Political games drive awayDale Johnson is a 33-year-old Racine guy who, as he puts it, “never gave a %*@$.”
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Dale Johnson is a 33-year-old Racine guy who, as he puts it, “never gave a %*@$.”
“Didn’t care” about politics at all until the recall, he said, standing outside a Methodist church along Washington Avenue where he voted last Tuesday. Never even cast a ballot before, not once — until he felt compelled by what he describes as the “heated scene.”
“I voted for Walker,” he said.
Johnson and lots of others like him — relatively young, irreverent, resistant to easy labels — make up the fastest growing and largest political demographic in America: independent voters.
Almost four in ten Americans — 38 percent — now call themselves independents — the largest percentage in at least 75 years and far more than consider themselves either Democrats or Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. The percentage is similar in Wisconsin, where many independents are deeply distrustful of both parties.
Ted Hordecky, a former Illinois guy who now lives in Kenosha and voted at the First Assembly of God on 75th Street went for Tom Barrett. But he’s not a Democrat any more than a Republican.
“They can’t get anything done,” he said of the parties. “It seems like the Democrats want to give everything away, and the Republicans are just for big business.”
It’s much more than dissatisfaction with the issues, though, that drives independents away from the parties nowadays. Identifying yourself as a member of a party immediately turns a conversation into a “flamefest,” said Alexander Vogel, a 26-year-old Beloit guy standing outside Central Christian Church, a polling spot on Milwaukee Road.
“It’s like, ‘You are of the opposite party. I must argue with you. We must disagree,’” he said.
Both parties have much smaller tents than they used to. The Republican Party has become increasingly dominated by self-described conservatives while self-described liberals make up a larger percentage of Democrats, according to a Pew analysis. People who describe their views as “moderate” have largely turned into independents.
Something else has happened as well, though. The number of people who consider themselves conservative or liberal but also independent has grown as well — and Vogel is an example of why.
Vogel, the independent, is also a self-described conservative who resists party labels because “we are getting polarized and that is not a good thing.”
Anyone who has the misfortune of accidentally reading a post by an anonymous, partisan troll or bloviating blogger, or who has heard some of the party soldiers with sharpened tongues knows that. Volume and shrillness has replaced intellect, nuance and wit as the coin of the realm in American political debate.
If you announce your political affiliation, half the people you meet don’t want to deal with you as an individual, says Vogel. He says, for his part, he still wants to know what individual politicians bring “personally” to an office.
Like a majority of independents last Tuesday, he voted for Walker and helped give the incumbent the victory. And yet, a narrow majority of independents also say they approve of Barack Obama.
Barrett clearly targeted them when he relentlessly tried to paint Walker as a rock star to the far right, a jab that might have made independents leery if the Milwaukee mayor could have made the label stick. He couldn’t, and Walker likely benefitted from another fact as well.
Just as lots of Wisconsinites tire of the endless name-calling by party hard-liners, they are also empathetic to the victims of the attacks. No politician in Wisconsin has ever been attacked on a more personal level than Scott Walker, and that backfired in the end on the left-wing partisans who, over and over again, called him Hitler and a tyrant.
Walker signaled immediately after his victory that Wisconsin has had enough of the name-calling and labeling.
Independents could have told you that a long, long time ago.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.