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Except on our foods, labels are seldom a good idea. All Muslims are not the same. Neither are all Catholics. All women do not speak with a single voice. So too, African-Americans, Latinos and every other group you can think of are hardly monolithic.
The same is true for Democrats and Republicans. At least it should be.
Political parties group people with similar ideas and values together. In the past, these parties claimed they had “a big tent” with room enough and tolerance for a wide range of views. Unfortunately, more and more, that is no longer true.
Today, real Democrats are called “progressives.” Candidates for the Democratic nomination for Congress fight with each other to see who is the most pure of heart and ideology. Similarly, real Republicans are called “conservatives.” And they fight to see who can claim the mantle of a “true conservative.”
With these labels comes an ideology that, for many, requires a strict orthodoxy. Independent thought is discouraged. Compromise is a dirty word. The slightest deviation from what is expected can ruin a political career or end one before it even starts.
The way our government and elections are structured, it doesn’t look like this is going to change anytime soon.
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Primary elections for the U.S House and Senate are controlled by political purists in each party. That means that often only the most progressive or conservative candidates can make it successfully through a party primary. The result is that candidates who enter the final election often represent the extreme of both sides. There is little chance that our leaders will meet in the middle.
As purists gain control of political parties, more moderate citizens are forced to leave. At the end of 2011, Rasmussen Reports presented polling data that showed 35.4 percent of American voters identified as Republicans while 32.7 percent saw themselves as Democrats. That left 32 percent who did not identify with either party.
A short five years later, those numbers have changed rather dramatically. Today, Gallup reports 45 percent of voters identify as independent of both major parties. Soon, if this trend continues, there will be more unenrolled voters than Democrats and Republicans combined!
Unfortunately, as more people leave our primary political parties, fewer of us vote in party primaries, ensuring that only the most liberal or conservative candidates win.
Participation in congressional elections varies greatly based on a range of factors. But, in presidential primaries, a study by Harvard’s Kennedy School showed less than one in five voting age Americans actually vote in primary elections. The exceptions were 2008 and 2016, where the number participating was about one in three. That means the vast majority of Americans either are not registered or did not vote in a party primary.
So, why are people leaving our major political parties? My guess is that they are fed up with all the speeches that produce next to nothing.
Along with ideological purity comes intolerance even for thoughtful reflection. Today, we expect our political leaders to agree with us even before they have had a reasonable chance to consider the issue and read the fine print on legislation that has yet to be drafted.
The most recent example of this type of intolerance came in April, when Gov. Charlie Baker was asked his opinion about a yet-to-be-written transgender-rights protection law known as the “bathroom bill.” Baker is a well-known supporter of the LBGTQ community. In 2010, his running mate Richard Tisei was openly gay. Baker was also an early supporter of gay marriage. But, when he said he needed to read the actual legislation before he could comment on it, he was booed off the stage.
Ultimately, Baker ended up signing the legislation.
Sure, the governor should have made it clear he intended to support the legislation, but needed to read the fine print first. Nevertheless, given his previous support for the LGBTQ community, advocates should have given him enough room to make his decision before going on the attack.
Is it any wonder that so many of our elected officials are unwilling to even listen to the other side of an issue?
Here is something to ponder. What good is adherence to a political ideology if nothing gets done? For the past eight years, it has been the publicly stated goal of Republicans to stop everything that comes from the president: nominations, legislation, budgets, everything. The result is a stagnation that frustrates all of us. These so-called leaders put party and political calculus before their country.
Although some Democratic leaders say that they are willing to work with the new Republican president, the same would be true if their actions do not match their rhetoric.
Perhaps we should start another political party that focuses on “results.” It shall be the stated goal of the Results Party to actually accomplish something, anything, on behalf of the country. And adherence to our ideology would be absolute. If you can’t point to a solid record of accomplishments working with other members of Congress, then get the heck out! Who needs you?
Illegal immigration; let’s develop a plan and fix it. The federal budget; let’s get together and figure out how to balance it. And as far as taxes go, even a child could find a way to wipe out the loopholes that let millionaires and billionaires pay next to nothing in federal taxes.
Think of a problem, and it will be the responsibility of Congress to solve it. And if they don’t, then everyone in office should be forced to leave — no exceptions!
Don’t tell me about legislation that you filed that I agree with 100 percent if it went nowhere. You should not get credit for falling flat on your face. Tell me about a hard compromise you had to make to get something done.
Think of it this way: In how many other jobs can you expect to stay employed if you produce nothing whatsoever?
And we, the good people of America, need to stop asking for perfection and start demanding results. Voltaire’s aphorism, “the perfect is the enemy of the good” is at the root of our problems.
I am not suggesting that anyone should throw away their values or compromise just for the sake of getting something done. If someone proposes a Muslim registry, of course you should oppose it — vigorously. But ideological purity discourages independent thought and threatens our democracy. Worse, it ensures that we remain divided and accomplish little to nothing. How can that be good for America?
Progress is made one step at a time. It is time Congress actually did something.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He is the former mayor of Worcester and former executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority. Ray grew up in Great Brook Valley and holds degrees from two city universities. He comments on his hometown every Sunday in Worcester Sun.