to Obama supporters today. Steve looks at how Obama appeals to independents and the consequences for a progressive agenda.

Allow me to over simplify things to an almost comical degree. Obama, or any Democrat for that matter, has a choice as to how best to pitch progressive ideas as a presidential candidate:

Choice A: Republicans have proven themselves to be reckless, incompetent, and incapable of governing. They seek to divide, bankrupt, and undercut America, while trashing our institutions and ignoring the rule of law. The way to get the nation back on track is to elect a Democratic president with a progressive policy agenda. If Republicans balk, we’ll ram it down their throats, to the benefit of people nationwide.

Choice B: Partisan politics has gotten out of hand, and there’s simply no need to keep having the same ideological fights over and over again. It’s time for a Democratic style of politics that brings in independents and reasonable Republicans who are willing to work with us to make a difference on the issues that really matter, such as universal healthcare, ending the war in Iraq, combating global warming, fiscal sanity, making college more affordable….

With this analysis, Steve shows the benefit to Democrats of appealing to independents, noting “Using Choice B offers the opportunity to win a general election with a big mandate. It also runs the risk of undercutting party building, watering down the brand, and creating unrealistic expectations about what’s possible.” In my previous looks at this issue, I’ve been surprised by how little many liberal bloggers have considered the advantages of Choice B and have been excessively concerned with such downsides.

As Steve admits this is an oversimplification to a comical degree it shouldn’t be surprising that there is plenty more to add to this analysis. One major point I would add about Obama is that many independents like him for more reasons than the manner in which he utilizes “bipartisan rhetoric to achieve partisan ends.” Obama, as opposed to Edwards, actually appears to consider the views of others and incorporate them into his proposals. I also find the manner in which Obama does this to be distinct from Clinton. While Clinton will ignore principles by “triangulating” to find a policy which picks up the most political support, Obama retains liberal principles while striving to make his policies more palatable to others.

Atrios has not been very welcoming towards independents, but perhaps this is a misunderstanding as he did clarify this to only refer to certain independents:

I’m talking about “self-described independents,” people who think their independence makes them somehow more objective and more wise than the rest of us and that the fact that they’re perfectly positioned on the mythical political center means that they are correct on all things.

Well, it is common for people who are Democrats, Republicans, or independents to feel they are the wisest and most objective. As for the “mythical center,” this gets to my main objection to all the talk about independents. We are not one homogeneous group as Christopher Hayes makes it sound. For many of us the goal is certainly not any mythical center. I find such a position particularly absurd as this would mean an ever shifting set of views which are controlled by the views of others you seek to fall between. Many are independent because neither political party fully represents their views.

Many undecided and independent voters might be the uninformed, irrational, and in some cases even the racist voters described by Hayes. There are also plenty of uninformed, irrational, and in some cases racist voters among Democrats and Republicans. Some independents believe, as Atrios charges, that “the right politician will just wave his magic wand and the correctly colored pony will appear.” There are many Democrats and Republicans who see politics in a similar way. I’m sure Atrios has noted plenty of cases of irrational Bush worshiping. While he might not agree, I also see Edwards supporters the same way.

If independents had a uniform set of beliefs we would most likely have a more descriptive name. Independents have a variety of views which don’t fit entirely into either party. Many of us are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and have tended to vote more Democratic recently as the party has become more moderate on fiscal issues and the Republicans have moved to the extreme right on social issues. There are also other types of independents, such as Joe Lieberman whose views no longer fit in well with Democrats due to his position on the war.

Liberal bloggers have become overly defensive about partisanship in recent days, which is hardly necessary. It was Republicans who lost the respect of independents by their hyper-partisanship. This includes the Clinton impeachment and playing politics after 9/11 when it was clear that the Democrats, and not Republicans, were interested in a united response to terrorism. We expect members of each party to support their party’s positions, but sometimes this can go too far. Sometimes it is necessary to look beyond party. We saw this when Barry Goldwater told Richard Nixon it was time to step down. We saw this when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil managed to have a drink together at the end of the day, and sometimes even compromise on policy. Today we see this when Barack Obama shows recognition of the concerns of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Be Sociable, Share!

1 Comment

  1. 1
    Mark B Graham says:

    Hello my friends my name is Mark B Graham and I am running for President of the United States in 2008 .I have reorganized my team in the last few months to show the people we are here to stay .Now Christmas is over it is time to make that push to get Support of the Nation Are you tired like me of the Republicans and Democrats parties saying they are for every American in the United States.No I dont think so that is why i am Running for President as a Independent.So please give all the Independents a chance to be heard Thank You
    Mark B Graham 2008

1 Trackbacks

Leave a comment