America is distinctive—successfully so—because we, or at least most of us, are not limited by where we came from. We are willing to look for new ways because America is, in the unfolding of history, a new way. We have a foundation, but above it, when we are successful, there is a dynamic core.
We moved around. After all our family name began elsewhere and we or our ancestors, often at great risk, crossed an ocean to get here. Or, maybe walked hundreds or thousands of miles to our southern border.
But politics—the way we choose leaders—more often than not now features verbal duels. It is our way or nothing—I win, you lose. And too often it works—it has worked to a degree for Ted Cruz, a Republican and Bernie Sanders, a Democrat.
Now at the Midterm of our voting cycle, I would argue that elected leaders whose temperament pushes them to reach for the verbal gun should rejoin the workforce where they will find little tolerance for yelling insults. Political parties controlled by rigid ideological bases do not compose listenable music. Iran’s mullahs are not having any fun these days.
A retrospective on near history shows a rising safety net or an economic floor if you prefer. But it also demonstrates how difficult it is to reengineer human nature. Personal attributes cannot be legislated—they are the product of fully engaged parents and schools. And elementary and secondary education is the only government program that can interrupt inter-generational poverty.
One way to look at Midterm elections is that they are moderating events. Presidents pushed too far by their own ambitions, or Party’s base, go too far and then two years in the voters push back. Life demands adjustments. Bothersome facts intrude. Hopeful relationships sour. Unexpected job losses occur. Interest rates upend consumer economics.
Politics is complicated and if our emotions degrade it, we can be assured that prospective leaders will choose not to run. Being hopeful is a good thing. Naivety is not. When it comes to politics read, listen, process and vote. Pushing back is all we have.
Can a True Independent Win?
Is it possible for a true Independent to be elected to the United States Senate—one that will not caucus with either Party? The ultimate swing vote, the one the Party whips cannot control.
In Utah polls show an Independent who has refused to accept special interest money is running a close race against the incumbent Republican, Mike Lee. The default opinion is that a Republican incumbent in a Red state wins.
The candidate is Evan McMullin. McMullin left the Republican Party after Donald Trump was elected and became a vocal critic of Trump and endorsed President Biden in the general election. He has also been involved in early discussions about forming a new center-right political party.
Readers of my columns know that I favor lower hurdles for the emergence of a new political party. I am delighted by the possibility of McMullin’s election. In business when new companies take on established ones, their success is measured incrementally. Politics, however, produces winners and losers and the winner has to have a majority or a large plurality of the vote. If McMullin wins, he will become a case study in a third way and an encouraging one.
Ukraine: Weakness of Strength?
There is an emergent coalition of cynics and short-termers on the Right and Left who want to weaken our support of Ukraine. While these uncommon allies have different motivations, if their attitudes become more popular, America’s global strength will be weakened.
Real strength in global politics requires a high level of unity. Putin’s assault on Ukraine would not have occurred if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had exhibited unrelenting strength. NATO’s evolving weakness, following the end of the Cold War, was an invitation to Vladimir Putin.
Regardless of whether we like this or that political party, successful global politics requires a high degree of bipartisanship. History writes the narratives—principled strength wins, irresolution is a loser.
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.
Letters to Editor
Hugh (Jock) Beebe says
Thanks Mr. Sikes for a revealing, actually instructive, perspective on the current political scene.
I am grateful as someone who views politics as a detached observer only drawing near when voting is imminent.
It’s tough not to become depressed by the harsh accusations exchanged between candidates without discussion of problem solutions or policy. And then there is the frightening avalanche of extreme amounts of PAC money spent to “buy” votes through skillful media manipulation.
Your concluding comment, ” …history writes the narratives…” is a comfort.