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Independence Is the Key

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Sometimes an institution just goes rotten. Sometimes it just outlives its usefulness and needs to be swept aside. Worse, its frantic attempts to prove how necessary it is to the public good tend to make it a true menace to society. Such is the case with that two-headed monster we still think of as two separate organizations which we call the Democratic and Republican parties.

It's possible that most of you reading this now are registered Democrats, and some of you might be offended by what I have to say. That is, it might sound like I'm getting personal. So it's only fair that I explain a few things about my own personal background and how it might have influenced my views about the two-party system, and especially about the Democratic Party.

We all have personal or emotional reasons, to some extent, for our political opinions. Very few of us have the patience of saints or the detachment of scientists when we talk politics. The question is, how much weight should we give to someone's personal history when sizing up his or her political argument?

I have no emotional attachment to the Democratic Party, even though I was a registered Democrat for 14 years and I've never voted for a Republican. I was a registered Green from 2000 to 2009. I'm now a registered independent.

I grew up in a house full of conservatives. My mother was an early member of the Libertarian Party and my father was a successful small-business insurance agent in the Cleveland area, and a lifelong Republican. Growing up, I generally had a lot of advantages that I didn't do a thing to earn or deserve. Like a lot of upper middle-class kids, I just had things too easy. (I have to add that I've lived most of my adult life in genteel, white-collar poverty--which, of course, is still a much easier situation than real poverty.) In short, I owe. For most of my good fortune in this life, I owe my family, I owe friends, I owe my country"but I don't think I owe any political party.

However, I guess it's possible that other people might think they do owe something to their political party. This was undoubtedly the case for many people in some localities decades ago. Back in the days of Tammany Hall and other big-city political machines, small-time neighborhood bosses did real service for the residents on their turf. They'd help with immigration problems, intervene with the cops when folks got into trouble, even find jobs for people. In return, those residents--most of them--voted the right way on Election Day. This was mostly a practice of the Democratic Party, but Republicans might have operated similar machines in various districts around the country.

Organized labor was once a force to be reckoned with in America. The unions could expect at least a little help, some flexing of political muscle, from Democratic presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt. But FDR and Frances Perkins left us 70 years ago, and recent Democratic figureheads such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have given the labor movement not a helping hand but the back of their hands for over 20 years now. And as for Tammany-style constituent service, whatever might be left of it in 2015 is just a shadow of what it once was.

Considering all that, it's hard to see what anybody, of any social class, gets out of voting Democrat anymore. What do they get for their votes? They know they are basically supporting the same policies that they'd get from the Republicans. They know they're just handing over money and power to millionaires and billionaires--bankers, defense contractors, insurance company directors. They know they're propping up socialism for the rich and capitalism for everybody else. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation Democrats have hardly any reason to remain loyal to their party--I suppose because it isn't really theirs anymore.

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Jerry Kann has made his living in New York City since the late 1980s in a variety of odd jobs--proofreader, copywriter, messenger, secretary--all while pursuing the very challenging avocation of independent politics. For years Kann's primary (more...)

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