The Center Must Hold

The Center Must Hold
AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File
The Center Must Hold
AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File
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News headlines, academic reports and troubling anecdotes highlighting the current division in American politics are now a daily occurrence. Not since the late 1960s have we felt, seen and heard so much ugliness and discord in our national discourse. The truth is, though, the center of American politics is today where it has always been: sitting, waiting and watching as the worst actors among us fight their fights (and, in this age, tweet their tweets).

Despite strong numbers of independents in this country, however, there is reason to be worried about the center. The noisiest and ugliest parts of our politics -- about 15 percent from each party -- dominate most political campaigns and policy discussions.

At a national level we’re asked to choose between a president who advocates separating parents from their children at the border and Democratic leaders advocating wholesale change to the fabric of our economic, social and political systems. In nearly every election, from city council to the presidency, the middle of the country is left with choosing between the brain-dead Democratic and Republican parties, which is no choice at all.

Meanwhile in Miami, former Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz delivered a speech this week in which he extoled the virtues of America’s political center and exhorted voters to demand more and better choices in their representatives. As Schultz himself considers an independent run for the presidency, he has been the target of nasty attacks from a system that has no tolerance for interlopers, as they consider him to be.

In his remarks, Schultz advocated for expanding the use of citizen commissions to reform congressional gerrymandering to ensure that voters are able to choose their representatives and not the other way around. There is good news on this front: 17 states now use various nonpartisan methods of redrawing legislative and/or congressional district lines. A key step on the path to true and holistic electoral reform, curtailing gerrymandering helps ensure that all voters’ voices, regardless of party identification, are heard by their (appropriately) elected representatives.

In his speech, Schultz noted he’s been told that an independent president would find it impossible to get anything done. But let’s be clear: The two parties aren’t getting much done now. It doesn’t matter who has the football in Washington anymore. Regardless of the party in power, we have not seen real governance in years. Counting those times when one party owns the White House and both houses of Congress does not count as working governance: Too often, as Schultz pointed out, those instances are seen simply as opportunities to push through partisan political agendas along party lines (i.e. Obamacare and the Trump tax cuts).

The United States, from its founding, has been based on a market economy. Capitalist systems are far more than just trading money for goods. They are the foundation of, and inextricably tied to, political freedom.

While America has been an economic and political leader for more than a century, we have much, much more work to do to create a “more perfect union.” The market and political systems we espouse as the basis of freedom are in need of a “reboot,” as Schultz says. For far too long, American capitalism has been dominated not by the best but by those who can pay the most for access and power.

To be sure, change is coming to the U.S. political system. The choice for the American people is what kind of change they’re looking for, and what kind of change they will accept. Do they really want the centralized control and loss of personal freedom espoused by adherents of the insane Green New Deal proposed by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the schizophrenic, personality-based trade and foreign policy of Donald Trump? I would venture to say that the majority of Americans like neither of those options.

Most Americans are looking for a path that puts them and their concerns first and those of entrenched political and economic elites where they belong: at the back of the line.

Reed Galen is an independent political consultant. He worked on ballot measure campaigns that helped institute redistricting reform in California and Utah. 

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