Let’s take a moment to consider that great species of political animal the independent. The independent is such a strange creature that I had long thought it mythical. Every independent I’ve ever met has been either a liberal or a conservative and not a moderate as you might assume. In fact, many independents that I’ve met self-identified in this way because they thought the Republican Party was too liberal. So I still think that the vast majority of independents are really just Democrats or Republicans who don’t want to come right out and admit it.
I got a good look at an independent on this morning’s episode of Up with Steve Kornacki. Michelle Bernard is that person. “As someone who firmly finds herself in the quote-unquote independent camp,” she said before completing an uninteresting thought about reactions to Rand Paul showing what no one (even those on Up) would say: he’s a bigot. What I thought was interesting was how she seemed to swell with pride that she was in the “independent camp.” (That strikes me as an oxymoron. What do they do at camp? Bind together and decide which way the independent vote will go this year?!)
This is a big problem with independents and I think it is the only reason they exist. When Bernard said that, I got the feeling she was saying, “I’m not like you ideologues! I’m open minded! I vote for the best person, not for whatever my party has on offer!” There are a couple of problems with this thinking. First, the assumption is that the middle is not an ideological position. This is simply not true. Second, most liberals don’t vote for Democrats because they are Democrats; we vote for them because even though they generally suck, they are far better than what the Republicans have on offer.
Michelle Bernard is both a woman and an African-American. Does she ever think that the Republican Party is going to do right about voting rights or reproductive choice? The economy generally does worse under Republicans. Is that what she wants? Does she want the Supreme Court filled with more Samuel Alito type judges? What exactly is the Republican Party offering America or Bernard herself that makes it a toss-up before an election starts?
Of course, I’m kidding. I know what it’s all about: it is about the appearance of being open minded. But I wonder how history will think of independent voters like Bernard. I don’t think it will vilify them. Rather, it will wonder about them. How was it that these people couldn’t see that one of the major American political parties had moved well to the right while the other moved near the edge of the map into fascist territory? It certainly won’t look back and think, “That was very open minded, just splitting the difference between the two major American political parties. It must have taken a great mind to come up with that!”