A small act indeed; infinitesimally small. But it does provide context for my thoughts.
Fiction is now behind me. My attitude and political preference are now the same—Independent.
In the beginning my Mom prevailed. Her ancestors had been Lincoln Republicans and she passed it down. And then friends turned into colleagues who introduced me to new friends who turned out to be reform Republicans.
I ended up serving in both President Reagan’s and George HW Bush’s administrations. So, when faced with an unacceptable Republican candidate for President in both 2016 and 2020, I filled in my ballot with Republicans I admired. Several of my Republican friends chose to lecture me.
Remaining attentive to possibilities, I remained hopeful. But hope will only take me so far; reality intrudes and today’s reality is jarring. You are for Trump or you are a RINO (Republican in name only); well, if I am a Republican in name only, adios. I leave with this thought, politics by subtraction does not work unless it is toxic elements that are subtracted to broaden the appeal. Perhaps the former President in his frequent references to RINOs should define the quid pro quo.
I have joined 762,594 other Marylanders who identify as Independents. We, by law, are told to join a Party or shut up— “our primaries are closed”. Given this exclusion you would think fewer Marylanders would be Independents. But, given the state of our two political parties, I’m not surprised.
Decades after choosing my Mom’s way I look at the two Parties and know that on many of the most consequential issues neither represent me. The blinkered choice we all face is a consequence of control by what are said to be the base constituents of the Parties. The two Parties, like the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), work to control the market.
Okay, I know. Comparing the two political parties to OPEC is unbalanced. OPEC only combines to influence the prices of fossil fuel products; the two political parties control the way we govern ourselves.
Increasingly both political parties practice identitarian politics. They tend to be the sum of their interest groups. The late comedian Robin Williams captured the reality: “Politicians should wear sponsor jackets like Nascar drivers, then we know who owns them.”
Since politics is often a necessary path to public leadership, character should be a first principle. Character is most often notable as something candidates declare they have. In government, character should be closely tied to truth. Hypocrisy, for example, is not admirable. Evasion, likewise—a rote recitation of talking points does not suggest a search for truth. And to leave the abstract, a $31 trillion-dollar federal debt is proof that most politicians use the public treasury as their political check book—a decided lack of private and collective character. It will take generations to retire such a debt—this is not a happy birthday legacy.
America’s strength is in choice. We don’t choose our parents but as adulthood approaches, we begin to choose the next step and the one after that and so on. Enough choose military service that conscription is not necessary. And since Americans like competition, we get to choose between sellers who compete for our business.
Our political system should also be wide open. Our founding principle: Out of Many One. We should issue an invitation to all who want to apply their talents in our communal efforts that we call government. Let talent and attitude and persuasion separate winners and losers. In today’s political reality, financers and pollsters have more clout than voters.
Finally, back to Maryland. By my count there are 29 States with open primaries—Party affiliation not required. Within the open primary states there are differing rules—in fact in some States the top two finishers regardless of Party affiliation proceed to a run-off. My guess is that it will take a petition/referendum process to reform Maryland’s election laws as the two Parties will fight to retain their control. But, for the time being, primary election day is a day off for me.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.