February 4, 2004

Dissing the Homeless

Jonah Goldberg isnít too impressed with political independents.

Their shtick goes something like this:
Thereís that word again. Itís the shtick shtick.
"I'm an independent-minded guy (or gal), I don't let the parties do my thinking for me. I choose each individual candidate based on his or her individual merits. I am a very discerning and thoughtful person." If you've ever listened to C-SPAN, you've heard from these people. They sound like midlevel college administrators with chips on their shoulders. They don't want to be pigeon-holed, cookie-cut, "defined" by "mere labels" that don't take into account their discerning eye for the odd policy detail. "Did you know that candidate so-and-so doesn't have a policy on saving the manatees? Or didn't you do your homework?" They brag about how they look at every issue without ideological blinders on, and how they'll be damned if they are going to vote for a candidate merely because of "partisanship." They want to hear about issues and experience.

Lee Harris answers him in Tech Central Station.

Someone has to change his mind. Someone has to say, now and then, My heavens, I voted for the wrong man; I am sorry that I did.

The team player cannot change his mind, because his mind is the collective mind of the team, and he obeys it. He obeys it the way a good football player obeys his coach -- because this is what he must do in order to be a member in good standing of his team. You cannot remain on the team, and cheer for your team's opponents.

This is a good answer, but it isn't the whole story. Both writers seem to forget something that ought to be obvious. Some people are independent not because they changed their mind, not because theyíre uninformed, and not because theyíre looking for a shtick. Some people really are just, well, independent.

For me itís real simple. In some ways I like the Democrats. And in other ways I like the Republicans. If that makes me weird, then I guess I'm just weird.

The 21st Century is the most complicated time in the known history of the world. We have the same eternal problems, plus a host of brand new ones. Globalization and technology are making the world one place. Riyadh is in New Yorkís backyard. And vice versa. New technologies present new dilemmas unthinkable in the past. Revolutions in media and publishing encourage more diversity of information and opinion than was ever possible before. Our binary political system canít possibly accommodate every view of the world. A third party could hardly do any better. Even our two major parties are riven by factions.

The Democrats are a testy coalition of greens, labor unions, welfare statists, neoliberals, academics, secular humanists, racial and ethnic minority advocates, technocrats, and left-libertarians. The Republicans try to staple together right-libertarians, traditionalists, religious fundamentalists, neoconservative interventionists, and paleoconservative isolationists. Party-mindedness is often awkward or even fraudulent because each party can be split into several. If the US had a parliamentary system, thatís exactly what would happen. Many independents could then find a home.

On some days I think of myself as a right-wing liberal. On other days Iím a left-wing neoconservative. Thatís not a contradiction. I like Hillary Clinton and John McCain in equal measure for different reasons.

If Jonah Goldberg thinks thatís a shtick, Iíd just like to ask him which party Iím supposed to belong to. I suppose I could re-learn to take one for the team. But for which one?


UPDATE: Jason Holliston, an independent of a different sort, agrees.

How can I be a Republican if I'm for gay marriage? How can I be a Democrat if I'm for the tax cuts that recently went through? How can I be a Libertarian if I understand that public funding for schools and police is the moral and right thing to do?

I can't -- at least, I can't if I don't want to be a liar.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 4, 2004 10:56 PM
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