It’s a problem for everyone that most political independents are actually partisans

As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post puts it, “the basic finding is not that there aren’t plenty of people calling themselves “independents.” It’s that most of them are as predictably partisan as everyone else.” Or as one self-designated political independent said, “I identify as an indie, but can’t imagine ever voting for a Republican until they shed their racist, homophobic, and xenophobic tendencies. I expect that won’t happen in my lifetime.”

Evidence suggests that self-proclaimed independents are at least weak partisans, meaning that if they vote, they will vote only for one party. They may not vote, however, and getting these weak partisans to vote has become the primary task of political parties. They are not independent in the sense of being “swing” voters who could vote for either political party. Those kind of true independents are in fact quite rare.

The implications of this evidence are stark. The so-called “political center” may in fact be largely imaginary, fabricated by television networks to generate ratings and “a horse race”. If there’s no significant political center for the parties to appeal to, there’s no need to moderate their views, and they might as well concentrate on their base and make sure as many partisans on their side as possible are motivated to get to the polls.

That may explain why political conflict between the parties seems to be increasing, and why the resulting gridlock in government is likely to continue.

I think of myself as a political independent, and have in the past and expect in the future to vote for both Republicans and Democrats. But I’m having a hard time deciding which Republicans and Democrats deserve my vote and support. My dilemma is reflected in my positions on health care and immigration.

I support President Obama’s Affordable Care Act despite its manifest imperfections because the only alternative presented by Republicans is doing nothing about the millions of our fellow citizens without health care insurance. Republicans can’t agree among themselves on any alternative plan. They used to say “Repeal and replace”. Now they just say “Repeal”. Democrats should be credited with enacting a reform that Republicans fear will someday be as popular as Social Security and Medicare, the enactment of which Republicans also opposed.

But I’ve described President Obama’s plan for so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform as “a formula for permanent dysfunction” in our immigration system. I was disheartened that every single Democrat in the U.S. Senate voted for its passage, and hope that as many of them as possible pay a political price for having done so.

As I testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 20, 2013, the current dilemma over immigration is caused by our unwillingness to choose between allowing unlimited immigration to the U.S., or alternatively enforcing a numerical limit enacted by Congress which excludes many immigrants who are neither criminals nor national security threats. Instead President Obama has tried to find a third way, which I describe as pretending we have a limit on immigration, leaving a limit in our laws, but simply not enforcing the limit. And under the President’s plan, whenever a large number of illegal immigrants succeed in entering the U.S., we should grant them amnesty.

I regard the President’s immigration plan as politically motivated and harmful to the best interests of American workers, including those currently unemployed and underemployed. Amnesty and the tripling of legal immigration over the next 10 years will allow employers to keep the wages of American workers low by expanding the pool of available labor, which is why big business and big agriculture support the President’s plan. Increasing the number of low wage workers will widen the economic inequality that the President claims to be concerned about, and threaten the financial viability of the Affordable Care Act.

I think the Republicans who voted against the President’s immigration bill in the Senate, and who are blocking its enactment in the House, are heroes defending American workers and our generous immigration system worthy of American values, which each year admits more legal permanent immigrants with a clear path to full citizenship than all the rest of the nations of the world combined.

So if someone in Congress supports the Affordable Care Act but opposes so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform, they will definitely get my vote and support. But I can’t identify a single member of Congress who takes those positions. Can you?

Members who oppose the Affordable Care Act but support the President’s so-called immigration reform, like Senators McCain, Graham, Rubio, Alexander, Corker, Flake and some others, will never get my vote or support, and I’d consider supporting their opponents.

But what should I do about members who either support both pieces of legislation (like most Democrats), or alternatively oppose both pieces of legislation (like most Republicans)? Those of us who actually think independently and are not merely partisans in denial, have a hard time in finding politicians to support. Should we vote for the lesser evils? But who are the lesser evils?

Sometimes it seems like only single-issue voters get respect from politicians. Immigration is the harder issue to understand, so the politicians who do understand it deserve greater credit. In a race between an amnesty supporter and an amnesty opponent, I’ll support the opponent. 

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