The speech biden won’t Give


Opdycke is the founder and president of Open Primaries, a national advocacy organization working to enact and protect open and nonpartisan primaries and enhance the visibility and power of independent voters. His monthly column, Brash Tacks,offers insights into how a people-powered, non-ideological democracy movement can be most effective in revamping our political process and culture to meet the needs of a complex and ever-changing 21st century landscape.

Jackie Salit was a guest recently on Primary Buzz, the monthly virtual discussion I host at Open Primaries.

Salit is a pioneer in independent politics. She is the author of “Independent’s Rising,” co-author of “The Independent Voter” and co-founder of the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy at Arizona State. She is president of Independent Voting and serves on the national board of the Forward Party. For 30 years she’s been building political initiatives and organizations to give expression to the growing “I’m not on Team Blue or Team Red” sensibility that is sweeping the nation.

We talked about the state of American politics — the good, the bad and the ugly. We explored the exciting movement in Arizona (they’ve already gathered 300,000 signatures!) to put a referendum on the ballot for nonpartisan primaries for state and federal races and open primaries for presidential contests. Salit shared the research she and Thom Reilly, her partner at ASU, are doing to explore the cultural differences between independents and partisans. We deconstructed why the punditry insists that independent voters are really “leaners.”

Me: The latest polls have independents at 45 percent. They swung the results in 2020 and 2022. And yet Joe Biden and Donald Trump seem determined to alienate independents by campaigning and/or governing in an ultra-partisan way. Don’t they want to win? What’s going on? Why won’t either candidate reach out and form a coalition with independents?
Salit: Let’s look at President Biden for a minute. It breaks my heart that the president is so committed to a party-first approach to governing that he won’t get up in front of television news cameras and say, “America, I understand why almost half the country are identifying as independents. I wish they were Democrats. But they’re not. They are independent for a reason. I understand and respect that. And I pledge to the American people, including the 45 percent of the country who identify as independents, that I will work to assure that what is meant by ‘democracy being on the ballot’ is that independent candidates will be respected, independent parties will be respected, the attacks that were leveled on No Labels and are now being leveled against Robert Kennedy have no place in a true democracy. And I am going to put the full weight of my office and my party behind open primaries and open debates and nonpartisan election administration and other reforms that create a level playing field for independent candidates and independent voters in our great country.” Sadly, it is beyond me to comprehend why President Biden won’t give that speech. But it’s the obvious speech to give right now.

It is the obvious speech to give. If Biden reached out to independent voters in a way that legitimized their concerns about the self-serving nature of the parties, he could probably win with 60 percent of the vote. But he won’t. And neither will Donald Trump, and Trump’s decision to attend the Libertarian Party convention is no doubt designed to quash the pull towards independent voting on the right. The brilliant political observer Walter Karp once wrote in his book “Indispensable Enemies” that political parties are supremely committed to maintaining control of their institutions. “This,” he wrote, “not election victory, is the fundamental and unswerving principle of party politics in America.” Both major parties would rather lose the election than create a level playing field for voters outside of the red/blue thunderdome.

Independents are figuring out what to do about this institutionalized gaslighting. Some are gravitating towards Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other independent candidates. The Forward Party is not running a presidential candidate but is building state-based, non-ideological organizations with a long-term party-building strategy in mind. It is also running and endorsing local candidates, training grassroots activists and experimenting with a new model of a national political party.

Former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards is pushing to end sore loser laws that prevent mainstream politicians from running as independents. Lee Drutman and others are pushing to restore fusion voting, which would give independent parties new opportunities to build coalitions with other parties and candidates.

The LetUsVote campaign to recognize and empower independents is recruiting thousands of independent voters to record videos about why they are independents. Independents in Tennessee are pushing back against draconian signs posted at every polling place in the state threatening jail time for voters who are not “bona fide party members.”

Union leader Dan Osborn is running for Nebraska Senate as an independent to challenge the failure of both parties to advance the lives of working people. Football legend Rocky Bleier has become a fierce champion for the rights of independents. There are dozens of campaigns underway to grant full voting rights to independents in primary elections.

New parties, new campaigns, new initiatives, new conversations — independents are stepping up. What will the impact be on who wins the presidency? Who knows. But there is an emerging movement of independents working to create a level playing field and a more responsive and effective democracy.

Sandi Hebley, an independent voter in Texas, put it perfectly on the LetUsVote blog:

“We aren’t organized. We don’t have the organizational infrastructure to make noise as a group. We don’t have recognized leaders with titles and name recognition. While we don’t want to become just another political party, we need ways to be visible.”

Independents becoming visible — and powerful — would change the entire political culture in ways that will benefit all Americans. Even Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The legacy parties would have to adapt as a result. Our democracy will be better, stronger and more durable.

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