Political parties try to 'pawn' us off

Opinion: Columns

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By Kwame Salter

Have both the Republican and Democratic parties lost their way? Neither party, it seems, has the will, a compelling message, or plan of action to attract new members. The American electorate breaks down into three groups: Conservative, Independent or Liberal. While they seem to be distinct and freestanding, there is a lot of overlap within and between the three groups. 

Few people consider themselves solidly conservative or staunchly liberal on every issue in American politics. Some independents have already opted out of the two-party option. Regardless of their political leanings, theirs are primarily "protest" votes, given to the Green Party or Libertarians. 

Yet the biggest protest is the staggering number of Americans who don't vote. Typically, local and state elections draw many fewer eligible voters than national elections. In the most recent presidential election, a little more than half (58%) of eligible voters went to the polls. We don't know the political leanings of the 42% who didn't bother to vote. Are they conservative, independent, liberal, something else?

The Republican Party claims to represent conservatives while the Democratic Party promotes a so-called progressive or liberal agenda. If asked to give a percentage breakdown for the three groups, one might suggest a 30-40-30 split among conservatives, independents, and liberals. Independents are the "swing voters," who typically vote their interests — along economic, cultural and social lines. Both parties "preach to their respective choirs" of 30%, while trying to convince at least 20% of the Independents to support their platform. This simple algorithm is used to forge a "path to victory."

Unfortunately, both the Republicans and the Democrats have, essentially, over the years watered their campaign platform down to six words: "You want it. You got it." Campaigning has become one big lie-fest. Nowadays, politicians lie about what they're going to do for us and what their opponent has done to us. The new currency in politics is not truth or honesty. Instead, we suffer through somewhat duplicitous claims and counterclaims about their or their opponent's fitness for office. What they don't deliver is, of course, caused by the other party's obstructionism and posturing.

The name-calling, finger-pointing, and excuse-making can get very intense between the two sides. In fact, currently, both parties are engaged in internecine battles within that threaten to destroy them. After years of internal debate, the Republican Party has firmly positioned itself as the party of states' rights and the "forgotten white American." 

Exploiting the seemingly intractable loyalty of African Americans and other minorities, the Democratic Party projects an empathy for "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 

One party — Republican — seeks to aggressively speak to local and state issues with no coherent national strategy to bring Americans together. On the other hand, the Democrats articulate a robust national vision, with no effective plan to address the problems that the "tired and poor" face at the local and neighborhood levels.

Sadly, We the People are left to be pawns in a game that resembles a bad reality TV show. The objective of today's political parties is to maneuver us, during an election year, to tune into and buy their campaign messages. Big money is called in to drill contrived words into the hearts and minds of the low-information voter. The objective of both parties is to get their pawns to the voting booth with a head full of questionable facts and divisive messages. Even more sinister is the Republicans' attempt to suppress the turnout of voters. Money, manipulations of news, and wedge issues rule the day.

If our current two-party system is to survive, we need a new type of politician to emerge. Leaders of both parties must recognize that America is not a red or blue nation — it is a nation made up of diverse peoples with diverse interests. Any partisan leader must become a pragmatic leader willing to abide by the definition of politics as "the art of compromise." As Bill Clinton reportedly once said, "We need fewer wedge issues that divide us and more web issues that connect us."

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