In 2008 the American electorate rejected a Republican candidate for President and elected our first African-American President, Barack Obama. Obama, campaigning on a platform perhaps best summarized simply as “change”, not only emerged victorious but took a number of states that had not voted Democratic in a presidential election in a number of years.
The Democratic Party, emboldened by this success, and by the election of numerous Democratic members of Congress on Obama’s coattails, concluded that it now had a mandate to return to many of its traditional policies, which were built around big government, higher taxes and an activist role for government in society.
Only weeks ago, the voters of Massachusetts, in a special election to fill the seat formerly held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, rejected the Democratic Party’s candidate and voted instead for a relatively unknown state senator named Scott Brown. The Republican Party, flushed with the thrill of victory, immediately interpreted this success as proof that the nation had rejected the policies of President Obama and the Democratic Party and had embraced the Republican Party. The pendulum had swung. Happy days were here again.
Two massively contradictory conclusions regarding the mindset and intent of the electorate.
Perfectly diametrically opposed.
And both wrong.
Voters rejected John McCain in 2008, because they were disgusted with the arrogance and incompetence of a Republican Party which had dragged us into a series of ill-advised and poorly executed foreign adventures, bankrupted our government with a stunning combination of tax cuts and simultaneous increases in expenditures, walked away from any real effort to confront the issues of environmental destruction and energy independence and watched blissfully as the nation’s entire manufacturing base was crated up and shipped overseas. The Republicans might try mightily to wrap themselves in the flag and claim to be the defenders of the common man, but they were clearly bought and paid for by multinational corporations with little or no real allegiance to this or any other nation.
In short, the voters were angry. They wanted change, and they wanted it now. They were tired of the status quo, and they wanted results.
Voters sided with Scott Brown for precisely the same reasons. A year into the administration of President Obama, they saw, not a new day and concrete results, but a Democratic Administration which was increasing not limiting spending, moving tentatively if at all to end foreign entanglements, committed to expanding an already bloated federal bureaucracy and doing little or nothing to level the economic playing field internationally and rebuild our industrial base. They saw more of the same, and they did precisely what they had done in 2008. They demonstrated their anger, and they registered their disapproval.
Polls vary, but nationwide roughly forty percent of voters now consider themselves independents. Less than thirty percent of the electorate identifies with the Republican Party, only slightly more than thirty percent with the Democratic Party. This despite that fact that these two parties have significant institutional advantages in the election system over any third party or independent rivals and that failure to affiliate with one of the two major parties often means a voter has no ability to participate in primary contests.
The Democrats and the Republicans continue to fight their zero sum war and refuse to consider any option other than that one of them must be right regarding the key issues of the day. Meanwhile, increasingly, the American public has abandoned hope in either party and moved on. Deprived of any real choice in most elections, voters are no longer registering their support for either of the two major parties. Instead, they are doing the only thing they can, expressing their disgust and disappointment and hoping someone will eventually start to listen.
The truth is that we have now arrived at a critical moment in the political life of this nation. It may, in fact, be the most significant such crossroads since the creation of the Republican party in the last years preceding the Civil War. The existing political parties, which have dominated the political landscape for one hundred and fifty years, are intellectually bankrupt and tragically out of touch with the American public. The Republicans, for all their protestations to the contrary, have degenerated into a party dominated by corporate money and the religious right. The Democrats seem incapable of finding a solution to any problem facing the nation, which does not involve the creation of yet another vast bureaucracy and the spending of untold billions of dollars we do not have.
It is time for a change. Not a change from one bad choice to another. A real change. It is time for America to take another look at the alternative first presented in the 1990’s, the Reform Party, the party of Ross Perot, of common sense, of middle America. This is a party which believes in a strong defense but rejects the notion that America is compelled to play both policeman and social worker to the world as a whole. It is a party that recognizes that when we no longer make anything in this country we will have lost our capacity to create wealth and to sustain our quality of life. It is a party which understands that without term limits and real campaign finance reform we will never be able to regain control of our government and do away with the permanent class of professional politicians and lobbyists who have taken it from us.
The Democrats and the Republicans may be committed to playing the same old zero sum game. We cannot afford to be.