Timothy Egan is a columnist for The New York Times and he is usually pretty good. But today, he wrote one of the stupidest or most disingenuous columns I’ve read in a long time, Declaration of Independents. It is about the growing number of so called independents. And it bemoans that fact that they have no one to vote for. The partisans have their parties, but who speaks for the independents? I have such a desire to slap Timothy Egan, you cannot even imagine.
As we all know, voters who refuse to claim a political party are almost all partisans. And they are not, as is usually claimed, people in between the parties. In my experience, when someone claims to be “independent,” chances are that it means that they think the Republican Party is too liberal. And it works the other way too: some liberals claim to be independent because they find the Democratic Party too conservative. But they are more likely to call themselves “socialist” or something similar. Conservatives really don’t have anything to call themselves other than “fascist,” and while that term may apply, few people want to associate with the word.
Egan’s biggest problem is that he treats “independents” as though they are some monolithic group. They aren’t. He even notes that the recent trend has been for self identified independents to come from the Republican Party. Based upon the recent news that is reported in his own paper, does he really think these are people leaving the party because it is too conservative and that it doesn’t get anything done? Sure: there are some. But my perception of this group is not that they are open to voting for more moderate politicians. Rather, it is that they are simply embarrassed to associate with the Republican Party. In the privacy of the ballot box, they vote as they wouldn’t in public.
To make matters worse, Egan then sums up what his mythical independent voters believe in:
Oh, I see: so the independents believe in exactly what the Democrats believe in. The real question is, if you asked these independents which party they would pick if they had to, you’d see that, yes, the independents skew slightly Democratic. The problem with them as a group, is that exactly the ones who are in the center of the political spectrum are the ones who are least likely to vote.
I don’t really know what Egan thinks he is doing in his article. It would be nice to have more choices in terms of people to vote for. But the truth is that the Democratic Party is a big tent. The only two “independents” in Congress both caucus with the Democrats. Perhaps Egan has forgotten his Shakespeare:
By any other name would smell as sweet.
If what the “independents” want is what the Democrats have to offer, why would calling them independents matter? Bernie Sanders is an independent, but calls himself a socialist. I just think of him a good solid liberal Democrat. I don’t care what he calls himself or how he shows up on the Senate roll call. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why an otherwise smart guy like Egan would care.