The Voter’s Dilemma
The Republican Party has swung to the right, too far to the right for many Republican voters. This movement has not just been a shift of weight, but rather a full-throated repudiation of the legitimacy of moderate Republicanism. And of moderate Republicans.
In order to compete as a Republican presidential candidate, in a field crowded with extreme conservatives, Mitt Romney felt he couldn’t afford to present any moderate alternative, so he became a "severe conservative". Influential and experienced Republicans like Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, crushed in a primary by the Tea-Party-backed Richard Mourdock, are tainted by their history of forging political compromises rather than scoring political points. Mourdock's campaign criticized Lugar's willingness to work with Democratic lawmakers.
The current national Republican list of enemies far exceeds anything Richard Nixon compiled: "liberal traitors", the President, government employees, unions, and now any acceptance of their own policies of the late 20th century. What if you are a Republican who sits next to a liberal in church?
I have friends with exactly that dilemma. I live in the home town of Paul Findley, in the home state of Charles Percy. They represented Illinois in Congress from the 1960s into the 1980s, and represented the ideas of the Republicans I meet every day at the County Market and BJ’s restaurant, at ball games and at the nursing home, in their homes and mine.
One of the facts of small town American life, which is often held up as the American ideal, is that nasty partisan politics are tempered by the bonds of friendship and the need to get along with your neighbors. Nobody runs for local office here on the social issues that seem to inflame the newly extreme national Republican Party: women’s rights, the separation of church and state, the efforts of gay Americans to be treated with respectful equality. Nobody here seeks votes by saying that the other party are traitors to real American values, because it would break up the bowling league or poker game or literary society.
Virtually all elected city officials are Republican, but none of them has pursued the anti-government vendetta that has been pushed by every Republican candidate for President. In office, they try to use government to make our town better, not starve government until it dies.
Mitt Romney might have attracted the allegiance of my Republican friends, if he had not forcefully and repeatedly repudiated the policies he advocated as Governor of Massachusetts. That was a fateful and irrevocable choice. If Romney now backs away from the extreme positions he has run on thus far, he won’t become a moderate, he’ll be a liar.
In democracies, when many people feel unrepresented by the existing parties, when both their politics and their morality remain unrepresented, a new party might form to give them a public voice. That’s how the Republican Party began, as a political and moral alternative to the Democrats, the Whigs, and the Know Nothings.
There are other parties to vote for, but Obama and John McCain split 98.6 % of the votes in 2008, and only Ralph Nader won more than half a percent. Besides the Republicans and the Democrats, no other party shows any signs of making a political difference.
We have an entrenched two-party system. We would all gain from giving up routine party allegiance and thinking carefully about what candidates represent, both politically and morally. Some of the recent candidates for national office from both parties have been morally shady or politically ignorant, or both. Voting for them because of party loyalty means encouraging one’s party to put forward more people like them. Imagine John Edwards and his mistress and their child in the White House.
What do you do if you stand right between the parties, not as liberal as the Democrats and their leader, President Obama, not as conservative as the Republicans and their leader, Mitt Romney, have become?
Split your ticket. Find the candidates who are closest to representing you, regardless of party, and don’t vote for candidates who don’t represent you, regardless of party. Force the parties to listen to you, not take your vote for granted.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, May 22, 2012