It’s been quite a century for America so far, don’t you think?
We greeted the long awaited 21st century anticipating a digital meltdown (Y2K) that didn’t happen. We did not anticipate the horrific attack by four of our own airliners, controlled by terrorists. We then began our longest running war based on false assertions and charged the astronomical bill mainly on our grandchildren’s credit cards. We elected our first black American president. Twice! Then we elected to that same position a man who had never in his life held public office. You could almost say we were on a roll. As – on a rollercoaster.
Now, over a hundred years after World War I ended and set the stage for an even more catastrophic World War II, we are in the midst of a vicious political war to decide where we head next. Certainty is delusional, though you would never know that by listening to the candidates and their hired guns. That was also true four years ago.
The two dominant political parties have understandably disagreed on much over the last 150 years. Now they seem to agree only that the other one is misguided, stupid, un-American, evil, or all of the above. It is a prescription for…for what? They don’t know. Nor do we.
We do know this, however. The parties are suffering from a massive vote of “no confidence” by millions of Americans. It isn’t just reflected in the abysmal, consistently low ratings of Congress in the low double digits. It is demonstrated by the fact that 45% of qualified American voters are leaving or never joining the parties. The percentage of unaffiliated voters appears to be heading towards half of American voters!
I’ll refer to this portion of “We the People” by their most common label, independent Voters. These Americans, by Constitutional standards, are qualified to vote. They choose not to affiliate with a political party. That costs many of them of their voting privileges because parties and many states impose discriminatory restrictions on these Americans in primary elections, including the Presidential Preference Election. Though the Republican maneuvers are especially corrosive, neither party is by any means pure. They seek to neutralize potential opposing voters by arbitrary means long before any election.
Oh, those pesky independent Voters! To vote in the upcoming presidential preference election, I had to change my registration to Democrat or not vote at all. After the election, I will return to my true identity as an independent Voter. Republicans don’t even have a presidential preference election here this year. Being forced into this subterfuge is a breathtaking form of foolishness if the parties believe it is going to gain them anything but disrespect and resentment.
Political pundits routinely miss the mark in trying to explain who independent Voters really are. I have been labeled as: a leaner, closet party member, idealist, dreamer, malcontent, clueless, unable to distinguish between party ideologies, unpatriotic, irresponsible, and others not printable. It took me decades to acquire these qualities! Nevertheless, I join with millions of Americans who urge the parties to collaborate in assembling the necessary participants around the table, framing the right questions, and crafting workable answers. Then check the results.
The independent Voters I know expect our elected leaders to do the admittedly extremely hard work of resolving workable approaches to the serious issues we confront, rather than devoting endless energy and vast treasure demeaning each other. Independents typically accept the fact of imperfection and believe that “better” is achievable, while “perfection,” no matter by whose definition, is not. Vehement disagreement is and will remain unavoidable in a nation as diverse as ours. That does not excuse failure to decide. As has been persuasively argued many times, the richness of different perspectives and opinions actually defines the Great American Experiment. It is who we are. What that requires is wisdom, patience, and humility, not exclusion.
Inspired by the exceptional leadership of Adrian Fontes, our Maricopa County Recorder, independent Voters got serious consideration of our case by the Arizona Democratic Party (the only option available this election cycle) and were rejected, though by a substantially split vote. The party leadership believed money could be more profitably spent on campaigning rather than welcoming more voters. Another opportunity to right the wrongs of voter suppression by arbitrary restriction was lost.
Independent Voters are not going to go away. Our Nation needs all the positive voices it can get and the parties don’t own all of them by any means. At some point this will become so broadly clear that it can no longer be ignored. We – and the parties – have a lot of work to do.
Let’s not waste any more of the 21st Century getting it done.
Al Bell is a resident of Peoria.