The upcoming general election feels like an indigestible dinner menu: Would you like boiled liver or the 5-day-old pot pie? Can’t there be a third option?
For those with that fervent yet unrealistic wish – and that likely includes a substantial number of voters – a new book on the political circuit will appeal.
“A Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream” is the title. It was written by Greg Orman, who tried to blaze a trail around politics-as-usual in a run for the U.S. Senate, and failed.
Orman’s 15 minutes of national attention came in 2014, when he threatened to end the congressional career of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
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Orman, a Princeton-educated, self-made businessman, ran as an independent. Through a confluence of breaks, savvy and hard work, he drew enough support to freak out the GOP. Losing Roberts’ seat would have put the party’s control of the U.S. Senate in jeopardy.
Suffice it to say, it was an all-hands-on-deck moment for Republicans. The heavy hitters of the party were trotted out to Kansas. Their job was to tar Orman as a liberal in disguise who would solidify the Obama White House agenda.
It worked. Orman lost, although he garnered 43 percent of the vote.
Many of Orman’s positions on issues fell in the middle of the political spectrum; some aligned with views more typical of Democrats, others with Republicans. His platform was nuanced – not what voters get from the typical candidate of either party.
The experience of that election confirmed in Orman a determination to address America’s political malaise head-on. Hence the book. One of his guiding insights is this: “Partisanship has become the new prejudice.”
Consider these statistics, highlighted in the book: In 1960, 4 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans said they would be “displeased” if their child married someone from a rival political party. By 2010, one-third of Democrats and half of Republicans said they would be “somewhat” or “very” unhappy at the idea of their child marrying a person of the opposing political party.
On the other hand, a full 43 percent of Americans identify as independents. And 35 percent say they are moderates. The problem is they often don’t have a candidate to support. So they hold their nose and choose. Or they sit out Election Day.
In the book, Orman details the many factors that have contributed to this problem: the gerrymandering of congressional districts, the negativity that has chased moderate (often female) candidates from the field, the rise of partisan think tanks and news outlets, the shrill voices of talk radio, the ethical pollution of lobbyists and campaign contributions.
Orman’s plea is for the centrist, unaffiliated electorate to back independent candidates who can run up the middle to victory while the two other parties push candidates on the extremes.
People fed up with Washington, D.C., are largely fueling the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. One wonders what might be possible if those people could be persuaded to recognize their shared values, to research the roots of their problems dispassionately and to withhold assigning blame to scapegoats.
Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.