It’s my party, and I’ll vie if I want to
By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
INSPIRED BY Ariel Sharon’s decision to abandon the Likud Party he helped build and start another, more centrist one — one that immediately began to catch on to the extent that it looks as though it will propel him past the established factions and into another term in office — I posted a blog item last week that asked, “Why can’t we do this here?”
Excited at the idea of “giving those of us in the sensible middle an actual alternative to the mutually exclusive, mutually loathing Democrats and Republicans,” I got right to the business of setting up my own faction, posing such questions as: What would be the precepts of such a party? What should we call it? Who would be some good candidates? What animal should be our mascot?
My respondents quickly brought me down to Earth. I heard from both sides of the partisan divide, and the more ardent were soon ignoring my questions and clawing each other. But both sides seemed to agree that those of us who eschew the current phony ideologies don’t believe in anything ardently enough to get things done.
What a relief when “David” spoke for me by writing, “I am always intrigued by this argument that moderates aren't passionate about anything.... I take every issue on its own merits and when I make up my mind, I am as passionate and diehard about that position as any conservative or liberal could ever be.”
Exactly. Why is it so hard for partisans and ideologues to understand that we might hold our own values and positions even more passionately than they hold theirs, for the simple fact that they are ours. We didn’t do what they did, which was to buy an entire set of attitudes off the rack, preselected and packaged by someone else, and chosen based on nothing deeper than brand name.
Is there anything wishy-washy about the stands taken by such “moderates” as John McCain and our own Lindsey Graham? Was Joe Lieberman being a fence-sitter when he helped push through the Iraq Liberation Act, which way back in 1998 made the overthrow of Saddam Hussein the official policy of this country?
These are the people who take the independent risks that make things happen, from campaign finance reform to banning torture. Without them as pivots, giving ideas credibility by virtue of their own independence, we’d be forever in a state of stalemate, unable to settle any difficult issue.
And those of us who support their like are the ones who decide elections — not the partisans, who can be taken for granted.
The best thing is to have no parties. But it’s still fun to imagine what kind of party we who despise them would create if we were so inclined. Let’s give it a go.
Right off, I’m stumped as to a name. So for now, let’s just call it the “Unparty.” (After all, the “Uncola” caught on for a while.)
Are there any fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets? Sure:
- First, unwavering opposition to fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets. Within our party would be many ideas, and in each situation we would sift through them to find the smartest possible approach to the challenge at hand. Another day, a completely different approach might be best.
- Respect for any good idea, even if it comes from Democrats or Republicans.
- Contempt for any stupid idea, even if it comes from our own party leaders.
- Utter freedom to vote however one’s conscience dictates, without condemnation or ostracism from fellow party members.
Every Unpartisan would have his or her own set of positions on issues, having worked them out independently. But to banish the thought that Unpartisans don’t take strong stands, here would be some positions I would bring to the party table (and remember, this is just me, not the editorial board of The State):
- Respect for life. Opposition to abortion, the death penalty and torture of prisoners.
- Belief in just war theory, and in America’s obligation to use its strength for good. (Sort of like the Democrats before Vietnam.)
- A single-payer national health care system — for the sake of business and the workers. If liberals and conservatives could stop driving a wedge between labor and capital for about five minutes, we could make this a reality.
- Universal education — as a state, not a national, responsibility. Go ahead and shut down the U.S. Department of Education, and make sure you provide equal educational opportunity for all on the state level.
- A rational, nonideological energy policy that will make us independent of despotic foreign regimes: Drill in the ANWR. Impose strict efficiency standards on Detroit. Build more refineries. Since we are at war and they are helping the enemy, build internment camps for Hummer drivers. (OK, scratch that; just make the Humvee like automatic weapons — banned for all but military use. In fact, what was wrong with the Jeep?) Launch a Manhattan Project to find something better than fossil fuels. Take the advice of Charles Krauthammer and set gasoline permanently at $3 a gallon — when the price of crude drops, raise the tax to keep the pump price at $3. Unlike Mr. Krauthammer (who’d use the proceeds for tax cuts), I’d make like a real conservative and balance the budget.
Such ideas are not left, right or wishy-washy. Admittedly, in my zeal to debunk the myth that we “moderates” (an inadequate word, really, for independents) don’t take strong stands, I’ve deliberately chosen some ideas that are attractive to me but are too out there for my own editorial board. (Although the issues they address are similar to some set out by potential Unpartisan Paul DeMarco in comments on my blog.) But wouldn’t that make for some lively Unparty conventions? And wouldn’t they be more worth watching than those scripted, stultifying pep rallies that the Democrats and Republicans hold every four years?
I certainly think so. In fact, that’s one point on which most of us Unpartisans could agree.