We need to talk about partisan politics in America. More specifically, we need to talk about how the current two-party system undermines any chance a given candidate has at offering a unique vision for the country—or even a position on a single issue that is not “business as usual.”
In a prime example of partisan groupthink at work, the six remaining candidates for the Republican nomination are desperately attempting to “out-conservative” each other, as they did at their rowdy ninth debate in South Carolina on Saturday Feb. 13. Sen. Ted Cruz accused Donald Trump of being “a liberal” for not denouncing Planned Parenthood and for praising former President George W. Bush’s handling of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent Iraq War. In addition, virtually every candidate paid homage to former President Ronald Reagan at least once.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—who ended his campaign after a sad sixth place finish in the New Hampshire Primary on Feb. 9—was once a strong contender with bipartisan appeal. He too was forced to join the GOP hive mind, however, after his notorious “Bridgegate” scandal robbed him of credibility on both sides of the aisle.
Instead of embracing Democrats and Republicans alike—as he was once known to do—Christie abandoned his more moderate ideals during his bid for the nomination. Unfortunately for him, however, his rebirth as a true conservative did not square with his brash, “tell it like it is” persona. Before suspending his campaign, Christie’s most significant act was to embarrass Sen. Marco Rubio who, in all his short-circuiting, line-repeating glory revealed that he is the ultimate establishment lap dog.
For his part, Rubio, too, has upped the ante recently on his rabid conservatism. In a thinly veiled attempt to prove that he is not a robot, he has become an impassioned, undiscriminating defender of all people and things Republican, effectively blaming the World Trade Center attacks on former President Bill Clinton.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has continued to demonstrate that she will say anything to win. She has attempted to style herself as a “true progressive,” most recently allowing avowed socialist and surprise threat Sen. Bernie Sanders to push her to the left on Social Security expansion. In the past, Clinton has flip-flopped on marriage equality, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and much more—all to stay in line with what is in vogue according to the loudest voices in the Democratic Party.
Of course, these extreme party-embracing tactics are simply clever shows for the primary season. Party nominees’ ultimate strategy of moving to the center for the general election in order to appeal to independents and swing voters is equally dishonest.
The practice of changing one’s views to match a given group or demographic is insulting to the Americans who simply do not fit into a box—who I optimistically imagine to be most of them. These party politicians do not represent real values—Constitutional or personal. They simply represent carefully rehearsed talking points, as Rubio has reminded us.
The old adage “never trust a politician” is probably true, especially when considering that other old adage: “power corrupts.” The current two-party system rewards doublespeak and punishes consistency. Only when voters begin choosing politicians based on their own unique values—as opposed to how well they can conform to a broken party system—will we have a chance for an honest election cycle. As it stands now, there are only two very specific possibilities: the list of progressive values and the list of conservative values.
These all-or-nothing value catalogs ultimately lack nuance, diversity and pragmatism. Moreover, they fail to accurately represent the values of independent-minded constituents. It will take brave individuals who step outside precisely drawn party lines to bring more organic, truthful ideas to the White House—both on the side of the voters and the politicians.