“Independents” Don’t Need a Party

Timothy EganTimothy 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:

The independents are more likely to want something done about climate change, and immigration reform. They’re not afraid of gay marriage or contraception or sensible gun laws. They think government can be a force for good.

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:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
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.

See Also:

South Will Fall Again (with Obamacare)
Potato Famine

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on ““Independents” Don’t Need a Party

  1. I was really excited that Egan was writing for the Paper Of Record, as I admired his books on the Dust Bowl and founding of the Forest Service and the ethnographic photographer of Native Americans, Edward Curtis, immensely.

    However he seems to have succumbed to that strange disease people often fall prey to; they decide to be "fair to both sides." In theory this is never a bad idea, and I do my best to be fair to my ideological enemies. In practice, though, it usually involves losing a great deal of your leeway to have independent thought. Of course I am not a left-winger because they give me marching orders and ample checks to go along; I’m left because the leftist worldview more-or-less fits with my experience. Being "fair to both sides" (their illusions and prejudices; of course we should be fair to them as people) means, often, criticizing the ideas from both sides which have the smallest popular support. It’s making yourself a slave to the middle.

    And yet it’s been the far-out segment of the right which has had the most influence on our world for some time; and what’s considered the most far-out segment of the left which has the best answers to this. Moderates in both parties are not worth paying attention to; on the right, because they have no influence, and on the left, because they shouldn’t.

    Too bad! I liked Egan’s books. Oh well! Others will step up and do what he did best.

  2. @JMF – I got made when [i]Family Guy[/i] had Brian become a Rush Limbaugh fan after Obama won. That’s not how it works. Actual liberals react to Democratic presidents by complaining from the left. See, for example, me.

    The real problem with Egan’s article is that he seems to think he’s fooling someone. He’s a liberal and he knows damned well that what he’s proposing is that the independents are best served by the Democrats. I should be clear though: he’s talking about the independents who are not in the old Confederacy. But these people have always skewed left. So what’s the big deal?

    If you haven’t done so, check out the Cook Political Report article I linked to. It is fascinating.

  3. That is really an interesting Cook thing, thanks! My best guess would be that since more people are labeling themselves independent instead of Republican (more than do this with the Democrats) the bulk of them are far-right totalitarians. Simply because the GOP shift from "pro-business, pro-flag, pro-tradition" to Batshit Crazy About Everything happened a long time ago. If the shift were more recent, I could buy Egan’s position. I suspect he’s talking about upper-middle-class Seattle residents he knows, who may well be traditionally Republican on tax issues and "social liberals."

    But the ever-growing majority of people in this country are not middle class, and certainly most don’t live in Seattle (or Portland, or San Fran, places where it’s hip to be both rich and "tolerant.") If people were really moving away from Tea Party conservatism to a kindler, gentler sort, because of the intelligent awareness about issues Egan claims to perceive, why wouldn’t they just be Democrats now?

    I don’t think a writer like Egan has any concept of how extreme personal hardship, mixed with the kind of cobbled-together confetti that passes for political discourse and education in this country (what good did unions ever do?), can lead broken individuals towards totalitarianism — aka, for all but those at the top of the spectrum, a version of madness. Well, good for him. I’m sure being upper-middle-class in Seattle in nice.

    On a side note, today I was talking with someone about sea lions. I don’t recall how it came up. I described how sea lions have one alpha male that gets all the females — all of them — and the lesser sea lions merely jockey for position to be next in line if the alpha dies. You would think it might occur to the sea lion males to band together, drive the alpha out, and establish a more equitable mate-pairing system. But then again, sea lions are dumb. Not Like Us.

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