Independent voters, once a political afterthought, are now the largest and fastest-growing segment of the American electorate.
This shift led to the nomination of two candidates who ran against the polarizing establishments of their own parties, while preaching the need to reach across the red-state/blue-state divide. Now independent voters may determine who is elected president.
Forty-three percent of undecided swing voters are independents and 47% are centrists, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Independent voters have been on the rise while the parties have been playing to a shrinking base. This is a generational change. There are now six states where independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats—the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire as well as New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Read More…
Chris Christie’s landslide reelection in a state President Obama won by 17 points offers the GOP a memo on how to win in 2016, if it wants one.
Don’t just fixate on the top-line numbers. They obscure the real story. Look instead at Christie’s initial exit poll margins among women, independent voters, moderates, the middle class, Hispanics, and African-Americans. In those cross-tab stats, you see the outlines of a candidate who can dig the GOP out of the demographic trap it’s facing. Read More…
Virginia is a cautionary tale for conservatives this year. And those Republicans who always argue that their party wins when it moves further to the right are going to have a lot of explaining to do after Election Day.
Polls show that “teavangelist” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is going down to a decisive defeat in the governor’s race against an exceptionally flawed Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton fund-raiser.
The reason is simple: Cuccinelli is too extreme for swing voters in Virginia — and that neatly symbolizes the GOP’s problem as it looks to the congressional midterms of 2014 and the presidential campaign of 2016. Read More…
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski became the third Republican U.S. Senator to support same-sex marriage on Wednesday, just days before the Supreme Court is set to decide on its constitutionality. But what’s really significant about Murkowski’s decision is the argument she made in an op-ed, rooted squarely in family values.
In explaining her evolution on the issue, Murkowski told the story of an Alaskan military couple who visited her on Capitol Hill for lunch with their four foster children. The kicker was that the couple was two women.
As Murkowsi explained: “After their years of sleepless nights, after-school pickups, and birthday cakes, if one of them gets sick or injured and needs critical care, the other would not be allowed to visit them in the emergency room—and the children could possibly be taken away from the healthy partner. They do not get considered for household health-care benefit coverage like spouses nationwide. This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence.” Read More…
South Carolina Special Election Has All the Makings of a Scandal-Filled Telenovela – The Daily Beast
This is one local election that’s going to get national attention.
With Mark Sanford’s victory in the Republican runoff Tuesday night, South Carolina’s May 7 congressional special election will be packed with enough scandal, redemption, and gender-war themes to fill a telenovela. To sweeten the pot, polls show that the Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Colbert Busch (sister of talk-show host Stephen Colbert), might have a real shot at winning what has traditionally been a safe Republican seat. Fasten your seat belts—this is going to be a wild four-week ride.
The view from outside South Carolina too often sees Lowcountry politics as a strange circus, a perspective confirmed for some distant observers by the elevation of Mark Sanford from the Appalachian Trail–hiking governor to a serious contender for his old congressional seat. Holding his primary-night victory party at a barbecue joint called Sticky Fingers didn’t exactly help his cause to be taken seriously again. Read More…
John King speaks with Margaret Hoover and John Avlon about how Pres. Obama was able to win despite losing white vote.
Republicans need to “stop being the Stupid Party.” That was a blunt postelection declaration of independence by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism,” continued Jindal. “We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people, and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”
After being demographically left in the dust by President Obama, conservatives are regrouping, reassessing, and recognizing the need to evolve on social issues if they are going to connect with the millennial generation. Read More…
Now We Govern: Transitioning from the Campaign to Office
John Avlon moderates this panel on the transition from campaign to office and the challenges that lie ahead for Congress and the President.
Featuring: Maria Cardona, Brendan Daly, Sara Taylor Fagen, Secretary Dan Glickman, Trey Grayson and Senator Trent Lott
Moderator: John Avlon
The uniqueness of our democratic process is our historical ability to transfer power peacefully. With such divisive campaign rhetoric behind the candidates and the country today, how can the work of governing successfully begin? What hard feelings and hold-over from negative campaigning will impede this progress? If campaigning is about highlighting differences, governing should, in turn, be about finding ways to work together. This panel will address the obstacles to a successful transition of power and the key issues that prevent compromise. Additionally, we’ll discuss the importance of the preparation of the President’s Inaugural Address and first State of the Union Address, and what to expect in the highly touted “First 100 Days.”
Over the last two months of the campaign, CNN focused on the swing districts of swing states as a way of looking at who would win the election. From Jefferson County Colorado and Loudon County Virginia on CNN’s OutFront’s Final Factors, to the Battleground Bus Tour with Ali Velshi from Florida’s I-4 Corridor to Ohio’s Stark County, we hit the road and talked with swing voters on the ground. In the end, here’s how they voted. Read More…
The final polls are out and behind the national horserace is a fascinating dynamic – Mitt Romney is narrowly winning independent voters while President Obama is winning centrist voters by a nearly 20-point margin.
For example, here in the must-win battleground state of Ohio, the final CNN/ORC poll showed Romney edging Obama among independent voters by two points, 48% to 46%. But among moderate voters, Obama is crushing Romney by 21 points – 57% to 36%.
This is significant because in past elections independents and centrist voters have been largely synonymous–overlapping cohorts, reflecting the belief of many independents that the two parties are too polarized and disproportionately dominated by their respective special interests. Read More…
The stakes in this election go far beyond just who takes the oath of office in January.
Each of us is faced with choices that will have huge ramifications in our nation for decades — and the choice is not simply about Democrats versus Republicans or even Obama versus Romney. The real stakes are this: The political strategies that prove successful in this election will be replicated far into the future.
Throughout this election cycle, we’ve seen hyperpartisan narratives resonate more than facts, total opposition embraced as a congressional tactic, and unprecedented dark money flow through our airwaves in an avalanche of negative ads. Read More…
There’s more to Election Day than just the presidential campaign. The polarization of the parties has led directly to the divided and dysfunctional Congress we’ve seen over the past two years, leading to the lowest congressional approval ratings in recent history.
No matter who wins the presidency, we need to see more principled problem-solving centrists elected from both parties.
That’s why I’m continuing my pre-election CNN.com column tradition of listing some of the most standout centrist Senate and House candidates on the ballot this year.
Centrism is one of most misunderstood and maligned political identities in our polarized hyper-partisan environment. Its advocates have been hunted into near-extinction on Capitol Hill by party-first conformists, angry ideologues and special interests. Read More…
The weather is getting cold, but the ground game here in Ohio is already hot.
The polls are tight in the Buckeye State with President Obama maintaining a small but steady lead of between two and four points in most polls. Ohio is his firewall and Romney’s must-win state, at least in terms of precedent—no Republican has ever won the White House without it.
At this stage of an election, politics becomes a math problem—measuring early voting and overall turnout, making sure that your voters get to the polls.
Early voting began here on Oct. 2nd, and it remains a core part of the president’s re-election strategy, especially after Republican efforts to restrict early voting periods were rejected by the courts. Read More…
John Avlon speaks with Dean Kahler, a survivor of the Kent State shooting who is passionate about the 2012 election.
With two weeks until the election, CNN sent John Avlon and their chief business correspondent Ali Velshi on the road to take the temperature among swing-state voters.
John Avlon unveils a new OutFront series, “The Final Factors.” A look at swing voters’ and their role in the election.
In the final stretch of this play-to-the-base presidential election, it is strange to say that the 40 percent of Americans who identify as independent are currently close to an afterthought. With so few undecided voters left, even most independents have chosen sides by now.
But some day this election is going to end, and if the next president and the next Congress hope to break through the hyperpartisan stalemate, they are going to have to find ways to appeal to the largest and fastest-growing segment of the American electorate.
Two timely new books—Mickey Edwards’s The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans and Jacqueline Salit’s Independents Rising offer valuable insights into the impulses that have inspired a record number of Americans to reject the two parties and demand something different. Read More…
One hundred years ago Monday, Theodore Roosevelt launched the most successful third party presidential bid in American history, declaring, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”
It was the culmination of the Progressive Party Convention in Chicago on August 6, 1912. And its influence still echoes through our politics today.
Roosevelt, the former president, had tried and failed to wrest the GOP nomination from his successor, William Howard Taft. His supporters believed that the nomination had been stolen by the conservative power brokers and declared their independence. Read More…
Welcome back to work, Congress. Hope you enjoyed your fourth full week off this year. Now find a way to work together to help get America back to work.
Experts all say not to expect any constructive action from Congress until after the election. There is a reason that cynicism passes for wisdom in Washington. But with economic clouds from overseas depressing our own recovery, there is an obligation to act now. And, in fact, there is a handful of bipartisan bills that could help get the U.S. economy moving again if they were enacted.
These are not Democrat or Republican ideas — they are simply good ideas. And unlike bipartisan pork barrel bills, they cost taxpayers comparatively little to enact.
Let’s take a look at three proposals with bipartisan support that could pass this summer if given a chance. Read More…
CNN’s John Avlon asks when did “Independence” become a bad word in America in Monday’s E-Block on OutFront.
It’s not your imagination: Our politics are more polarized than at any point in recent history.
That’s the conclusion of a new survey from the indispensable Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. And if you needed more evidence of the passionate and sometimes poisonous polarization afflicting our nation, you didn’t have to look further than the crowds in Wisconsin on Tuesday night after the recall attempt.
Here’s the real wake-up call: Americans are more divided about partisan politics right now than they are about race, class, gender and age. That’s right: Forget the original sin of slavery and the longstanding fights over civil rights — those old divisions now seem small compared with perceptions of whether a person is a Republican or Democrat.
Welcome to the new bigotry, where a person’s partisan identification is a source of prejudice, seen as a reflection of fundamentally different values, representative of an alien America. Read More…
The deadline for Americans Elect is here and they still don’t have a candidate.
This failure threatens to kill the effort to field a bipartisan third ticket for president before it ever really began—despite $35 million spent and 420,000 people signed up to serve as online delegates.
But supporters and advisors are planning to soldier on, extending the deadline and talking to delegates about possibly opening the process further to encourage greater participation.
“As of today, no candidate has reached the national support threshold required to enter the ‘Americans Elect Online Convention’ this June. Because of this, under the rules that AE delegates ratified, the primary process would end today,” organizers said in a statement released at midnight on the 15th. “There is, however, an almost universal desire among delegates, leadership and millions of Americans who have supported AE to see a credible candidate and ticket emerge from this process.” Read More…
The Live Free or Die State stayed true to its name Wednesday, as an attempt to repeal same-sex marriage was rejected in the New Hampshire House of Representatives by a decisive margin of 211 to 116.
The victory meant that New Hampshire avoided the ignominy of becoming the first state since the Proposition 8 decision in California to revoke a civil right after it was instituted.
The legislative fight also brought to the forefront philosophical fissures within the Republican coalition, pitting libertarian, small-government conservatives against social conservatives. Read More…
It’s not your imagination: Our dysfunctional divided Congress is the least productive and least popular in recent history.
Some congressmen walk the halls like members of rival gangs. The simple job of reasoning together seems out of reach. A few good men and women — like Sens. Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe — have decided to retire rather than subject themselves to this disheartening Kabuki theater. The system is broken. But what can we do to fix it?
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In the past, divided government presided over ambitious accomplishments like the Marshall Plan and the creation of the interstate highway system. Read More…
The rigged system of redistricting is quietly reaching new lows of collusion and cronyism in states across the country.
It’s an update to an old story—the effort of legislatures to draw themselves partisan safe seats, known as Gerrymandering. Simply put, it’s when politicians pick their people, instead of people picking their politicians.
It comes once every ten years, as mandated by the Constitution, reflecting population shifts recorded in the census. A few states, like Iowa and California, have followed through with independent redistricting commissions after citizen insistence overwhelmed partisan resistance.
We are living in a time of decentralized populist political movements, fueled by economic anxiety and magnified by social media.
As Occupy Wall Street spread into satellite protests this past week, there was an understandable impulse to impose an established narrative, asking whether this was the mirror image of the Tea Party protests. Read More…
We were going to talk about the game of politics this morning, but it’s clear Americans are tired of that and frustrated at the current political climate. John Avlon and Ron Brownstein discuss voter discontent. How frustrated are you? A recent New York Times poll found that 82% of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. That’s the highest disapproval rate since the paper started asking the question in 1977.
A similar CNNORC Poll found 84% of Americans are not pleased with how lawmakers are handling their job. With Congress’ disapproval ratings are at historic highs, what are the political implications of Americans’ dissatisfaction with lawmakers? CNN Contributor John Avlon and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein discuss the winners and losers in this political climate.
magine what our election system might look like if it were designed today: No Byzantine electoral college, no long lines on a random Tuesday, no closed primaries that force candidates into the arms of their party’s special interests. Modern Madisons and Hamiltons would try to devise a process that’s open, online, citizen-driven, and capable of producing leaders that can unify the nation once in office. Read More…
Our first president, George Washington said, “I was no party man myself, and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.”
His vice president, John Adams, once wrote, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” Read More…
Independence Day came a few days early this year, as columnist and author Tom Friedman declared his support for a third party at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
“We need a third party. I am for a third party,” Friedman said to applause. “We are trapped in a corrupt duopoly.”
Expressing disappointment with President Obama, dismay with what passes for Republican policy debates, and frustration with the culture of hyperpartisanship in Washington, Friedman sees a reckoning coming, pushed by new technology. “One thing about the Internet and the hyperconnected world—it has flattened every hierarchy in the world from The New York Times to the banking industry. It’s flattened every hierarchy in the world except the two-party system, and that will not remain. That is a prediction that I will make.” Read More…
A few weeks ago, the British music press freaked out when they found a clip of one ‘Maureen Tucker’ being interviewed at a Tea Party rally in Georgia. Could this be the same Moe Tucker who played drums alongside Lou Reed and John Cale in the legendary 1960s rock band the Velvet Underground? Was the backbeat behind ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ now railing against the Democratic Party with a bunch of Okie from Muskogees?
The answer was yes. It’s the story of unexpected political evolution with a generational twist – an icon of alternative rock turns into a conservative populist, a tale for our times.
The notoriously understated Moe Tucker now lives in a small Georgia town about hour outside Atlanta, though her New York accent endures. She’s a suburban warrior, the woman next door with grown up kids and a rock n’ roll past. She was at first reluctant to talk when I hunted down her number. But her journey might help humanize the Tea Party for members of Alternative Nation – or it might just add insult to the injury that looks like its coming on Election Day. Read More…
Professional partisans present a vision of American politics where everything is divided between the far left and the far right. Lately, they seem to be dominating the nation’s political debate. But there’s a powerful backlash brewing—a movement of voices from the vital center who are declaring their independence from play-to-the-base politics. Read More
One year ago, the first Tea Party protest hadn’t even been held yet and the phrase remained safely ensconced in American history textbooks. This weekend, the first national Tea Party Convention will be held in Nashville, and the fractious movement has secured a place in the history of the Obama administration. But for all the attention it has earned, misconceptions abound. Here are the top five. Read More…
Obama should use the State of the Union address next week to declare an end to playing-to-the-base politics. As Massachusetts’ Senate race shows, voters don’t want more ideology—they want problem-solving. Avlon is the author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America.
Independent voters finally have the political establishment’s attention. The red state vs. blue state fiction that has dominated politics for too long is starting to be seen as the fraud it is.
Under the play-to-the-base vision of politics bequeathed to us by Karl Rove, a stereotypical “blue” state like Massachusetts never should have voted for a Republican. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee apparently believed that as well.
NEW YORK (CNN) — Over the course of this summer, President Obama’s approval ratings have plummeted among independent voters — the largest and fastest-growing segment of the American electorate.
In May, 66 percent of independents approved of Obama’s job performance, according to the Gallup Poll.
By August, Gallup showed the president was supported by 49 percent of independents, a collapse during the health care debate that reflects independents’ dislike of deficit spending, the growth of big government and one-party control of Washington.
It’s a particular problem for Obama because post-honeymoon perceptions are hardening in ways that are counter to his core campaign promise to bridge partisan divides. Read More…
In the months since Barack Obama won the presidency, independent voters have rocketed to their highest number on record. Meanwhile, the ranks of Republicans and Democrats have thinned dramatically.
Independents hold the balance of power in the Obama era. That’s the conclusion of a recent, 165-page Pew Research Center survey that shows independent voters climbed to 39% from 30% of the electorate in the five months following the 2008 election. During that same time, Democratic identification fell to 33% from 39%, while Republicans fell four points to 22% — their lowest since post-Watergate.
This is evidence that President Obama’s election does not represent a liberal ideological mandate, as House Democrats have claimed. It also shows continued rejection of the Republican brand. Read More…
They tend to be fiscally conservative and strong on security.
Independent voters, once a political afterthought, are now the largest and fastest-growing segment of the American electorate.
This shift led to the nomination of two candidates who ran against the polarizing establishments of their own parties, while preaching the need to reach across the red-state/blue-state divide. Now independent voters may determine who is elected president.
Forty-three percent of undecided swing voters are independents and 47% are centrists, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Independent voters have been on the rise while the parties have been playing to a shrinking base. This is a generational change. There are now six states where independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats — the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire as well as New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Key battleground states this year such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina each have more than one million independent voters. In California, Florida and Nevada, the number of independent voters has increased more than 300% in the past 20 years, while Democratic and Republican registration has flatlined.
Back in 1954, only 22% of voters identified themselves as independents, according to the American National Election Survey. Fifty years later the number was nearly double. Now, two out of five Americans can’t name anything they like about the Democrats, and 50% say the same about Republicans. What happened?
As the two parties grew more ideologically polarized amid the culture conflicts of the 1960s, centrist voters felt politically homeless. First, there was realignment in the form of Reagan Democrats, and then de-alignment as centrist voters declared their independence from the far-right and the far-left. The modern independent movement kicked into high gear with Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential campaign. Promising to balance the budget and reform the corrupt partisan system in Washington, Mr. Perot briefly led in the polls and managed to win 19% of the vote.
Throughout the 1990s, the independent movement kept growing while Democrats and Republicans warred in Washington. Three independent governors were elected: Angus King of Maine, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut and Jesse Ventura of Minnesota. All spread the same essential reform message: independence from special interests guided by a common-sense balance of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism.
The momentum continued this decade with the election of Sen. Joe Lieberman, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and the independent-in-all-but-name California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This is the new mainstream in American politics, and it’s growing among younger voters. More than 40% of college undergraduates identify themselves as independents, according to a summer 2008 survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP). “Half of young Americans do not identify with traditional party or ideological labels — they are the new center in American politics,” says John Della Volpe of IOP.
This trend extends to 30- to 45-year-old Generation X voters as well, says the author of “X Saves the World,” Jeff Gordinier: “Gen Xers tend to be pretty post-ideological and pragmatic, there is less allegiance to any one party or any one way of thinking.”
For Americans who’ve grown accustomed to hundreds of cable channels and unlimited choices on the Internet, politics is the last place people are expected to be satisfied with a choice between Brand A and Brand B.
Professional partisans in Washington try to ignore this shift, perpetuating the myth that the independent movement is a chaotic grab bag. In fact, the movement has a coherent set of underlying beliefs: Independents tend to be fiscally conservative, socially progressive and strong on national security. They believe in putting patriotism over partisanship and the national interest over special interests.
One year ago, while Republicans named terrorism as their No. 1 issue and Democrats pointed to health care, independents were already feeling the squeeze of the economy. They want a return to fiscal responsibility.
A 2007 study of independents by the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation showed they are not swayed by social-conservative issues. Independents were more likely than either Republicans or Democrats to agree that abortion should be legal in most (but not all) cases, and that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally form civil unions, but not to marry.
The top targets of independents’ anger are illustrative — hypocritical politicians, pork-barrel projects and a lack of bipartisan solutions in Washington, according to a 2008 national survey of independents by TargetPoint Consulting. Then there’s the Bush administration. Independents believe the current president is the worst in recent history, but there is one area of policy overlap: 66% of independent voters believe that the U.S. has an obligation to establish security in Iraq before withdrawing.
Looking at this profile, it’s easy to see why John McCain is outperforming the Republican brand. Mr. McCain’s credibility with independents comes from his principled independence and record of forging bipartisan coalitions. Barack Obama’s appeal to independents is rooted in his promise to transcend the left/right, black/white debates. He beat Hillary Clinton 2-1 among independents.
Throughout the summer, independents split their support evenly between Messrs. McCain and Obama, with high approval ratings for both candidates. After the Republican convention in September, independents broke for Mr. McCain by a 15-point margin and he surged in swing state polls. But the recent financial crisis increased economic anxiety among moderates and the middle class, making the election a referendum on the Bush administration. Independents swung to Mr. Obama. Colin Powell’s endorsement will validate the decision for many independents.
The next president will inherit the oval office at a time of economic turmoil, with a combustible combination of high expectations and an angry electorate. But the next president can unite the country even in difficult times if he understands this truth: Americans are not deeply divided — our political parties are — and the explosive growth of independent voters is a direct reaction to this disconnect.
Mr. Avlon is the author of “Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics” (Three Rivers Press, 2005) and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
On Saturday, John McCain and Barack Obama will sit on the same stage for the first time during this presidential election. But don’t call it a debate. It is a “civil forum” hosted in the heart of conservative Orange County by megachurch pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren.
It is just the latest sign of a growing influence of the evangelical center that is delinking itself from the old-guard religious right by engaging on stereotypically liberal issues such as global poverty, climate change and AIDS — and in the process, opening up healthy and historic competition for America’s 75 million evangelical voters. Read More…
Want to make a professional partisan really nervous? Ask him why the fastest growing demographic in American politics is the independent voter. It just doesn’t fit with the play-to-the-base Kool-Aid that political consultants have been drinking the past few years. Old school operatives love the political math that gives party activists disproportionate influence over the democratic process.
They are comfortable with the industrial age rules of politics – all smokestacks and silos, party registration rolls, and rubber chicken dinners. They don’t want to wake up to the way the information-age reality is changing politics. So they try to deny that the shift is even occurring. Denial doesn’t make it so – the numbers don’t lie.
In 1960, when John F. Kennedy ran for president, only 1.6% of Americans were registered as independents. Today, the number is estimated at 21.7% of registered voters, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, while self-identified independents now narrowly surpass Democrats or Republicans, according to the Gallup Poll. This is a sea change, and like most significant demographic trends, it is being driven from the bottom up.
Just ask Youngstown, Ohio’s Jay Williams, who, at 34, was elected in November as the first independent and African-American mayor of that Midwestern city, winning 52% of the vote in a six-way race. Why did Mr. Williams choose to run as an independent in this heavily Democratic city?
“There was a growing frustration with this unbridled loyalty to the Democratic Party … what I tapped into was that people were ready for change,” Mr. Williams says. “I couldn’t be painted in a corner by a party … I’m moderate to liberal on some issues, but conservative on many others. And I absolutely intend to capitalize on that political freedom. There is no expectation from the electorate other than to do what I think is best for the city …”
What you hear from this Gen-X mayor is an attitude echoed by many of our generation. We want freedom of choice. In every other aspect of American life, the idea that choice means picking between a stale “brand a” and “brand b” ended a long time ago. At a time when people have become accustomed to 500 cable channels and the endless variety of the Internet, we don’t want to have to choose between a pre-fabricated menu of special interest controlled positions.
Presidential candidates who study the campaign map for 2008 should keep in mind the following stats: In Iowa, 38.6% of voters are now registered independent; in New Hampshire, 85% of new voters are registering independent, according to its secretary of state. South Carolina does not register voters by party, but the governor and senior senator both supported John McCain for president in 2000, while neighboring North Carolina has seen its independent voters increase to more than a million from 290,000 in the last 12 years. New Jersey, whose primary looks like it might be pushed up in 2008, has 58.7% unaffiliated voters, while Arizona has fully 25% of its voters registered neither Republican nor Democrat. In the first slate of states likely to hold presidential primaries, independent voters are not only rising powers but also the key to victory.
In California, the number of independent voters has doubled since 1990 – to reach 2.9 million, or nearly 20% of the vote. An estimated 90% of all new voters in the Golden State are opting not to affiliate with either Democrats or Republicans, a trend that is even more pronounced among Hispanics. A recent article in Los Angeles Times estimated that if present trends continue, independents could outnumber Democrats or Republicans by 2025, explaining, “They’re more and more responsible for California’s growing reputation as a green and socially moderate – but also fiscally conservative – state.”
The nation’s second largest state, Texas, doesn’t register voters by party, but there are not one but two independents – Kinky Friedman and Carole Strayhorn – running for President Bush’s former position as governor, marking the first time since Samuel Houston that independents have stood for governor in the Lone Star State. In Florida and New York, unaffiliated voters represent 20% of the electorate in each state and 22 million votes combined.
The Beltway boys ignore independents at their peril. So why is this trend so under-reported? One way that the independent influence has been dismissed is the claim that it is an anarchic grab bag of political wing-nuts. Certainly the fact that both Ralph Nader and Patrick Buchanan have run left-and-right-wing protest candidacies under the independent banner has not helped. Polls show that when it comes to listing the nation’s most pressing priorities, independents consistently register between Democrats and Republicans, indicating a core commonsense centrism combined with a slight libertarian streak.
Independent voters are concerned about the current direction of the country, the strength of the economy, and the environment. They aren’t crazy about the way the war in Iraq has worked out so far, but overall, they are hawks in the war on terror. They place a high premium on privacy rights and personal freedom. They want to see more fiscal responsibility from Washington, demanding less pork-barrel spending, less harsh partisanship, and less debt passed on to the next generation.
What does this mean for 2006? According to a Pew poll released in March, 36% of independent voters said they don’t want their incumbent representative re-elected. This is two points higher than in October 1994, when the Republican Revolution knocked the Democratic majority out of power. Their support for Mr. Bush has declined to 26% today from 47% in January 2005. Independents are angry about corruption scandals in Congress, but 55% see it as a bipartisan problem. In a starkly contrasting display of situational ethics, 66% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats say they would want their member of Congress re-elected even if he or she has taken bribes from lobbyists.
The rise of independents represents a coherent reaction to the polarization of American politics. Faced with a choice between frequently warring and equally unrepresentative extremes, voters are increasingly opting out of the straitjacket of narrow partisanship as a matter of principle. The candidates that best understand independents’ instincts will be in the strongest position to forge their own majority coalition in the future.
As Mr. Williams said, “If we see a continuation of the two parties being controlled by two extremes, we will see more independents in the future.”
The centrist Kadima Party’s victory on Tuesday sent shock waves through Israeli politics by relegating the conservative Likud to fifth place in the Knesset, down from winning 38 seats in 2003 to just 11 this week. It was a dramatic display of the electoral strength of the center.
But the results of the Israeli election should reverberate on this side of the Atlantic as well, because it exposed the degree to which conservative parties depend upon their more centrist leaders and supporters to get elected. The same fault lines that erupted in Israel still exist uneasily within American politics in general and the Republican Party in particular. Left unresolved, these tensions could have realigning effects in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
Some social conservatives have grown over-confident with the control of government they have enjoyed since the election of President Bush. Even with precipitous drops of the President and Republican Party in the polls, many of the influential elite are resistant to a genuinely big-tent vision of the party led by a centrist. This is evident in their dismissal of either Mayor Giuliani or Senator McCain as a presidential candidate in 2008. Many Beltway insiders reject their prospects, despite their commanding lead in the polls, preferring instead to create a more socially conservative candidate from the current single digits. They would rather opt for ideological purity than broad popularity. As Likud recently found, this path can lead to electoral disaster.
At the end of the day what voters want in both Israel and America can be summed up in two words: solutions and security. High-pitch partisan battles between special interests increasingly alienate them.
In recent decades, Israeli voters have moved back and forth between Labor and Likud. Not coincidentally, two of the recent Labor prime ministers, Yitzak Rabin and Ehud Barak, were both also generals, solidifying their security credentials against the stereotypes of naivete and weakness usually associated with the left.
The political genius of Prime Minister Sharon was to recognize the underlying constancy between this superficially contradictory trend. He took what appeared to be a bold gamble by separating himself from the Likud party he had helped form three decades before to create a new centrist party that could lead a stable majority.
To Mr. Sharon, this was not a matter of ideology but strategic freedom. Free from the influence of the far-right members of Likud who threatened him with a no-confidence vote, he was able to move Israel in the direction he thought best: unilateral disengagement and a two state solution.
Having won the second Intifada, Mr. Sharon had a unique credibility that counterbalanced many of the milquetoast associations that have held back centrists in the past. No one questioned Sharon’s moral toughness, strength, or military experience. This was in turn transferred to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima coalition. Mr. Sharon’s gamble not only paid off, it has – for the time being, at least – realigned Israeli politics.
It is a cliche to say that political parties require both wings to fly, but that is especially true for the Republican Party today. In a poll released the day of the Israeli elections, Gallup found that Democrats have gained a narrow edge in party identification, reversing a trend toward Republicans that has existed since the attacks of September 11th. The poll shows that independent identified voters now make up 34% of the electorate, with Democrats at 33% and Republicans at 32%. Winning over this plurality of independent voters is essential to victory in the next elections.
The good news for the GOP is that the Democrats have been unable to pick up significant support from disaffected Republicans. Liberal party leaders like Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi don’t easily gain the confidence of centrist voters looking for an alternative to Tom DeLay.
But the bad news for conservatives is that on matters ranging from policy to perception, centrists are alienated from the current Republican path. A Harris poll from the summer of 2005 quantified this, showing that even one quarter of Republicans believe that the “religious right has too much power in Washington” and that “extreme conservatives have too much influence in the Republican Party.”
In this environment, it is clear that Republicans depend on more centrist leaders and supporters to get elected. Congressional leaders of the moderate Republican Main Street Coalition such as Illinois’ Mark Kirk and New Hampshire’s Charles Bass have been trumpeting a centrist “suburban strategy” to appeal to independent-minded swing voters who care more about seeing solutions on issues ranging from crime, education, the environment, and health care than they do about riding divisive wedge-issues to narrow victories. This is one substantive way to re-center the Republicans in advance of the 2006 mid-term elections.
But when it comes to winning in the White House again in 2008, re-centering the Republican Party will require bold symbolism as well as policy substance. Like Mr. Sharon, Messrs. Giuliani and McCain convey a core strength that is counter to the muddled split-the-difference stereotypes that have held back some centrist candidates in the past. Both men are pragmatic leaders with the charisma of common sense. Both are classic fiscal conservatives. And both are unwavering hawks in the war on terror. This is entirely consistent with the strong centrism that led Kadima to such a convincing victory this week, while the conservatives remaining in Likud are left scratching their heads and looking for relevance.
Our two-party presidential system is not set up to produce the kind of overnight creation of a successful centrist party that was possible in the Israeli parliamentary system. But for the party that wants to win elections, the lesson is the same – the strength is in the center.
Redistricting reform: the wonkishness of the term alone causes some folks to fall asleep – as it apparently did to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who reportedly face-planted on her desk for 15 minutes during a Supreme Court hearing last week on the constitutionality of Tom DeLay’s 2003 district-packing plan.
But the fact that the fight over redistricting reform has again made it to the Supreme Court indicates the vital importance of this policy debate. And now, with the confluence of a Supreme Court case, influence peddling scandals, a timely new Senate sponsor of a bipartisan congressional redistricting bill, and grassroots movements underway in 15 states, there is new momentum behind this effort.
No single action would do more to heal the artificial polarization of Americans politics.
Redistricting is the primary tool that professional partisans use to rig the system to their benefit. By dividing state’s electoral boundaries into safe seats, they enable the incumbency-protection racket that has resulted in a 98% re-election rate.
Because this segregation-by-political-affiliation effectively ends competitive general elections, the only real contests occur in partisan primaries. This forces the power in our politics to the margins – after all, in a 7% turnout primary, 3.6% of the electorate makes a majority – helping to explain the disproportionate influence of ideological activists and accounts for the institutional drift of Congress away from its historic balance of power in the center.
Because politics follows the lines of physics – every action creates an equal and opposite reaction – it should come as no surprise that redistricting has been increasingly used as a weapon by both parties. Some liberals conveniently forget that it was Democrats who began playing the gerrymandering game in the 1980s when faced with the realignment of the South. Desperate to hold on to power, they began drawing contorted majority-minority districts in the name of civil rights. This created the Democratic safe seats they desired, but it also reduced the demographic and political balance in the remaining districts, angering Republicans while increasing their own regional irrelevance.
In recent years, Republicans have been getting revenge with redistricting efforts that stack the deck in their favor. The most notorious of these landed them in the Supreme Court last week.
Of the seven incumbents who lost their congressional seats in 2004, four were Democrats from Texas. This was by design. In 2003, House Majority Leader Tom Delay traveled down to the Texas State Capital to oversee a redistricting project. In the normal course of events, redistricting occurs every ten years, after the census. But the man proudly nicknamed “The Hammer” wanted to leave nothing to chance leading up to a pivotal presidential election year.
The aims and attitudes of the commission were made clear in an e-mail by Texas Republican congressional aide Joby Fortson (reported by The New Yorker) in which he explained the fate of a district represented by the senior Democrat in the state, Martin Frost, writing “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…. His district disappeared.” This cannot be what the founding fathers had in mind.
Now the case has wound its way up to the Supreme Court, where the Reagan-appointed centrist swing vote of Anthony Kennedy may prove to be the deciding factor. But in the intervening months before a decision is handed down, the Jack Abramoff scandal has some Washington insiders reconsidering their wily ways.
Just in time, the “Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act” introduced by Representative John Tanner, a Democrat of Tennessee, gained an influential new ally last week, when Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat of South Dakota, agreed to introduce identical legislation in the Senate.
The bill, which has 45 co-sponsors in the House – including Republican Congressmen Phil Gingrey of Georgia and Zach Wamp of Tennessee – would ban mid-decade redistricting and have each state’s electoral lines decided by an bipartisan, independent commission. “We need to clean up the process,” Senator Johnson explained in a press release. “Redistricting should not be done to benefit either political party.”
At a time when politicians jump at the chance to label themselves reformers, it may come as a surprise to find that the Democrat from South Dakota is the lonely Senate endorsee to date. The dirty little secret, of course, is that elected politicians like the redistricting system rigged as it is – after all, it worked for them. Why should they level the playing field to help a potential challenger?
That’s why voters have taken it upon themselves to fuel grassroots redistricting reform efforts in 15 different states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Look at that list and you’ll see it is evenly spread across the country, representing all regions, political leanings and enough electoral votes to get elected president. Redistricting reform is a growing populist movement, encouraged by groups like Common Cause, FairVote.org, and the Centrist Coalition, to name just a few. Even in states like California and Ohio, where redistricting reform ballot initiatives were defeated in 2005 by threatened incumbent parties – Democrat and Republican, respectively – new bipartisan legislative efforts are underway.
The resilience of redistricting reform in the face of strenuous professional partisan opposition is a testament to its urgency and merit. Congressional scandals and increased public disgust with the artificial polarization of politics may finally force Congress and state legislatures alike to end this corrupt bargain. But it will only happen if our elected representatives are shamed into taking action. Once redistricting is reformed, the political process will be more open to competition, while there will be tangible electoral rewards for working constructively across the aisle. It is the reform that would open the door to all others.
“Great ideology creates great times,” promised at least one great leader. And enthusiasm for this concept among domestic ideologues shouldn’t be dampened just because the statement happened to spring from the mouth of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jung Il. The basic premise remains intoxicating – sharply polarized political combat will lead us to light and truth.
Ideology has long been the opiate of political elites. The appeal is understandable: insecurity and uncertainty are immediately banished. Inconvenient practical problems can be ignored; understanding other peoples’ perspective is unnecessary. Surrounded by like-minded compatriots, geared up for battle, even the most nerdish grad school student can be transformed into a self-styled heroic voice for the people.
Professional partisans believe that the period of relative polarization we have endured in this country has been healthy, almost cleansing. Advocating the “choice not an echo” school of political thought, they champion the self-segregation has led to political activists getting their news from partisan blogs such as Daily Kos in an elusive quest for philosophical purity. This, argue advocates like the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger in last Friday’s paper, is evidence that “today’s voters crave ideology.”
It seems a suspiciously self-serving analysis. There is plenty of evidence to argue that the American people are in fact sick of politics as it is practiced by the ideological warriors in and around Washington. To offer just one example, last May, the Harris Poll commissioned a survey which explicitly found that “partisanship is not what the American public desires.” Most impressive was the finding that 85% of adults – that’s four out five – “believe we need more elected politicians who will vote independently rather than on party lines.” That’s an explicit statement against this rigidly ideological approach to politics.
It is a snapshot backed up by such broad political trends as the three-fold growth in Independent and “non-affiliated” voters over the past 12 years, and the fact that self-described “moderates” vastly outnumber self-identified “conservatives” and “liberals” in the United States. As a nation, we value independence, not ideology. Our politicians are far more divided than the American people.
That’s perhaps why some august observers of American life have recently offered alternately stinging and sad critiques of the recent polarization in our politics.
In an essay titled “How Divided Are We?” James Q. Wilson in the February 2006 issue of Commentary compares the current political environment to the period before the Civil War, deploring “the larger ideological polarization that has us in its grip” and the harshly emotional partisanship which causes political opponents to view each-other “not simply as wrong, but as corrupt or wicked.”
In a new book entitled “Meditations of a Militant Moderate,” a professor at Yale Law School, Peter H. Schuck, lays out his version of a substantive centrist policy agenda as an antidote to polarization. His agenda bridges current political divisions, by calling for the introduction of school vouchers, the end of public-sector sponsored affirmative action, and a revision of the U.N. Charter to reflect the right of pre-emption in an era of terror. “Ideology,” he writes, “lacks the suppleness needed to apprehend and act on complicated, changing social facts.”
All this elevated opinion and hard data is backed up by facts on the ground as the 2006 election gets underway. Rick Wilson, a veteran Republican campaign strategist who is working on races in 7 states this season, sees a more pragmatic, less ideological shift in local electorates. “Look at the rise of the ‘Purple State’ problem: Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio – these were states that 15 years ago you could have said leaned decisively in one direction. Today, they’re up for grabs,” says Wilson. “Ten years ago, guys who liked NASCAR and guns were Republicans. Now new questions have entered the political equation: candidates better have ideas on jobs, health care, China, and corporate pensions – in addition to the traditional set of issues. Candidates have to reflect a genuine commitment to helping people solve their problems, rather than being rigidly locked in to a single ideological vision. So you have broaden your base, reaching out to the largest number rather than exclusively to the smallest – which is by definition on the far right or the far left.”
The fact that the consistent front-runners for the 2008 presidential nomination are centrist leaders with broad cross-over appeal – such as Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain – indicates a move away from rigid ideological litmus tests, even among the Republican base, in favor of independent problem-solvers. Likewise, among Democrats, even as front-runner Hillary Clinton has studiously attempted to present herself as a New Democrat, the most-mentioned alternatives – such as former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh – represent the center and not the left of their party.
Ideological advocates enjoy political polarization. It affirms their world-view by narrowing the consideration set to the far-right and the far-left. But whatever intoxicating feeling of disproportionate influence this might create, it also makes them ultimately out of touch with the electorate, inviting a bitter backlash against the party whose interests they claim to best protect.
Finally, in this era where we are the world’s sole super-power engaged in a war on terror, indulging in the domestic blood sport of domestic polarization has uniquely serious geo-political implications. As James Q. Wilson warns, “A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies and saps our resolve – to potentially fatal effect… polarization is a force that can defeat us.”
As Washington awaits the full impact of the Abramoff scandals, public approval of Congress stands at 27% – the lowest number since the Republican Revolution of 1994, according to the Gallup Poll. We’ve got an angry electorate on our hands, pumped up by years of hyper-partisanship.
The mutual hate society of the far-left and right has been good for the proliferation of partisan media in the intervening years – opposition to President Bush has been a bonanza for once-floundering liberal magazines such as The Nation, which has seen subscriptions more than double since 2000. At the same time, conservative commentary has flourished with the near-mainstreaming of magazines such as National Review and the Weekly Standard. And because politics so often follows the laws of physics – every action creates an equal and opposite reaction – scores of left- and right-wing blogs have similarly proliferated on the Internet, sometimes parroting talking points, but increasingly pushing forward news cycles.
Amid the media attention that has followed liberal and conservative blogs, the dramatic increase in the number of self-identified centrist blogs has been comparatively ignored. These are decidedly more difficult to pigeonhole – that’s largely the point – but their rise indicates much the same thing as the 300% increase in the number of independent registered voters across the nation since 1994: There is an increased alienation from partisan politics as usual that the established parties have tried to ignore.
By the 2004 election, the Internet was a decade old, but there were only a handful of centrist sites. Today, the political blog aggregator punditdrome.com lists 35 centrist blogs as opposed to 40 conservatives and 42 liberals. That’s just one measure; others list far more centrist sites.
“Centrist and independent blogs have grown enormously over the past two years,” says Joe Gandelman, author of themoderatevoice.com. “What’s most notable is that an increasing number of people want to be identified as centrists, independents or moderates. That’s the big shift. A lot of people don’t want to be identified as partisans anymore.”
The depth and breadth of the centrist blogs shows how quickly the ground is shifting in favor of this grassroots movement.
The widely respected Booker Rising presents itself as a news site for black moderates and black conservatives carrying forward the spirit of Booker T. Washington. It describes its platform as fiscally conservative, socially moderate, while supporting the war on terror – a good summation of the common ground found on most centrist sites.
Centerfield, the blog associated with the Centrist Coalition – based in Columbus, Ohio – takes a substantive policy approach to the bipartisan vital center, recently championing redistricting reform movements underway in 15 states while also calling for increased fiscal responsibility in Congress.
The Bull Moose blog, written by former McCain staffer and now Democratic Leadership Council member Marshall Wittmann, identifies with the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s later years as head of the Progressive Party.
While we’re mixing ideological and animal metaphors, two other prominent centrist blogs can be found at Charging Rino – the work of centrist Republican and Union College student Jeremy Dibbell – and Donklephant, which bills itself as “Big Teeth. Huge Ass. Surprisingly Reasonable,” and is defiantly independent.
Random Fate is the blog of scientist Jack Grant, who recently posted an item attacking those who “conform to the confirmation bias” against Judge Alito.
Other centrist blogs and aggregators include ModerateVoters.org; RadicalMiddle.com, maintained by the author Mark Satin, and The Mighty Middle by Michael Reynolds, whose work Joe Gandelman describes as “proof that people in the center can be both passionate and informed.”
These are just a few of the prominent centrist offerings on the Internet. It’s a lively place to be on the political spectrum because centrists catch hell from both sides. It’s an occupational hazard: Liberals think centrists are conservative, while conservatives think they’re liberal. As Alan Carl, a founder of the Yellow Line blog, who now opines at Maverick Views, explains, “A lot of blog readers are ideological purists, and a centrist blogger can catch a lot of grief for not toeing a particular party line.”
It’s also important to appreciate that centrists do not at this time have any organizational think tanks or party apparatus to support them. This is a self-propelled grassroots movement, responding to what Mr. Carl calls “a real thirst out there for voices that exist outside the left-right echo chambers.”
All this is indicative of a larger trend toward de-alignment – as opposed to re-alignment – that Democrats are confronting today. Despite the popular backlash against the excesses of congressional Republicans, Democrats have been unable so far to find increased public support. Instead, voters are increasingly opting out of the partisan policy straitjacket and deciding to run, register, or vote as an independent.
For example, in Mr. Bush’s home state of Texas, there are not one but two candidates running for governor as an independent: Maverick country music star Kinky Friedman and State Comptroller Carol Strayhorn – not incidentally the mother of the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan. On the other end of the geographic and political spectrum, in Massachusetts, businessman and Big Dig whistleblower Christy Mihos is considering a run for governor as an independent – not as far-fetched as it may sound in a state where 48% of voters are independents, despite its liberal reputation.
As politics awakes from industrial age rules to information age realities, old political labels are outliving their usefulness. The rise of centrist blogs under the Beltway radar screen is another indication of how quickly the landscape is shifting on the road to 2008, and why Washington might be the worst place to assess the instincts of the American electorate.
It’s ideological Armageddon time on Capital Hill, as anti-abortion and pro-choice activists fall into formation for their fight over life. Everyone’s so tangled up in their talking points trying to claim “mainstream” status for their side in the Judge Alito hearings, that no one seems interested asking what the American people consider a mainstream position on abortion. The answer might surprise them. Because Americans aren’t nearly as divided on choice as the warring political elites would have you believe.
Here’s some straight talk on choice: Sixty-four percent of Americans agree that the decision to have an abortion should be between “a woman, her doctor, her family, her conscience and her God,” according to a 2003 poll by Luntz Research Companies, confirming the results of a 1995 Newsweek poll. Likewise, 66% of Americans would not like to see Roe v. Wade completely overturned, according to a 2005 NBC/WSJ poll. Furthermore, according to the Gallup Poll, only 19% of Americans think that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances – a number that has held steady over the three decades Gallup has been asking the question.
But at the same time, 68% supported making partial birth abortions illegal, when asked by a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll in 2003. What does all this mean?
In a 51-49 nation, this is not a 51-49 issue. Roughly two-thirds of Americans support a basic but not unrestricted right to choice. Third trimester abortions are regarded as an abomination, but there is also overwhelming opposition to a constitutional ban on abortion. Activists on either side might be unsatisfied, but the reality is that there is broad common ground and emerging consensus on the issue of abortion. So how have we been convinced otherwise?
First, we’ve been suckered by the pro-choice and pro-life labels. Activists don’t call themselves anti-choice or anti-life for a reason – they wouldn’t have folks rallying around their flag nearly as fast if they advertised their flipside.
Second, and most importantly, pro-choice and pro-life are not equivalent positions. You can be personally against abortion but pro-choice. It’s about distinguishing personal beliefs from your right to impose them on everyone else. For example, it is often forgotten that in the 2000 election, both then-Governor Bush and Senator McCain – self-described pro-lifers – were asked what they would do if their daughter became pregnant out of wedlock. Both replied they would ultimately respect whatever decision she made.
Finally, while social conservative Republicans have tried to make a principled pro-choice position a political impossibility within their party, they intentionally obscure the libertarian impulse that defines pro-choice Republicans. According to an American Viewpoint survey, 69% of Republicans strongly agreed with the following statement: “The decision to have an abortion should be between a woman, her doctor and her family. Government should not be involved in making such a personal decision.” A subsequent poll by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates confirmed these counter-intuitive results, showing that only 27% of Republicans disagreed with the statement.
“I tell my conservative friends that I’m the more consistent conservative because I believe in the individual’s ability to make the best decision,” says Ann Stone, national chairman of the 150,000 member Republicans for Choice political action committee, which commissioned the surveys. “We can’t be the party that asks the government to get out of the boardroom and then invites them into the bedroom.”
Nonetheless, the Republican Party platform continues to advocate a constitutional ban on abortion. With that policy so clearly out of the mainstream of both American voters and the Republican Party, it’s worth examining how pro-life forces have successfully swung the perception pendulum toward their position.
Anti-abortion activists have re-seized the center in this debate by employing an incremental strategy designed to make abortion rights activists appear comparatively extreme. There is little public talk about banning abortions. Instead, the debate has shifted towards defining limits on abortion. The successful fight to ban partial birth abortions forced pro-choice politicians to defend what appeared to many Americans as an indefensible procedure. Likewise, current court debates about parental and spousal notification sound like common sense. This shift has also been aided by the presence of a post-menopausal baby boom generation for whom the question of abortion has become less of a potential individual imperative and more of an abstract moral issue.
Nonetheless, despite the shift to the right in the debate on abortion, the American people have not been persuaded to support the long-term agenda of the anti-abortion activists – the end to the constitutionally protected right to an abortion. All of which brings us back to the desperate all-or-nothing tone of the Alito hearings to date.
With Senator Schumer flirting with a filibuster and Senator Coburn of Oklahoma employing gothic sarcasm in his opening statement about “this wonderful right to kill unborn babies,” the more partisan warriors in Washington want a showdown, complete with nuclear option. But the more level headed voices are who we should be listening to at this time.
In the past, the Senate has managed to forge bipartisan bills that move forward the abortion debate instead of dragging it to the left or right. A moderate Republican senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, joined with Senator Daschle, who was then the Democratic leader, and others in a 1997 bid to ban all third trimester abortions, except in the case of a threat to the life of the mother. Last spring, Senator Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, joined with Senator Kennedy to sponsor a bill offering education and counseling to women prenatally diagnosed with children afflicted with conditions such as Down Syndrome as a way of calming the initial impulse toward abortion in such cases.
Rather than encouraging the culture wars to hit new heights, these are the kind of coalition-building actions from Congress that can extend the broad consensus that already exists – even on the issue of abortion.