Why a New Coalition of Independent Thinkers Must Emerge Now
It has been a part of our national politics for generations — the fleeting promise to voters by our national parties at one inflection point or another that they truly are a “big tent” coalition, with room not just for staunch ideologues, but also for reasonable centrists. Count me in the camp that dismisses those declarations as too often intellectually disingenuous, and usually dishonest. But even taken on its face, why in politics is only half a tent considered big? Our intellectual and cultural diversity in the United States actually spans the entire ideological spectrum from left to right, not just the convenient half of it.
This ‘half tent’ approach to politics has delivered us to where we are today, with each of our major parties largely interested in giving voice to only half the country, but desperately fighting to control all of it.
It seems silly on its face that a major party would willingly write off half the national constituency by starting from a point of dismissing their perspective. But what may seem silly now contributes to deadly polarization, to broken politics and broken governing, and ultimately strengthens our modern national narrative of ‘two Americas’. Why would today’s Republicans subscribe to an approach that eliminates the party’s voice and viability in states like California and Connecticut? And why would today’s Democrats knowingly ignore the overwhelming perspective of deep red states like Wyoming, West Virginia, and Oklahoma?
The answer is in some ways defensible. Our national parties are destinations for specific ideology, not diverse representation. They are champions of their view of America, not all views. But if we remain this nation of only two viable parties, with each providing only limited ideological and cultural identity for our politics, then our national division will only worsen, our disdain for our fellow Americans only grow, and the cauldron of political and cultural violence will inevitably boil over.
So why accept the premise that political coalitions in the United States — political parties — must be based only on ideology? Suppose a new coalition emerged based not on ideology, but on shared principles of governing, based on simply solving problems related to immigration, healthcare, employment, and economic growth regardless of whether those solutions came from the right, left, or middle? Because the truth is there are remarkably valid ideas in each lane. And if we shed our commitment to rigid, uncompromising, dogmatic approaches to governing, the answers to most of our nation’s policy challenges are actually just within reach.
A big tent coalition holds even greater promise for the individual voter beyond fellowship with a diverse citizenry. It also allows the individual to exercise their own diversity of thought. Few voters find themselves at exactly the same ideological point on every issue. Many of us are incredibly complex within our own ideologies. Today’s political parties don’t allow for that diversity within even our individual convictions and politics.
For example, as a Republican Member of Congress, there was nowhere within the party for me to champion sensible gun control, campaign finance reform, marriage equality, and other issues more comfortably at home in the Democratic Party. Now today as an independent, there is no appeal for me to join the Democratic Party to better align on those issues because I would have to park my views on taxes, regulation, and limited government. Is this really the best we can do? Two incomplete options for our personal political affiliations? Two?
The major parties today crush independent thought — or at least prevent the exercise of it. They sell us short, dismiss us intellectually, and cheapen our politics.
Without significant political change, our national story will only grow worse, not better. We will become more divided, more suspicious of each other, more cynical, and more desperate. We will become weaker as a nation, not stronger. More unstable, less resilient. More likely to lose this American experiment, not achieve it.
But the answer is fairly simple. It is time a political party welcomes all of America, not just half of it. It is time a political party embraces and celebrates the rich diversity of thought and culture that runs throughout all fifty states. It is time a political party becomes a home to critical thinking and problem solving, seeking answers dispassionately from the left, right and middle.
The opportunity for either of the parties to choose this new direction is certainly there, but the odds of one embracing it most unlikely. The answer more likely is for a new political party to emerge and to stand in equal competition with our existing parties of ideology. It is time to provide an alternative affiliation for voters, one rooted in true representation of the entire nation, not just half of it.