10 May An Independent President
The biggest enemy to the core political principles of integrity and honesty is the hypocrisy that thrives in party politics.
Whataboutism* is another, related, unprincipled foe. Like hypocrisy, whataboutism prospers to the detriment of honest politics and integrity. Sheer partisanship is at the root of whataboutism.
*This newish term refers to a defensive refrain, for example, “what about Trump” when President Biden is attacked (or vice versa), or “what about the Democrats—they are the real threat” when the Republican conduct is criticized, and so forth ad nauseum.
These dual evils got us to thinking about the seemingly crazy notion of an independent being elected President of the United States in 2024. Could the resulting reduction in hypocrisy and whataboutism fostered by a nonpartisan candidate (and, ultimately, President) save American politics?
First of All, Could an Independent Win?
Do not tell anyone from Minnesota that an independent cannot win. Minnesotans, in rebuttal, have two words: Jesse Ventura. “We shocked the world!” he exclaimed in 1998 after winning over 37 percent of the vote to become Minnesota’s governor, defeating Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman (34.3%) and DFL Attorney General Hubert “Skip” Humphrey (28.1%).*
*The results that night indeed surprised this blogger’s home. Our older daughter reported at dinner that the mock “election” in her second-grade class had resulted in a Ventura win. We said, in effect, “Ha-ha. Isn’t that cute, but it will never happen with the adults.” Let this anecdote serve as a reminder that children pay attention to what is being said around home. Perhaps pollsters would be more accurate if they spoke to elementary students.
Heck, right from the get-go, all of America also put partisanship aside and unanimously elected good old George Washington as an independent in 1788-89.
So, there, with Jesse Ventura as Exhibit A and George Washington as Exhibit B, we have proved it can happen.
The Benefits of Independence
Principle Based Politics sees at least two potential upsides to a strong third-party candidacy. First, when the Republicans and Democrats nominate candidates from the North and South Poles—metaphorically speaking in this world of polarized politics—a rational independent could provide an option for voters tired of the extreme positions. Substituting a longitudinal reference for the same “poles,” we are talking about the extreme left and extreme right that dominate the parties and their nominations today. An independent could solve the quandary of those Stuck in the Middle with You, as we wrote recently, beginning in campaigns and debates, by influencing the other candidates toward the center.
The second benefit is that a strong independent, if elected, could lead other politicians to come together. This was the subject of our September 2021 post, America’s Fork in the Road, in which we argued that our great but divided nation could just as accurately be viewed as on two paths coming toward each other rather than approaching a fork in the road that will lead apart on separate and contrary paths.
As referenced at the outset of this article, the core principles of integrity and honesty could take root and grow under independent leadership. Without the prism of party politics focusing on a “winner” and “loser” on every subject, both the hypercritical bashing of the other side and the hypocritical “protecting your own” would diminish. Whataboutism also could dissipate, as the independent leader would not be defending or contrasted with any prior politician or party.
Imagine this: Politicians could say what really is true and what they really mean, rather than speaking for the political, partisan advantage of making a president or a party look good or bad for the next round of elections. Lawmakers could introduce and vote for bills and judges that are good for the country, rather than favoring or opposing them based on which side proposed the law or judge. Legislatures could stop voting in blocks with most Democrats on one side and most Republicans on the other. In the same way, the President would need to propose things that could garner support from both parties. In this world, there would be nothing to be gained through polarization, tribalism, and, most importantly, party politics.
Even Jesse Venture, a somewhat “unique” individual, as an independent, was able to lead his state to reform sales taxes, return money to the public, promote infrastructure, improve the process of appointing judges to state courts, and generally challenge the status quo. That is quite a body of work for an independent. We cannot tell a lie, George Washington didn’t do too badly, either.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.