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Blame Independents

By Oliver DeMille

The Power of Foresight

What do we want America to be in twenty years? What do we want it to look like when our children and grandchildren leave college and enter the workforce? What kind of future are we seeking and creating right now?

Unfortunately, many independents aren’t sure how to answer this question. In a world where there are more independents than either Republicans or Democrats, where every major election is ultimately determined by independents, this lack of a clear, shared long-term vision is a real problem.

Many on the Left want to create an America that fits naturally with the leading European democracies, to be a member of the elite class of nations.

This drives much of progressive financial, social and foreign policy, from its stand on universal Health Care to its views on Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. Progressives feel that America has no inherent right to lift itself above others, but that it can certainly earn its place at the leadership table.

A majority on the Right wants America to regain its status as the leader of the free world in the next two decades, to resurrect American greatness and its exceptional standing as the sole (and hopefully benevolent) superpower. This underpins its political agenda to keep Obama from being a two-term president, its desire to free up funds from government social programs for use in international leadership, and its driven approach to freeing up the economy to increase wealth.

Each side promotes its view to the voters, and in each election independents take stock and determine which side to put in power. The result is government that is never quite sure what to do or what action to take. Independents determine elections, but they aren’t sure what they want the government to do in the long term.

As the ultimate decision-makers in America, this leaves the nation somewhat rudderless about the big things.

What Independents (Do and Don’t) Know

Independents are very clear about some things, to be sure. They want the government to work. Most aren’t small-government conservatives who wish Washington would stop doing everything, nor are they no-government libertarians who think leadership of the whole nation should be mostly left to the private sector.

But most independents aren’t big-government progressives either. They don’t think government can or should solve every problem.  They want a healthy free market where the opportunity society can flourish.

On the issues, independents want a good government with effective national security, well-managed national finances, good schools and other basic services which government provides, and a less-partisan approach to governance. They are pragmatists, and a lot of them are frustrated idealists.

Independents know what they want right now, and they have articulated their values fairly well and consistently. Though each independent has his or her individual take on the details, as a group independents have coalesced around these general ideals.

As for the big picture, however, independents are a closed book. We know what they want, but what do they want? What do they envision for the United States in twenty or thirty or fifty years? What is their big, overarching grand strategy for America? What is their dream for the future of the whole nation?

Do they feel passionately about joining the European fraternity with Britain, Germany and France? Answer: Not so much.

Do they deeply yearn for America to regain its place as the world’s sole superpower? Answer: No, not really.

Do they want to keep China, India or Latin America from taking American jobs and capital? Answer: Most independents don’t think that way—they see the economy as somewhat global and economic success as more personal than national. “If the government will just do its job and keep out of the way of business growth,” they reason, “good companies and American workers can compete with anyone.”

Do they want to usher in a new age of religion, or secularism, or anything? Answer: Nope.

Today’s American independents are a lot like some offspring of the affluent who have all they want, have nothing to prove to anyone, and don’t feel the need to right any great wrong. They get frustrated when our leaders regulate against growth and prosperity or don’t take action in commonsensical ways, but they are often responders more than initiators.

They are sure of things when they see something they don’t like, but they don’t have a shared universal agenda or great common hope for America’s third century.

Please Pass the Blame…

I am an independent, and I’m convinced that in many ways independents are the hope for America’s future. But it is our fault as independents that America hasn’t come together on any shared vision for America’s future.

The problem is that the lack of such an empowering shared national aspiration is making it hard for Washington and state governments to solve their lesser challenges. The 2010 Health Care law pushed America in the European direction, and independents pulled it back.

Invading Iraq moved the U.S. in the Renewed Superpower path, and independents pulled it back. Loyal minorities are supposed to keep great nations from making stupid mistakes, but uncommitted majorities can sometimes keep societies from doing anything big and important.

Ultimately, the problem is that nations can’t just remain in the status quo forever. They either progress or decline. And while nearly all independents want real national progress, without a shared national vision any country remains stuck in the present until its problems force decline.

Only bold action toward a common and stirring purpose leads to true national progress.

How can Washington get clear on its mission when its boss, the 40-plus percent which determines the elections, isn’t clear. As Thomas L. Friedman argued, as long as we’re addicted to oil and credit, how can we expect anything to really change? If China were sending incredibly huge amounts of money each month to Saudi Arabia, Americans would consider it an emergency situation.

But when we borrow the money from China and send it to Saudi Arabia for oil, nobody dares cry “wolf.”

Big Challenges and Choices

Big challenges are dealt with by making hard choices. The Left would choose to tighten our belt abroad, expand taxes and buy big government programs to hopefully further stimulate the economy. The Right would try to boost the economy by reducing taxes and regulation and also cutting government programs at home while expanding power globally to regain our “world leader” status.

You can argue or agree with these views, but at least they are clearly articulated.

I could argue that independents want the government to do its role—protect rights and create the environment for success—and for American innovation and initiation do the rest. But even this isn’t often articulated as a shared independent vision for America.

The strength of independents is also their weakness. They are, as a group, a bit wonkish. They study details. They think about specific government proposals and programs and support or oppose them based on the merits. This is good citizenship, but even in the age of teams (no great leaders) we still need great leaders.

Independents are doing what too many generations of Americans haven’t done: closely study the fine print of government actions and hold our elected and appointed officials to their roles. This level of transparency is a great development for freedom.

But to overcome our current challenges, and those ahead, we need more great leaders. Independents have given us the type of citizens who deserve great leaders, and now we need a Washington, a Lincoln, an FDR, a Reagan. Argue with any of their politics, but they brought America together with shared and rousing goals.

President Obama was elected with widespread independent support because many independents thought he would be such a leader. His ability to inspire the youth vote was a clear indication of this potential. So far he has not met that standard, but there is still time.

When an American president truly pleases independents, he or she will have become such a leader.

An Independent Vision

What the independent goals for America lack in great charismatic rhetoric they make up for in depth and quality. What the independents want from America’s government is precisely what is needed to resurrect freedom and prosperity.

Independents should take the blame for not more clearly articulating a great vision for America’s future.  But they shouldn’t apologize for thinking that if Washington will just get it right (not too much government, and not too little) the American people will do the rest.

Freedom really does work. And many independents may be loathe to support any big projects which will inevitably be overpromoted by a Washington addicted to doing too much.

Independents believe that both public and private institutions have vital roles in protecting freedom, and that it is time for the government to do its part—and no more. Whatever future we eventually choose, its success will depend on the government following this independent vision.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder and former president of George Wythe University, a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd Online.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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Blame Independents