27 May 2010

Moderate Independence: the spirit of compromise

The existence of anti-incumbent sentiment nationwide is undeniable this year, as is the existence of anti-statist or anti-"big government" sentiment. That's where the Tea Parties come from. There's also an anti-Wall Street and anti-corporate sentiment that has boosted primary challenges from the left of Democratic incumbents in some places. Ideology is rampant, but some hopeful analysts point at what might be described as anti-ideological or even anti-partisan sentiment. As this op-ed in the New York Daily News points out, more Americans in at least one poll prefer a theoretical candidate willing to negotiate and compromise with people who disagree with him over one who is unwilling to compromise. It may not be surprising to learn that Republican respondents were the ones least likely to support a compromiser. They're also the ones least likely to support an incumbent, but that's most likely explained by the fact that theirs is the minority party in Congress. On the other hand, Democrats are the least likely to support a candidate who has never held elected office before, so there are plenty of obnoxious traits to go around. For more on the survey itself, look here.

The author of the op-ed, Douglas E. Schoen, has written a book that predicts "the Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System." He seems to identify independence particularly with a readiness to compromise, implicitly deeming moderates or non-partisans more independent than Tea Partiers or MoveOn.org types. By his standards, a veteran partisan like Charlie Crist in Florida can re-emerge and flourish as a newly-minted "independent" after being purged (or purging himself) from a party infiltrated by ideological zealots. Schoen notes that Crist is currently leading polls for the U.S. Senate race after trailing while he remained a troubled Republican candidate. Because Crist would not kowtow to the Tea Partiers, an insurgent element within his old party, he now becomes an independent in Floridians' eyes, and Schoen encourages us to see him as such. Schoen describes Crist jumping ship as his having "eschewed the partisanship he once championed." But how has Crist changed? If the Republican party in Florida has changed, then the GOP itself no longer embodies "the partisanship he once championed." If it has changed, and he hasn't, how has he become independent? By saying so, apparently.

Anyone running against a Tea Party, I suppose, will look "less divisive" to the typical voter, but is "less divisive" the sole criterion of independence? A readiness to negotiate and compromise is often an admirable trait, but praise for compromise begs the question: who's at the table negotiating? Praising the likes of Charlie Crist (or even less plausibly, Andrew Cuomo) as true independents misses the point that we need new people at the table.

Speaking of Cuomo, Schoen actually takes the Independence Party seriously. He has some statistical reason to do so. Mike Bloomberg has had the Independence Party line in all three of his NYC mayoral election campaigns, along with other lines. Schoen points out that more Bloomberg supporters have voted for him on the Independence line with every election. Whether this actually influences Bloomberg's policies (his true affiliation is "plutocrat") isn't of concern to Schoen. He thinks that the Independence endorsement could put Cuomo over the top this year, winning him support from people unwilling to vote the Democratic line. Never mind that Cuomo remains, as far as anyone can tell, a 100% Democrat. His victory, with a proper portion of Independence votes, could herald a "renaissance" of the political center if voters reject "the current toxic fever of partisanship."

I certainly hope Schoen's book is better argued than his column.

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