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Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House, is famously quoted as having said “All politics is local”. In fact, in the United States in the 21st century, all politics isn’t local, it’s tribal. Every two years we paint our faces with our tribal colors and elect people based on our tribal affiliation(s) who then proceed to do battle with each other in Washington, DC and/or in our state capitals resulting in what everyone recognizes as gridlocked and dysfunctional governance.
While approximately 40% of our electorate consider themselves independents with political positions somewhere in the middle of the political continuum, our two major parties have moved to polar political extremes with almost no common ground. And, just as the universe is expanding with ever-increasing speed, the “Dark Energy” of our poisoned political culture (Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Fox News, MSNBC, MoveOn.Org . . .) is pushing the two parties even further apart, leaving the rest of us with no political home.
It is clear to me that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have the answers or even the interest in making things work for the majority of hard-working Americans. Statesmanship and working for the betterment of the whole country, regardless of party or ideology, are anachronisms that are no longer relevant in modern politics.
Does anyone believe that the landmark legislative initiatives passed with true bipartisan participation such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, Welfare Reform, etc. would have even a scintilla of a chance of passing today? Yet, the need to address long-standing and increasingly difficult problems such as climate change, our needlessly complicated (and expensive!) health care “system”, the opioid epidemic, the shrinking middle class, widening income disparities, the effects of globalization and automation, the national debt … is increasing exponentially. Solving these problems will require tough political trade-offs and they will need to be addressed with bipartisan creativity, good will, and humility lest the results play out like what we saw in the quixotic effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
It is time to reject the centrifugal forces pushing us apart and reclaim the middle based on pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise. But, how?
The Unite America movement may be the answer.
Several other organizations, including No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus, the Bipartisan Policy Center, Third Way, the Conservative Reform movement, Represent Us, the Campaign Legal Center, and FairVote, recognize the problems facing our political system and are working to address the dysfunction in Washington and our statehouses in different ways.
But Unite America has a realistic, practical and pragmatic strategy. Its Fulcrum Strategy can fix the problem of dysfunctional partisan politics by identifying, recruiting, and supporting (both financially and logistically) independent, centrist candidates for both state and federal offices.
Rather than to try to encourage or persuade politicians who have already been elected as Republicans or Democrats, the Fulcrum Strategy calls for working with individuals in critical states or legislative districts within states who have rejected both parties and who are truly independent centrists (liberal or conservative in underlying philosophy) to shift the balance of power from either the far right or far left to the center by denying either party a working majority in their respective legislatures.
For example, imagine if there were just three or four non-affiliated, independent U.S. senators similar to Angus King of Maine who could prevent either Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer from controlling the agenda. How long would it take for more pragmatic, results-oriented senators such as Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, or Michael Bennet, to name a few, to recognize the “power of the center” and move the debate currently driven by ideologues such as Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren to a more pragmatic focus? Similarly, by moving state legislatures that are currently closely divided, as is the case with both the House and Senate in Colorado, to the center by electing centrist candidates that deprive either party of a working majority, state governments would also be made more efficient and responsive to the real needs of their citizens. How different would our electoral dynamics be within just 3 or 4 election cycles?
By now, if you are still reading this, you have identified yourself as someone who may be motivated to do something more than read my verbiage. Contact Unite America. Support the candidates it is already backing in the upcoming midterm elections so that the Fulcrum Strategy can be realized in the Colorado statehouse. Donate time and/or money to their efforts. Talk to your friends and neighbors to see if you can help them break the bonds of partisanship and tribalism. If the Fulcrum Strategy can be implemented in Colorado, it will set an example for the other 49 states and the federal government.
Dysfunctional governance can only be sustained for so long before the social fabric of the country is so tattered that it will not support the work that needs to be done to provide a better future for our children and grandchildren. We must change the way things currently work (or don’t) and Unite America is our best chance to realize this goal.
John Cheronis, M.D., Ph.D. is a semi-retired biopharmaceutical executive; he is board certified in internal medicine and an expert in critical care, inflammation, and immunity.