If you think it’s time for a third party in American politics, you’re not alone. Gallup has just released a new poll and it turns out that six out of ten Americans now think the choice between Republicans and Democrats is, shall we say, less than optimal. This is a new high, but it’s only slightly higher than it was in 2007 or 2010.
Personally, I think we have the ingredients for a third party in our political system already. I don’t think we need new candidates or office-holders: we can just reshuffle the ones we already have. How about taking the uncomfortable Northeastern Republicans out of the Republican Party and adding them to the uncomfortable Democrats from the South, the Midwest and the Mountain West? They probably have more in common with each other than they do with the other members of their own party.
The biggest reason that moderate, pragmatic Democrats and Republicans haven’t already joined forces is probably that they are far apart on social issues, which tend to defy pragmatism. Our opinion on a social issue is generally something we feel more than think, and Moderate Republicans and Conservative Democrats have very different feelings about abortion, gay marriage and gun control. A party that combined Democrats from Montana, Missouri and Mississippi with Republicans from Maine, Massachusetts and Manhattan could not possibly come to agreement on the cultural earthquakes that currently shake our country. A centrist party would have to be neutral on social issues.
Perhaps it is time that we dropped the idea that social issues should define our political preferences. After all, there are few times in any given year when there is a vote on abortion, gay marriage or gun control. Is it really a good idea to let our feelings about abortion or gay marriage drive our votes on taxes, deficits, social security, national defense, NSA surveillance, food stamps, Head Start, Pell Grants, food safety, etc., etc. etc.?
Wouldn’t it actually be wonderful if we had a party that didn’t take a position on cultural issues? One that said it is OK for principled people to disagree on these things, that in the end they really shouldn’t drive our political preferences? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we separated our culture wars from the day-to-day tasks of government? It is true that this would require us to accept that good, intelligent people can disagree with us on sensitive issues, but that is precisely why I think separating culture from politics would be so wonderful.
My next post will talk about how the utopia described in John Lennon’s song “Imagine” wasn’t quite as different as it seems and was really just one more volley of verbal artillery in our destructive culture wars.