Originally published in the Batesville Daily Guard
We are going to see a lot of changes in 2017 — changes that are going to make some people very happy, some very unhappy and others just frustrated with the process in general.
Over the last few decades, our government has become a see-saw of sorts as the two big parties, Democrats and Republicans, move away from the middle and embrace more narrow ideals of what is considered “liberal” and “conservative.” The election of 2016 drove that home with two huge personalities, President-elect Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, essentially becoming the human embodiments of the bases, or at least the most enthusiastic, of their respective parties.
People who live and breathe politics, particularly those who think in terms of “right vs. left” don’t have a problem with this. For them, it’s more a battle of good vs. evil and shaping the government to fit a vision instead of filling the potholes and making sure the trains run on time. It’s sort of like the “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” cliché, except instead of throwing the baby out, the argument is to either give the kid a bath in a frozen lake or a boiling kettle.
That sounds a little extreme, but we seem to be in pretty extreme times, at least politically. It seems we are rapidly approaching a chaotic time when we are going to see things built up in one election thrown out in the next and then the things built during that government are thrown out with the next. That’s not what anyone would call stability. It’s just a mess.
There’s always the talk about the need of people to support a third party, but the minor parties of the U.S. tend to have even more extreme philosophies. Americans constantly poll that they do want a third party, but none that exist really seem to offer what they want.
What do they want?
Probably some sort of calming influence, a balance of sorts.
In most democracies, there are two major parties like ours, usually center-left and center-right and a lot of fringe parties. But there are also often third parties who may not be the same size as the big two, but not as small as the fringe, that take more moderate positions and make themselves necessary for the larger parties to form a governing coalition. In a way, acting as sort of a middle weight that slides slightly to balance the board and keep it from becoming a seesaw of back and forth policies — stability you could say.
Right now, it would seem an opportune time for such a thing. The 2016 election saw the lowest voter turnout since 1996. In 1996, only 53.5 percent of voter-age Americans turned out for the election. In 2016 that number was 55 percent, much lower than 64 percent of voter-age Americans who cast ballots in 2008. Those numbers say people are either indifferent or just turned off by the current offerings.
And really, who can blame them? With people on both sides of the political aisle more interested in making pronouncements or condemnations, those who want to be outside of partisan fights are either ignored or attacked. That does not get them interested in turning out for the polls.
Of course, a viable third-party probably won’t happen anytime soon. In the U.S., third parties have a habit of not going for modest goals — like running for local, state and congressional offices — but instead seem to center around capturing the presidency.
Sure, capturing the presidency is probably the ultimate goal of any political party, but sometimes four or five people in Congress can make as big of a difference when it comes to things that affect people’s lives as well as balancing partisan ideology.
It may only be a pipe dream, but I do hope to one day see a government where there are some adults in the room.