When we look at the divided and dysfunctional state of our politics today, we can’t say that George Washington didn’t warn us.
In his final address to the country as president –– our first independent president, I might add –– Washington warned that “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, is itself a frightful despotism.”
He told us that the “mischiefs of the spirit of party” would, quote:
- Agitate the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms
- Kindle the animosity of one part against another
- Open the door to foreign influence and corruption
Here we are, over 220 years later, realizing the worst fears our Founders. I’m here today to talk about how we can overcome them.
Our Two Party System
My argument is not that our two-party system is inherently bad or unworkable.
In fact, our two-party system has worked reasonably well, when both parties worked together. In the 20th Century, big pieces of legislation were passed with big majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, from Social Security to Welfare Reform.
My argument is that our two-party system cannot function when the forces that divide us grow more numerous and more powerful than the forces that unite us. That is where we find ourselves today.
Now, major pieces of legislation, from health care to tax reform, are passed on party line votes –– producing sub-optimal and unsustainable policy. Or, more often, we are simply faced with gridlock, and the challenges we confront simply compound with time.
In today’s political environment, when the way to get media attention, raise campaign money, and win primary votes are to run to extremes, we cannot expect the political parties to self-correct on their own. They have little incentive to do so.
There must be a new, outside force to bring us together, and to Unite America.
Independents Are Essential
We believe that uniting force can come in the form of independent leaders running for and winning elected office. Here are three reasons why.
First, in elections, independents can disrupt zero-sum politics. With three choices on the ballot, a candidate can’t win by just pandering to their base being against the other guy, they’ve got to come to center and stand for something.
Second, in office, independents can truly represent all of the people. They are not beholden to the party bosses and special interests, and they are unrestrained by any rigid ideology.
And third, in sufficient numbers, independents can transform governance and bridge the divide. We call this the Fulcrum Strategy –– whereby a coalition of independents in narrowly divided legislatures, like the US Senate, can actually deny both parties a majority and use their leverage as a swing vote to force cooperation.
So, can it happen? It already is.
In Alaska, last year, two independents helped form a bipartisan governing coalition that now controls the state house and recently helped break an impasse on tackling the state’s historic budget deficit.
In Maine, since two independents were elected in 2016, several more have unaffiliated. The independents now hold the balance of power and are working to find common ground on issues like Medicaid expansion.
Enter: Unite America
Having run as an independent candidate for U.S. House in 2014 myself, I know first hand that voters across the across are ready for this –– they want leaders who put country over party, who follow the facts, and who work together to solve problems.
I also know first hand that independent candidates are not going be successful, or even run in the first place, if they have to start their campaigns from scratch and run them without any institutional support.
That’s why, to take this movement to scale, Unite America is building the grassroots network, donor community, and electoral infrastructure to level the playing field with both parties and help independents run competitive campaigns.
This cycle, our work begins on the ground floor in Colorado, where we’ve recruited several independent state legislative candidates -– and it will extend to supporting the first-ever credible, competitive, and coordinated slate of independent candidates for Governor and US Senate across the country.
While we may not be able to fully reverse the forces driving party tribalism, we can, as another of our Founders James Madison suggested, focus on limiting their effects.
Together, we can build a new vehicle for independent leaders who have the ability, incentive, and leverage necessary to overcome the mischiefs of faction and be a, powerful unifying force in our otherwise increasingly divided politics.