Wednesday, January 31, 2007

America is in need of some ‘Independent’ thinking (MNA Jan. 07)

Associate Editor

Labels. Americans love ‘em. They make things simpler.
But they divide us.
Let me explain.
A while back I sent in a submission to a popular handgun magazine of a column I wrote about being a pro-gun democrat. The editor returned the submission and said he wouldn’t print it. No big deal. Rejection is part of the business.
But his reasoning was that he didn’t agree with my point. My point was that pro-gun individuals aren’t always conservative. I am not a conservative but I am pro-gun. I’m living proof of my own point.
How can he refute the point, then?
Because some liberals, conservatives, democrats, and republicans insist on categorizing everything. If you are a democrat you have to be pro-choice. If you’re a republican, you have to be pro-life. Says who?
Why can’t we choose which philosophies are right for us based on the issues alone — without having to declare a party affiliation, or live with a label that doesn’t exactly fit us? The two party system is no longer working.
People need to pick their elected officials based on how they represent their constituency, regardless of the party label. And a lot of people do this — by voting for candidates from both parties when they go to the polls.
Other people find comfort in not having to think about who to vote for; they enjoy just pulling that lever with the D or R on it, and then getting on with their lives. We have become complacent. We have become lazy. We need a third party. Hell, we need a fourth and fifth party. In the very least, we need independent candidates who can give us an alternative to the malfunctioning two party system.
Yeah, we have the Libertarians and the Green Party. We also have the Socialists, Communists, Libertarians, and others. But they are more often than not considered the fringe, not the norm.
The elections of Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura of Minnesota to the post of governor, and Green Party candidate state legislator Audie Bock of California, have highlighted the roles of third party and independent candidates in American politics in recent years.
Independents and alternative parties seem to be what the public is looking for; why else would Minnesota have elected a former pro-wrestler and actor as their governor? And how did Independent Ross Perot, who won almost 19 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential campaign, get his foot in the door?
The American public was obviously crying out for change.
The number of independent voters has grown steadily in recent years. And politicians are having a difficult time appealing to the less predictable group, which includes everyone from ex-Libertarians to young people who think of political parties as irrelevant. These growing numbers suggest that maybe people would vote in greater numbers if they had more choices, with independent candidates or a third party which appealed to them.
We still have the power to vote independently, and split our ticket (except for in some primaries). But how many people exercise this option?
Although third party or independent candidates rarely win elections, they play an important role in democratic government. Third party or non-party candidates draw attention to issues that may be ignored by the majority parties. If the issue finds resonance with the voter, one or more of the major parties may adopt the issue into their own party platform. Also, a third party may be used by the voter to cast a protest vote on an important issue.
But protest votes are often wasted if they are in the minority. They may, however, have an effect on the outcome of the election. In the 2000 Presidential election, George W. Bush won the deciding state of Florida by fewer than 600 votes. Some Democrats accused Green Party candidate Ralph Nader of having cost them the election, and in discussion of strategies for the U.S. presidential election in 2004, both parties weighed the costs to the Democrats of another Nader presidential run. While Nader really didn’t have a chance, he had an impact.
This doesn’t mean the current parties need to go away. If people feel that they are in agreement with the Democratic or Republican campaign platforms, there isn’t anything wrong with that. I’m not advocating scrapping the existing parties. It just might be time for some thinking outside the traditional boxes.
People need to spend more time researching and really getting to know what their parties represent, what their candidates represent, and take the time to decide if that agrees with their own personal ideologies. If we start to find that neither party really represents us, it might be time to consider supporting the independents.
And we need to examine the labels. What is liberal? What is conservative? Can’t someone be a little of both? Why do we just believe what the commentators on television and on the radio, or the politicians tell us is one or the other?
Can’t we decide for ourselves?
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

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