Dividing America down the middle, recent political battles have reduced much of our social discussion to two competing camps with an apparently unbridgeable gap in between. Ironically, this is really an imaginary gap perpetuated by two political parties whose existence completely dependent on fostering this division. In truth, America is far less divided than the parties would have you believe. America is probably more fractured than they would have you believe, but there is no clear 50/50 division. Under the current two-party system with primaries that require candidates move to the edges, voters often select the least offensive candidate rather than a candidate that they truly support.
Long-time readers of Thinking Right have figured out by now that I am more of a libertarian than I am a Republican. I believe that the government should be as small as possible and should stay out of both our pocket books and our social lives. I suspect that I am not alone in these beliefs, but would wager to guess that there are almost as many Democrats that hold this same set of beliefs as there are Republicans. I may rightfully hold Obama responsible for our explosion of national debt, but truth be told G. W. Bush was not much better than Obama at limiting government and controlling spending.
Surveys of American voters show more that there are numerous small groups of voters huddling around series of common issues than that are two divided groups with commonality of issues all of the way down the line. The parties want us to think that we have no choice and that there is no way to change the system. That is only as true as we allow it to be true. America has ALWAYS been about simultaneously respecting all points on the political spectrum while allowing the majority to determine exactly where in the middle we draw the line. Both major parties have tried to sell us two lies simultaneously: 1) If you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear or hate them; and 2) to love someone means that you have to agree with everything that they say or do. Neither are true and you don’t have to compromise your convictions to be compassionate.
A classic example of this is the case of Julea Ward, an Eastern Michigan University Student that was expelled from school just a few units short of her degree because of an incident involving counseling of a gay student. (Huffington Post) At the time Ms. Ward was released from the program, the headlines all focused on her alleged unwillingness to work with gay students:
In a statement issued Tuesday, EMU officials said they adhered to the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the Ethical Standards of the American School Counselor Association in their decision to dismiss Ward.
Steeh said Ward’s unwillingness to meet with “an entire class” of people was a violation of those codes. (AnnArbor.com)
The impression the media gave was that Ward was homophobic and refused to work with anyone that was gay – “for refusing to provide services to gay and lesbian clients.” (Advocate) This was highly misleading and unsupported by statements made by Ward to her supervisors. Ward was more than will to work with gay students, but her religious beliefs did not allow here to affirm their behavior. As a Christian, Ward believes that homosexuality is immoral and a choice. (Huffington Post) The legal question presented to the court had nothing to do with homophobia or bias against gay students but rather whether a public university can force a christian to renounce their beliefs in order to earn a degree. After months of litigation the University settled the case and paid Ward damages. (Suit)
Forces on the left characterize the Ward case as a homophobic student that was expelled from school for intolerance. The right characterizes the incident of a University demanding that a student violate religious beliefs in order to get a degree. The truth if both sides had actually talked things through, an accommodation could have been made to allow Ms. Ward to complete here degree with being forced to violate her religious beliefs. Our current polarization makes compromise, or even the discussion of compromise difficult if not impossible because both sides and only view the matter from their own perspective.
Our Founding Fathers did not intend for the United States to be a two-party system. The emergence of the two-party system was more a historic quirk than any careful planning. The parties have fluctuated over time and it is only in the last century that the Democrats and the Republicans emerged as the two dominant parties. These parties have adopted byzantine rules, regulations and orders making it virtually impossible for a meaningful third-party to emerge. Our government is not really reflective of the people elected them because of the way the political game is played. Instead, we have two sets of rich men generally from the margins of each of their parties holding the dominated positions in Congress. It is little wonder that Americans hold congress in such little esteem.
We need to revamp and open up the nomination and primary process. We need to find ways way to make third, fourth or fifth parties an actual and viable choice in American politics. We need to defang the huge interests on both sides that buy access and inside information through huge campaign contributions. We need to find people who truly have America’s interests at heart and not only their own. I know this is all a pipe dream, but it is Christmas Eve and I want to dream about what could be.