Serious as a Heart Attack: The Independents’ Story

By Nancy Hanks | Related entries in Bloomberg, Health Care, Independents, News
SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK: THE INDEPENDENTS’ STORY
By: Jackie Salit
When we finally get far enough down the road on health care reform, it will become clear that a driving force in the intensity of the fight was a heart attack. Not the medical kind. The political kind.
Independents swung decisively to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. And it is this shift by independents – who repositioned themselves from center-right to center-left – that gave the Republican right the political equivalent of cardiac arrest.
In 1992, 19 million independents voted for Ross Perot. In 2008, 19 million independents voted for Barack Obama. Over the span of 15 years, the largely white, center-right independent movement re-aligned itself with Black America and progressive-minded voters.
This did not happen out of the blue. It did not happen by magic. It happened because the progressive wing of the independent movement did the painstaking and often controversial work of bringing the Perot movement and the Fulani movement together at the grassroots. The Fulani movement refers to the country’s leading African American independent, Dr. Lenora Fulani, who exposed the black community to independent politics and introduced the independent movement to an alliance with Black America.
No doubt the dramatics that the right wing brought to the Town Hall meetings this summer were intended for the television cameras. But the organizers, strategists and radio personalities who orchestrated the theatrics had a particular audience in mind: Independents. If they could tarnish Obama’s image with indies, they could damage the black and independent alliance and re-establish the Republican Party as an influential force amongst independents. Some of that could be accomplished, they felt, by claiming Obama’s health plan would drive up the national debt – a concern that animated the early Perot movement. Some Republican strategists felt that if they simply branded Obama a socialist, it would scare independents away – not from the health care plan (everyone recognizes a plan of some kind will get passed) but away from the center-left coalition that elected him.
If indies are feeling somewhat disillusioned with President Obama over the health care reform fight, it has more to do with fears that he is being overly influenced by the partisans in Congress. Since independents voted for him to be a more independent president, it’s easy to see how some felt disappointed by his handling of the Republican onslaught. Obama’s independent appeal was based on his challenge to the prevailing culture of Clintonian opportunism in the Democratic Party and partisanship inside the Beltway. Put another way, the independent vote for Obama was an effort to define a new kind of progressivism, one that was not synonymous with Democratic Party control.
After years of hard work and organizing, independents have become a sought-after partner in American politics. They elected President Obama and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, arguably the country’s two most independent and pragmatically progressive elected officials. No wonder the Republican Party right wants a clawback.
Independents are vulnerable to being peeled away by the Republican right. The Pew Research Center reports that were the 2010 midterms to be held today, independents would lean towards Republicans by a 43 to 38 percent margin. But, the evolution of a 21st century independent movement is not that simple. First, the movement is very fluid and very new. Historical movements develop through twists and turns, not in a straight line. The far right has attempted to take over the independent movement before. In 1994, Newt Gingrich crafted the “Contract with America” to woo Perotistas back into the Republican tent. And in 2000, social conservative Pat Buchanan hijacked the Reform Party presidential nomination, though he was roundly repudiated by independents in the general election.
If Republicans are increasing their influence among independents, it’s also because the Democratic Party Left has not been a friend to the independent movement. Sure, Democrats were happy that indies broke for Obama. But they were disappointed that we didn’t become Democrats. They equate progressivism with being in the Democratic Party. But they’re wrong.
Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party has been enthusiastic about the development of indies as a third force. For different reasons, surely. But they share a common goal: to maintain the primacy of two-value logic (where there is only one or the other, never neither) and make sure independents are passive companions. That’s one reason that the fight for open primaries – which allow independents to cast ballots in every round of voting – and the campaign to appoint independents to the Federal Election Commission are so important. Those fights are about our right to participate and our right to represent our interests in changing the political culture.
The independent movement went left in 2008, after many years of grassroots organizing to link it to progressive leadership. Now the right wants to peel it back. Obama, presumably, wants to hold on to the partnership, but must also privilege his own party, which turns independents off and makes them more susceptible to Republican attacks. Meanwhile, independents are working hard at the grassroots to hold our own.
Jackie Salit is the president of IndependentVoting.org and the campaign coordinator for Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign on the Independence Party line.

Commentary by Jackie Salit

NOTE To Donklephant Readers: This article by independent strategist Jackie Salit came across my desk and I thought it was too good not to share in full with you. -Nancy

When we finally get far enough down the road on health care reform, it will become clear that a driving force in the intensity of the fight was a heart attack. Not the medical kind. The political kind.

Independents swung decisively to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. And it is this shift by independents – who repositioned themselves from center-right to center-left – that gave the Republican right the political equivalent of cardiac arrest.

In 1992, 19 million independents voted for Ross Perot. In 2008, 19 million independents voted for Barack Obama. Over the span of 15 years, the largely white, center-right independent movement re-aligned itself with Black America and progressive-minded voters.

This did not happen out of the blue. It did not happen by magic. It happened because the progressive wing of the independent movement did the painstaking and often controversial work of bringing the Perot movement and the Fulani movement together at the grassroots. The Fulani movement refers to the country’s leading African American independent, Dr. Lenora Fulani, who exposed the black community to independent politics and introduced the independent movement to an alliance with Black America.

No doubt the dramatics that the right wing brought to the Town Hall meetings this summer were intended for the television cameras. But the organizers, strategists and radio personalities who orchestrated the theatrics had a particular audience in mind: Independents. If they could tarnish Obama’s image with indies, they could damage the black and independent alliance and re-establish the Republican Party as an influential force amongst independents. Some of that could be accomplished, they felt, by claiming Obama’s health plan would drive up the national debt – a concern that animated the early Perot movement. Some Republican strategists felt that if they simply branded Obama a socialist, it would scare independents away – not from the health care plan (everyone recognizes a plan of some kind will get passed) but away from the center-left coalition that elected him.

If indies are feeling somewhat disillusioned with President Obama over the health care reform fight, it has more to do with fears that he is being overly influenced by the partisans in Congress. Since independents voted for him to be a more independent president, it’s easy to see how some felt disappointed by his handling of the Republican onslaught. Obama’s independent appeal was based on his challenge to the prevailing culture of Clintonian opportunism in the Democratic Party and partisanship inside the Beltway. Put another way, the independent vote for Obama was an effort to define a new kind of progressivism, one that was not synonymous with Democratic Party control.

After years of hard work and organizing, independents have become a sought-after partner in American politics. They elected President Obama and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, arguably the country’s two most independent and pragmatically progressive elected officials. No wonder the Republican Party right wants a clawback.

Independents are vulnerable to being peeled away by the Republican right. The Pew Research Center reports that were the 2010 midterms to be held today, independents would lean towards Republicans by a 43 to 38 percent margin. But, the evolution of a 21st century independent movement is not that simple. First, the movement is very fluid and very new. Historical movements develop through twists and turns, not in a straight line. The far right has attempted to take over the independent movement before. In 1994, Newt Gingrich crafted the “Contract with America” to woo Perotistas back into the Republican tent. And in 2000, social conservative Pat Buchanan hijacked the Reform Party presidential nomination, though he was roundly repudiated by independents in the general election.

If Republicans are increasing their influence among independents, it’s also because the Democratic Party Left has not been a friend to the independent movement. Sure, Democrats were happy that indies broke for Obama. But they were disappointed that we didn’t become Democrats. They equate progressivism with being in the Democratic Party. But they’re wrong.

Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party has been enthusiastic about the development of indies as a third force. For different reasons, surely. But they share a common goal: to maintain the primacy of two-value logic (where there is only one or the other, never neither) and make sure independents are passive companions. That’s one reason that the fight for open primaries – which allow independents to cast ballots in every round of voting – and the campaign to appoint independents to the Federal Election Commission are so important. Those fights are about our right to participate and our right to represent our interests in changing the political culture.

The independent movement went left in 2008, after many years of grassroots organizing to link it to progressive leadership. Now the right wants to peel it back. Obama, presumably, wants to hold on to the partnership, but must also privilege his own party, which turns independents off and makes them more susceptible to Republican attacks. Meanwhile, independents are working hard at the grassroots to hold our own.

Jackie Salit is the president of IndependentVoting.org and the campaign coordinator for New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign on the Independence Party line.


This entry was posted on Monday, October 12th, 2009 and is filed under Bloomberg, Health Care, Independents, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Serious as a Heart Attack: The Independents’ Story”

  1. PatHMV Says:

    It seems to me unwise for somebody who wants to promote a movement of independents to unite that word with the very politically-charged label of “progressive.”

    Perot lost because the man’s just a bit whacky, and because self-described independents have yet to find a cohesive, middle-of-the-road philosophy of government behind which to coalesce. If one bunch hates the 2 major parties because it wants to see socialism in our time, and another bunch hates the 2 major parties because it wants to see radical libertarianism implemented next week, that’s not a workable coalition to actually achieve anything constructive.

  2. dumbwhore Says:

    I couldn’t agree more and I’ve been spending months trying to figure out what’s going on. I’m aligned with the middle she’s talking about and I am flummoxed by the piss poor job the democrats are doing with the power we gave them.

    That said, if the republicans make their appeal with “values” and other religious bullshit, know that I’ll be hanging with the left via my money and my spare time by knocking on doors.

  3. Nancy Hanks Says:

    dumbwhore — like your spirit! Lesson in giving our power away to partisan interests? BTW — if you are in the NYC area, I can put you to work tomorrow morning developing an independent movement! 646-567-6641 :-) Nancy

  4. Doomed Says:

    The problem with the middle right now is that Barak Obama is NOT a moderate….He is a Radical.

    His speeches are laced with Alinsky and Wade Radke. He pals around with Wm.Ayers. Vann Jones moved on to the headquarters of Acorn in NY. The list goes on and on…..Hillary Clinton wrote her college poly sci thesis on Saul Alinsky.

    The tactic….PRETEND your moderate…..fake them out…till your in power and then slide the knife in their backs.

    Barak Obama is a Liar. He is not a moderate….Hes a far left radical.

    I will make the disclaimer that its okay to be far left….but he didnt get elected on being a far left radical…He lied to convince moderates he was moderate.

    Thats why you are Flummoxed…..Join the crowd. The middle is fleeing from Obama and its why the democrats are desperate to get their health care in place before the wheels come off the wagon.

  5. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Doomed, you have made a category mistake: The Middle is not Independent. Furthermore, as the old adage says, The Center will not hold.

    Your may be satisfied with complaining about Barack Obama, who has a well-known history as a community organizer, as detailed in his book Dreams of My Father written and published well before the election last year.

    However, poor and working people are not satisfied with this argument.

    The bigger question is what do nonpartisan, independent voters think.

    Independent voters — middle, left, right, wtf-ever, voted for Obama because we believe that we need new leadership not invested in partisan, special-interest politics. Independents are independent, not stupid. I suspect you are not “in the middle” but have an ideology that “leans” right. You prefer an ideological movement that excludes people you don’t like, as opposed to an independent viewpoint, which seeks to include and indeed involve everyone.

    Exclusion isn’t possible in a true democracy. If you support participatory democracy, the people will decide.

    I personally urge you to be more open a nonpartisan independent dialogue.

    Thanks, Nancy

  6. kranky kritter Says:

    The problem with the middle right now is that Barak Obama is NOT a moderate….He is a Radical.

    Conservatives saying silly stuff like that really helps keep independents like me in Obama’s camp. Because I can see and listen with my own ears. He’s demonstrably moderate and reasonable, and so something of a disappointment to the left. Which cheers the hell out of me.

    So whenever a conservative insists Obama’s a radical, it simply shows me how far onto the fringe that conservative is. This is usually followed up by the same conservative telling me that I am really liberal or misinformed or both. Which is about as persuasive as the first bit about Obama being radical.

    And hey doomed, you’re entitled to your opinions, and to name drop radicals. But I would love to see a poll that asks independents what they think when conservatives call Obama a radical. I am pretty sure about 2/3 of them would say that it makes them think conservatives are kinda kooky these days, at least the ones making headlines.

    Independents have yet to find a cohesive, middle-of-the-road philosophy of government behind which to coalesce…that’s not a workable coalition to actually achieve anything constructive.

    I hear what you are saying. Ideological unity isn’t there. But many independents think that breaking the grip of 2-party hegemony and diminishing the influence of the radical fringes actually IS constructive. I understand that this is not the sense in which you probably mean “constructive,” but I for one think it’s a great start. I’d rather see open primaries and more influence for independents than to see the President and congressfolk elected based on really high turnout from either party’s true believers.

    It may not be much progress, but from where I sit, it’s progress.

    I also agree with you that there is at this point no reason to associate independents with progressives. What strength there is among independents lies in the fact that we can’t be relied upon to support either party on any innate ideological basis. Deliver or get bounced, that’s our slogan. Sets precisely the right tone. I am sure both parties will try to co-opt independents and convince them their party is the proper home. Most of us are inoculated from such BS from vast experience. Our power lies in our free agency.

  7. Doomed Says:

    Nancy and Kranky.

    First of all. If your only reason for supporting Obama is because the right doesnt like him….well you need to look at your own Idealogy. Your most likely left or lean really hard left.

    Secondly if you believe that the Democrats are looking out for the lower class, poor of this nation you are sadly mistaken.

    For 200 years the poor have been poor and the Dems have promised if you just elect them one more term they will bring you all to the promised land.

    The democrats keep giving the poor stuff and guess what the poor are still poor.

    Drug of choice……..poverty.

    Perhaps one day the poor will actually realize that the democrats are not their friends….they are actually their enemy. When that happens then the poor in this country might actually get some help as in being lifted out of poverty and into a life that the rest of America lives.

    Moderates exist. Independents? I vote for democrats on occassion. actually about 30 percent of my votes are for democrats but Im registered Republican. I dont consider myself an independent.

  8. Mike A. Says:

    KK

    “Conservatives saying silly stuff like that really helps keep independents like me in Obama’s camp. Because I can see and listen with my own ears. He’s demonstrably moderate and reasonable, and so something of a disappointment to the left. Which cheers the hell out of me.”

    Well stated. Radical by association is not radical in action. This is a concept Doomed is doomed to not understand.

  9. Nancy Hanks Says:

    PatHMV —
    “If one bunch hates the 2 major parties because it wants to see socialism in our time, and another bunch hates the 2 major parties because it wants to see radical libertarianism implemented next week, that’s not a workable coalition to actually achieve anything constructive.”

    But that’s just the point of the article. These 2 very unlikely allies did come together, have been coming together around the need to go beyond the 2 parties and two-partyism.

    The independent movement is made up of radicals and moderates, lefties and right-wingers and everything in between. Most independents agree that the 2 major parties are running our country into the ground out of self-preservation. They don’t care about the country, only about themselves.

    Independent progressives and independent concervatives may disagree on policy, or on issues, but what makes us a movement is that we support democracy, and in a democracy, you work things out. I’m for inclusion of everybody. And I object to clubhouse politics.

  10. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Doomed — I agree with you on your point about the Dems not looking out for the lower classes. That’s why I’m an independent. Being independent means being independent of the 2 parties. Independents aren’t of one political pursuasion — it’s everyone.

  11. the Word Says:

    Nancy-

    While I will agree that they haven’t done a great job of follow through, without the Dems no one else even pays attention let alone tries to do something. What have independents done to push anything? I’ve probably voted more independent than most but the vast majority of attempts to help the little guy have never come from the GOP. There really is no progressive movement and I have yet to determine what independents really believe. Without the Democratic party no effort would be made. What do you think independents deserve credit for?

  12. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Independents elected the most progressive President we have had in a very long time — Barack Obama.

    I’m not saying there’s no difference between the 2 parties, however they’re both controlled by special interests, and the Dems, who are the liberal wing of the 2-party conglomerate, have failed to enact a progressive agenda.

    I’m not saying there’s a progressive movement. Salit references an independent movement — a coming together of various forces and individuals who are creating other parties, or other affiliations that are not controlled by the Dems and Repubs.

  13. the Word Says:

    I still don’t know what Independent means. It appears to you it means a group who pushes a Progressive Agenda. To kk, it’s a group who wants the middle so he’s hoping for compromise and failure to do what they were elected to do by either party. Doomed may even think he’s an Independent and I have no clue what he wants.

    I agree that special interests need to get kicked out of the process. I also would be thrilled if there was a multi-party or no-Party system where you had to run on ideas but what kind of idea rises to the top when a good portion of our population have non existant critical thinking skills.

    That in essence is what I got from the above post, The parties see them as an easily confused group who can be wooed to either side. August was a good example, some Indies swung one way, some the other. I personally think anyone wooed by the Birther/Deather arguments is someone I don’t want to have any control of the future of my country. I’ll take principled over easily manipulated and I do vote Independent. Based on where we are now, hard for me to imagine ever voting Republican again. Democrats aren’t close to perfect. They are the best option currently available in most cases.

    Independents helped to get us Bush. I don’t think that worked out really well.

  14. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Word — independents are not very easily categorized, for the very reasons that you are pointing to. Some independents are progressive, some are conservative, some are moderate, etc.

    As an activist (and personally I am a progressive — look at my blog), I have worked with Ralph Nader and I have worked with Pat Buchanan, and every political viewpoint in between. I don’t see independents as being progressive. I see the independent movement as a whole to be made up of really different people, some progressive, some conservative, some moderate.

    Independents moved left in 2008 because some very serious political people had been working for 30 years to engage the grassroots and involve ordinary people in challenging the winner-take-all 2-party despotism we have experienced for quite some time. We have public policy that does not reflect the wishes of the American people. That’s not democracy.

    The progressive wing of the independent movement has been tremendously successful in bringing progressives, moderates, conservatives and non-political people together on behalf of the American people.

    Here in New York, where I live, we are about to elect the first independent Mayor of New York City, who is an independent himself. We built enough of a grassroots base so that the big shots have to, not only pay attention, but come to us for support. That’s big! That’s the independent movement.

  15. the Word Says:

    While Bloomberg seems like a decent enough guy, it does seem questionable to change the rules while in the middle of the game.

    You said
    We have public policy that does not reflect the wishes of the American people. That’s not democracy.

    I don’t really see that changing any time soon. Unfortunately, it may be democracy.

  16. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Sure it’s not going to change any time soon — the question is which side of that are you on? And what are you doing to make that happen? We can all do small things, big things, medium-sized things to make a difference. Yes, we DO have a democracy, and I think we should use this democracy to strengthen the will of the people, not the parties and the big shots.

    This is a very very difficult thing to change because ultimately it’s a cultural issue. How we do what we do. How we see other people. How we conduct ourselves as human beings….

    It might be that we indeed can’t change that. But I think we can develop. We can get better at the things that we need to and we can create new forms of political life.

  17. the Word Says:

    Nancy you wrote
    Sure it’s not going to change any time soon — the question is which side of that are you on?

    Frustrated but realist side

    I think you have a skewed sample audience in NY since they have a had an independent streak for some time. Going back decades.

    In IL we have provided the nation with a good Republican and a good Democrat. However, we have had a sex freak and a religious freak running for Senator on the Republican Side. We had a Republican Gov who sold licenses for bribes and Rod Blagojevich on the Dem side and a Republican who ran for Gov who tried to execute three innocent men for a crime they did not commit. (And his party stood with him) so what is a voter to do here. Obama was a no brainer. for Sen and President. The most honorable Republican in some time is the former governor in Prison and I wouldn’t vote for any Republican for their moral cowardice in supporting a guy who IMO attempted to murder people for political gain. So we don’t all have the same options a New Yorker has. I’m glad for you though.

  18. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Word — Believe me, we didn’t start out with an independent-streaked electorate in NY. There is a 5-1 Dem registration here in NYC. But what we did is we went door-to-door, we stood on street corners, we went to community meetings, and we organized poor and working people who were being ignored and abused by the Dems (and the Repubs) and we built a rag-tag band that is starting to have an impact. Also, history is moving. People are becoming more independent throughout the country. The people of IL can be proud of having nurtured Harold Washington and Barack Obama in a very tough partisan town. Let’s keep moving forward!

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