How the Independent Movement Went Left By Going Right
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Over at The Hankster (named for its originator, Nancy Hanks, and a leading online voice of independent political thought), there’s a great article by Jacqueline Salit, executive editor of The Neo-Independent on the contribution of independent voters to Barack Obama’s election. The title itself is intruiging:
If you’re into electoral politics, you want to read it. The two “major” parties need to understand the significance of independents in the process of choosing our leaders. It’s easy to discount independents’ role role and seriousness of purpose, given past support of people like Ralph Nader and Ross Perot among others in past years. But we need to recognize that support for these candidates was in large measure symptomatic of discomfort with the status quo more than an endorsement of the candidates themselves.
You know I have another, minimally political, view of Barack’s astounding success. But that doesn’t detract from the influence of independents, or the statistics that Salit cites in her article. We’re just viewing the phenomenon through different glasses.
In the article, Salit talks about bipartisanship meaning more than just dealing with Republicans and Democracs. She wants independents brought into Obama’s consultations, too.
I thought about Russ Ouellette in New Hampshire, who sat across the table from Obama just weeks before the New Hampshire primary. In a dialogue about nonpartisan government, with TV cameras recording the conversation, Obama said: “If there’s a Republican out there who is the best person for any particular Cabinet position or any administrative agency that’s going to make a difference, then I will make that appointment.” Russ replied, “That’s great. But I don’t think being independent means just reaching across to Republicans.” And Obama replied, “Well, that includes independents. I mean, independents even better.”
The likelihood that Obama will find a true independent to serve in his administration is smaller than small. It’s not because he’s uninterested in reaching out, but because, unless your name is Ralph Nader (who polled 0.56% of the popular vote last November) independence doesn’t give you an opportunity to get noticed among the rest of the 131 million of us who voted, or even the six million (some of them actual independents) who got involved in the Obama campaign.
In this country, it’s almost always running for office as a Democrat or Republican that gets you noticed. The outstanding exception is Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s socialist Senator, who runs as an independent (and votes with the Democratic caucus. Who else could a socialist vote with?)
This fact of life in our two-party system is something the independent movement must deal with, as must the rest of us, because we’re missing some valuable input. And that raises a quesion: If you run as a candidate of the Independent movement, are you still independent?