Party People vs. the Rest of Us

Once again, David Brooks has managed to write a thought-provoking and interesting piece.  Many readers who comment on his columns seem bitter, angry and often ignorant of his intent (at least from my perspective).  Yesterday, Brooks seemed to open the ideological and imaginary door to third party politics.  However, he didn’t invoke the image of an organized, structured third party with a name and a face. Instead, he implied the existence of the “wild card” in national politics.  Perhaps a Republican, perhaps an Independent, perhaps a Democrat, but certainly a man capable and passionate enough to speak to the real problems in the system.  He implies the vision of Gov. Schwarzenegger or Mayor Bloomberg (before they were elected), for the next election cycle and for higher office.

What I think Brooks recognizes is a ground swell of distress and concern over the future of this country and the long-term plans that aren’t being made.  Instead of jumping to the naive and idealist “savior third party,” he winks across the page to Obama and let’s him know that we’ll support an outright break from any party niceties that Obama deferred to in his first year.  I would agrue that most Americans are far more worried about the practicalities of life than they are the name or leadership of their political party.  Sure, we know that each major party has it’s hardcore 30% which will never leave the party and insist on going down with the ship, even if that means taking down the rest of us too.  That’s probably a bit strong.  But in my mind, it’s like rooting for the Yankees to win World Series titles even at the risk of Major League Baseball going out of business.  Luckily that’s not the case in professional baseball, at least not yet.  But our country is dealing with some major financial, political and sheer size issues, let’s not allow party politics to overshadow practicality and common sense (how many times have we heard that from a politician?).

During the Bush administration, I told a friend that whichever party embraced an independent (almost Libertarian) mindset which focused most successfully on financial and policy issues not social issues would probably be the party of the future.   Between 2002-2008, the Republican party did not.  In 2007-2008, the Obama campaign did.  Then after his election, the necessary debate within the Republican party began.  Should the GOP get more conservative in an effort to display true strength and integrity in the face of defeat? Or, should the party find a way to embrace evangelical Christians, fiscal conservatives and Libertarians in an effort to grow the party as large as possible?  I don’t think that debate is over yet but it doesn’t look like the latter strategy is succeeding.  Thus, Obama has the best chance of bringing together the largest percentage of Americans.  And in a majority rules republic, that’s the best we’re going to do.

If the last 25-30 years have been the height of party politics in this country, then I sincerely hope we can transition as quickly as possible to a problem-solving era and leave old party politics to the history books.  I’m not advocating getting rid of the Republican or Democratic parties, hardly a good that will do. And unlike David Brooks, I don’t think that this Ross Perot-candidate, capable of channeling populist outrage, is out there.  Along the same lines, I’m not hoping for (or anticipating) some nebulous and flawless third party to rise up and unite the country in political bliss.   I’m merely asking the American people to shake off the old habit of petty, party politics, where the winner controls the entire agenda and the loser merely mucks up and blocks that same agenda.  Grab all you can in 4 years doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

Instead, let’s look at each issue, each piece of legislation and each obstacle as a new opportunity for a party (or better yet), call it a coalition, to form.  These coalitions will have a different political make-up depending on the issue.  There might be one group of Senators who form to advocate environmental reform and an entirely different group who organize over the issue of health care.  Not every Democrat is exactly the same on each issue nor should they be expected to all mirror the same platform.  We will stop giving 2-3 moderate Senators all the power over a single piece of legislation living or dying.  We will allow politicians the security and trust to team with the so-called “opposition” on one bill and rigorously oppose that same person on another.

I haven’t been able to pinpoint where it begins – with voters willing to trust a politician to organize with different coalitions on different bills if it’s what’s best for their constituents or with the media and political parties who severely punish and abuse anyone who dares “break ranks” or vote in an manner other than the cookie-cutter, stereotype is supposed too.  David Brooks is looking to President Obama to embody this cultural change and be strong enough to show us from the top what a practical, problem-solver looks like.  And I, like Brooks, hope that Obama does just that.  However, a large portion of the American people seem poised and ready for a cultural shift that embraces real, tangible problem-solving regardless of party name.  If that President is Obama, fantastic, let’s get started.  If it’s not Obama, a thought I’m open too but not confident of, what’s next for this country?

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