July 18, 2011

The Neo-Independent Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer 2011)

Editor's Note

On July 3rd, 2011, the postmodern philosopher and longtime independent political strategist Dr. Fred Newman passed away. He was 76 years old (see New York Times obituary). A founder and contributing editor to The Neo, Fred was a social visionary, political innovator, and mass organizer who will be deeply missed by those who knew him. I am honored to have worked with him over the past two decades. He was a wonderful teacher, a gentle soul, a brilliant working-class leader, and a passionate proponent of people's development.

This summer installment of The Neo begins with an excerpt from Newman's book (co-authored with Lois Holzman), The End of Knowing. In "Deliberately Unsystematic Thoughts on a New Way of Running a Country," Newman engages the history of liberty in the United States, poses a challenge to identity politics, and offers a different, developmental way forward. Newman's challenge to epistemology (how we know, or the ways in which knowledge is constructed) goes back to his earliest publication--his 1962 doctoral dissertation from Stanford University. Published as Explanation by Description: An Essay on Historical Methodology (The Hague: Mouton, 1968), Newman challenges causality in historical explanation. For Newman, life and history are much more complex, and can not be so easily reduced. People create environments, even as people are shaped by their environments. History is that fascinating dialectical process. Newman's excerpt gives a flavor for some of his insights and ways of understanding history.

Also included in this installment are three articles well-worth reading that look at today's emerging independent movement: Mickey Edward's "How to turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans" from The Atlantic, Jacqueline Salit's "How Obama Can Be a Non-Partisan President" from The Huffington Post, and an analysis of the Pew Research Center's recent study Beyond Red vs. Blue by Sarah Lyons, entitled "Independents are Not Moderates."

Finally, The Neo offers a few statistics regarding independents as we head into the 2012 elections. My thanks to Sarah Lyons, The Hankster, Phyllis Goldberg, and Jacqueline Salit for these.

Stay cool and enjoy your families, co-workers, and friends.

                           Omar Ali, Editor



Deliberately Unsystematic Thoughts on a New Way of Running a Country by Fred Newman, excerpt from Chapter 4, The End of Knowing (Routledge, 1997)

How to turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans by Mickey Edwards, The Atlantic

How Obama Can Be a Non-Partisan President by Jacqueline Salit, The Huffington Post

Independents are Not Moderates by Sarah Lyons

Stats and Facts?: What the numbers may or may not say about independents ... by Omar Ali

Previous Issues


Deliberately Unsystematic Thoughts on a New Way of Running a Country

By Fred Newman

The method of liberal compromise and the search for the programmatic center which typified the first hundred or so years of American political life have gone through a profound change as well in this past half century, even though the rhetoric of the left-center-right paradigm is still officially and opportunistically retained. In fact, the meaning of liberty itself has been transformed. At the very beginning of the American republic (confederation), liberty was identified primarily with the dominance of local (grassroots) institutions in which Americans participated directly, and with political and economic power that was correspondingly dispersed. The Constitution of 1787 laid the foundation for a major consolidation of political power in a centralized federal government; the Bill of Rights was regarded by its supporters as a necessary check on this new power.

However, for a long time the Bill of Rights had surprisingly little practical impact on American liberty. (It was not until after World War I that the Supreme Court declared a law unconstitutional for infringing on the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.) For the first century of the Republic, political discourse about liberty did not focus on individual rights so much as on how government could best nurture "republican virtue" and support the development of a nation of self-governing citizens. The fight for liberty during this largely free market period was played out primarily in the political (as opposed to the judicial) arena, in an ongoing effort to give republican shape to the growth and consolidation of economic power.

It is only in the twentieth century (especially since the end of World War II, which brought an intensification of regulatory capitalism) that American liberty has come to mean a primary emphasis on the rights of individuals as defined in the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to the Constitution. In this evolution, judicial review by the federal courts and the Supreme Court (and, therefore, lawyering) has come to play an increasingly prominent role in defining American liberty in terms of constraints on the power of government (the regulators) and of political majorities in a bipartisan regulatory arrangement to impose their particular views on individuals and constituencies.

From the contemporary liberal perspective, this evolution of the "neutral state" promised to open up a whole new era in which individual citizens would experience unprecedented freedom to define themselves, their purposes and commitments, and their own associations, and to reject obligations they had not themselves chosen. From this point of view, the evolution of American liberty seemed to be fulfilling the promise of the American Revolution. Yet the changing character of liberty was essentially a reaction formation to the takeover by the professional political caste of regulatory capitalism. Ultimately, there was no room for compromise.

In practice, many Americans felt a growing ambivalence (at least) about the quality of life brought about by the new freedom. The transformed paradigm of liberty, emphasizing the primacy of individual rights, superseded the older republican paradigm in which liberty was understood not primarily as legal constraints on government, but as the participation of citizens in a self governing nation. But who was "taking care" of the country now?

During the first 100 years of the American republic, there existed a developmental creative tension between the growth of the economy and the growth of liberty. The ongoing effort to give republican shape to the titanic economic power that was evolving ensured (or, at least, gave cause for hope) that economic growth would benefit not a privileged few, but the entire nation (albeit in varying degrees). Conversely, confidence in American liberty enlisted the enthusiastic participation of millions of people from all over the world in America's economic growth.

The new paradigm of individuated liberty, however, reflected the dissolution of this creative tension, and the consolidation of economic and political power (otherwise known as the rise of "special interests") to the exclusion of the republican majority. The proliferation of individual rights and the accompanying "identity politics," despite the many things that can be invoked to justify them, came about in part as an alternative to the creative tension between liberty and economic growth. Individual liberty appeared wonderful to many, but the environment in which it was to be practiced came to seem increasingly regulated. There was, once again, no apparent synthesis possible (no compromise, no center ground) between the political/corporate takeover of highly regulated American capitalism and the endless varieties of demands (in most cases legitimate) for rights, liberty, and a greater share of the economic pie on the part of conflicting identity based groups. They have always been on a collision course. Now, as the twenty-first century nears, they have collided. Most importantly, the developmental tension between old-style republican liberty and economic expansion (arguably, the bedrock of Americanism) has been destroyed. The political-economic center has collapsed. Although there is much profit, there is no real growth. There is structural antagonism, an irreconcilable contradiction, no room for compromise. The center fails to hold ...

Full chapter, click here


How to turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans
By Mickey Edwards, The Atlantic

Mickey Edwards was a member of Congress for sixteen years and a chairman of the House Republican leadership's policy committee. After leaving Congress, he taught at Harvard, where he was voted the Kennedy School's outstanding teacher. He currently runs a political leadership program at the Aspen Institute. He was one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation.  He served on the American Bar Association task force that condemned President George W. Bush, and his most recent book, Reclaiming Conservatism, was published in 2008.

... Ours is a system focused not on collective problem-solving but on a struggle for power between two private organizations. Party activists control access to the ballot through closed party primaries and conventions; partisan leaders design congressional districts. Once elected to Congress, our representatives are divided into warring camps. Partisans decide what bills to take up, what witnesses to hear, what amendments to allow.

Many Americans assume that’s just how democracy works, that this is how it’s always been, that it’s the system the Founders created. But what we have today is a far cry from what the Founders intended. George Washington and James Madison both warned of the dangers posed by political parties. Defenders of the party system argue that parties—including Madison’s own—arose almost immediately after the nation was founded. But those were not parties in the modern sense: they were factions uniting on a few major issues, not marching in lockstep on every issue, large and small. And while some defend the party system as a necessary provider of cues to voters who otherwise might not know how to vote, the Internet and mass media now make it possible for voters to educate themselves about candidates for office.

What we have today is not a legacy of 1789 but an outdated relic of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Progressives pushed for the adoption of primary elections. By 1916, all but a handful of states had instituted the “direct primary” system, under which a party candidate was selected by a public vote, rather than by party leaders in backroom deals. But the primaries, and the nominating conventions, were open only to party members. This reform was supposed to give citizens a bigger role in the election process. Instead, the influence of party leaders has been supplanted by that of a subset of party activists who are often highly ideological and largely uninterested in finding common ground. In Delaware in 2010, a mere 30,000 of that state’s nearly 1 million people kept Mike Castle, a popular congressman and former governor, off the general-election ballot. In Utah, 3,500 people meeting in a closed convention deprived the rest of the state’s 3 million residents of an opportunity to consider reelecting their longtime senator Robert Bennett. For most of the voters who go to the polls in November, the names on the ballot have been reduced to only those candidates the political parties will allow them to choose between. Americans demand a multiplicity of options in almost every other aspect of our lives. And yet we allow small bands of activists to limit our choices of people to represent us in making the nation’s laws.

I am not calling for a magical political “center”: many of the most important steps forward in our history have not come from the center at all, including women’s suffrage and the civil-rights movement, and even our founding rebellion against the British crown. Nor am I pleading for consensus: consensus is not possible in a diverse nation of 300 million people (compromise is the essential ingredient in legislative decision-making). And I’m not pushing for harmony: democracy depends on vigorous debate among competing views. The problem is not division but partisanship—advantage-seeking by private clubs whose central goal is to win political power. There are different ways to conduct elections and manage our government—and strengthen the democratic process. Here are some suggestions designed to turn our political system on its head, so that people, not parties, control our government ...

Full article, click here


How Obama Can Be a Non-Partisan President
By Jacqueline Salit, The Huffington Post

Jacqueline Salit is a twenty-year veteran of the independent movement. She is president of IndependentVoting.org and launched The Neo-Independent magazine in the Spring of 2004. A prominent leader in the fight for open primaries, she conducts regular national conference calls with over 150 grassroots independent leaders from around the country. An independent political strategist and journalist, she has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Power politics has a way of erasing the memory of how things happened in the first place. That's because when institutions come to power, they want the stories about themselves to reinforce their institutional strength. They never like to credit outsider, non-institutional forces, even if the outsiders role in a set of events was pivotal ...

For many independents, it's not enough for Obama to simply criticize Congressional leaders for their partisan intransigence. He has to show that he's willing to back certain structural changes in the political process that make such intransigence more difficult. This means taking a stand in support of open primaries where independents can vote, which are currently under fire from right wing Republicans. And, imagine the shock waves that would follow an Obama appointment (in consultation with leaders of the independent movement) of two independents to vacant seats on the Federal Election Commission.

Moves like these would show independents that the President understands the history of recent electoral unrest and that he is ready to stand up for changes in the process that promote inclusion over party control and partisanship. Over the long term, that's what independents are looking for.

Full article, click here


Independents are Not Moderates
By Sarah Lyons, Cagle Post

Pew acknowledged ... “In recent years, the public has become increasingly averse to partisan labels There has been a sharp rise in the percentage of independents-from 30% in 2005 to 37% currently.”

The survey also encouragingly pointed out that-contrary to much theorizing that independents comprise “the center” of American political life-they remain a diverse lot with strong opinions. “The growing rejection of partisan identification does not imply a trend toward political moderation, however. In fact, the number of people describing their political ideology as moderate has, if anything, been dropping,” wrote Pew, acknowledging that while independents have come to played a central role in the last three national elections-this does not a “center” make.

Pew’s findings amplify our own, discovered not through polling, but through the activity of organizing independents over the course of two decades. Independents are not in the middle between Democrats and Republicans. Rather, they want to move beyond the confines of parties altogether.

Perhaps more so than any other group of American voters, independents are attuned to the fact that partisanship is not a behavioral issue-it is a structural one. Since partisanship is produced by the structure of politics, addressing the issue of partisanship meaningfully means changing the political structure. That’s why reforms like open primaries and nonpartisan elections are so popular among independents.

Full article, click here


Stats and Facts?:
What the numbers may or may not say about independents ...
By Omar Ali, Editor, The Neo 

All the numbers (see the links below) point to an increase in independent political self-identification (including both 'unaffiliated' and 'minor party' registration) and greater attention among pollsters to the category 'Independent.' Approximately 38% of voters self-identify as independent today--a number which has been steadily growing over the past quarter century. Independents are now a plurality of voters in the United States.

But what does it mean to have growing numbers? What does it mean to be an independent? After all, there are many kinds of independents (the latest Pew Research Center study classifies independents as "Libertarians," "Disaffecteds," and "Post-Moderns"). Some are conservative, others are liberal, still others are a mix of conservative and liberal, depending on the issue. But the one thing that unites independents is their concern over the kind of partisanship that is governing the nation. That's the one thing that independents across the board are similarly concerned about.

The numbers are growing, but the underlying message remains the same: independents want a more open/non-partisan political process.

Voter Registration Trends (Pollster.com)
The New Typology (Pew Research Center)