Barack Obama has inspired a wave of young voters to get involved in politics for the first time. Like Ronald Reagan, Obama might be at the forefront of a Democratic majority for the next three decades the same way the Republicans dominated during the last three.
But in fact the biggest news of this election was not a new Democratic majority. It was the rise of the Swinger. That's the independent/moderate voter who dislikes candidates that cater to the fringes of either party. Is the US a center-left or a center-right country? The truth is that it's a center-center country, with most voters -- whatever their party affiliation -- representing a moderate middle that likes practical solutions to the real problems that face us and have no patience with special interests and the parties who are beholden to them.
Let's look at the facts. Exit polling asked voters to identify themselves as either liberal or conservative or moderate. 22% called themselves "liberal" and 34% "conservative." But 44% of voters call themselves "moderate." Both parties tried to claim those moderates for themselves and indeed on many issues the moderates fall into the progressive camp. Nonetheless, they prefer to ID themselves as moderate. In truth, there's nothing "liberal" about a concern for global warming, for example; it's just common sense.
What about party affiliation? 39% of voters were registered Democrats. 32% were registered Republicans. And an astonishing 29% were registered Independents. Given the trends of the last 25 years, it's far more likely that the Independents will pass the Republicans before the Republicans tie the Democrats again. That's right: in 2016, the two major blocks of voters will more likely be Democrats and Independents instead of Democrats and Republicans.
Heck, let's look at the two major candidates in the election that just happened. It wasn't the Republican base that nominated John McCain. They preferred Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. But Swingers swept in and made McCain the front runner. It wasn't the Democratic base that nominated Barack Obama; the establishment was solidly in line for the coronation of Hillary Clinton. But Swingers stepped in and turned Obama from an inspiring story to the real deal.
Swingers are the moderate middle. They don't vote based on the tiny letter next to a candidate's name. They vote based on the policies that person puts forth. And catering to the Swingers doesn't mean you have to be a "centrist" who always compromises and takes the safe path. Look at US energy policy. Swingers take global warming and our national security seriously and they want dramatic action. They want a new national electrical grid, they want solar panels and wind farms to become dominant and not just curiosities shown in political ads. They're willing to see higher gasoline prices today if it means a healthier environment tomorrow, fewer dollars flowing into the coffers of cruel governments overseas, and real energy independence. Swingers love electric cars.
Swingers are tired of a few farm states perverting our national food policy by skimming off massive billion dollar payouts to agricultural conglomerates. Swingers like their privacy. Swingers don't get riled by single issue idiocies like gun rights or abortion or gays. They know reasonable gun laws will let people have all the weapons they want without handing out Uzis to felons. They believe in a woman's right to choose. And they don't really care very much about interfering in the ways other people live (gays) or die (Terri Schiavo). Live and let live is the American way to Swingers.
Every election seems to boil down to the independent voters -- and here we're talking about Swingers, not the mealy mouthed people who pretend they haven't made up their mind five days before the election just so they can be interviewed on CNN. The growing number of Independents will be the best thing in the world for both parties, keeping the Democrats and the Republicans focused on competence and compassion and away from the fringes who always seem to gain an outsized voice when a party stays in power too long.
If you like the idea of Swingers -- independent voters who choose the best candidate regardless of party affiliation; people who are focused on the real problems that face us -- they need your help to flourish. A number of practical steps need to be taken to let their voice be heard.
1. Choose the President by popular vote -- The Electoral College is a classic Swinger issue. Swingers think the Electoral College is an absurd joke, but tiny states are so vested in the process so they can have an outsized voice in choosing the President that passing a Constitutional Amendment to abolish it seems unlikely. Happily, there's a very viable work-around gaining momentum. The National Popular Vote bill would award the electoral college vote to whomever wins the popular vote. It would take effect once enough states have passed bills promising to award their electoral college votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. Four states have already done so -- New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois (!) and Hawaii -- and momentum is growing. When Presidents are picked by popular votes, the sad farce of candidates ignoring the voters of hugely populous states like California and Texas to focus on a sliver of people in battleground states will be over. Get involved and get this passed by your state.
2. Open primaries -- They take many forms, but the basic idea is that voters can choose the candidate they prefer in a primary regardless of that voter's party affiliation. I'm a registered Republican in New York, but I would switch my party affiliation to Independent in a New York minute if that didn't mean I was blocked from voting in the primaries. I'll bet a lot of other people feel the same -- which is exactly why the Democrats of New York oppose the open primary system. Let people register any way they want and then vote any way they want and you'd see Swingers take center stage. Find out if your state has open primaries and push your elected officials to make the switch if it doesn't.
3. Redistricting -- Voters have to take away the power of redistricting from the politicians and put it in the hands of an independent panel, be it retired judges, a mix of voters and bureaucrats or whatever. The current system lets politicians design districts that virtually guarantee a seat for one party or the other forever. Since that means whoever wins the primary generally wins the election, that pushes politicians to cater to the fringes of their party that are far more active early on. It also makes it nigh on impossible to kick politicians out of office even after they've lost touch with voters. Districts should encompass reasonable neighborhoods that reflect their diverse communities, not convoluted and absurdly shaped districts that zig and zag to keep the Dems in one box and the Republicans in another so that the politicians in power can stay in power.
Are you a Swinger? And if you have any other ideas about how to let their voices be heard, let us know.