Budget negotiations have finally crossed the line from gamesmanship to showmanship.
The Democrat plan released recently only temporarily reduces the federal deficit and adds about $1 trillion in new taxes — only a fool would think the GOP would touch it. The Republicans still refuse to pass a budget that does not include repealing Obamacare, which will of course neither get past the Senate, nor the president. Clearly, neither side is serious about passing a budget, but only in scoring political points with donors and voters in their own gerrymandered districts.
The problem, of course, isn't just with the budget, but the immobility of both parties. Now that there is general agreement that America is heading in "the wrong direction," each side must make the other look responsible for it. Rick Santorum's CPAC speech predictably blamed the left's infidelity to The Declaration of Independence for America's dark times. Even in his second term, President Obama continues to blame the GOP's "outdated" philosophy for America's problems. The only thing both parties seem to have in common is the same obstinately partisan tunnel vision and a willingness to vilify anyone who disagrees.
As we're witnessing the ossification of party politics, there is a glimmer of hope that a new system is arising with independence as the new political fashion. Pollsters Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen heralded a "pre-revolutionary" change afoot in the Wall Street Journal two years ago, noting that 57% of Americans see a need for a third party and 69% believe the federal government does not have the consent of the governed. With these record highs — coupled with another record high — that 40% of American voters are now registered "independent," it is evident that a growing discontent with political parties seems to be dominating public opinion.
Independence from party groupthink may be the new norm in the coming years, and libertarians in Congress are already leading the charge, speaking to principles and issues over insults and demagoguery. T heir style, as well as their substance, may be the last hope to create a well of good faith that conservatives, liberals and anyone else can draw from.
Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.), for example, has shown an ability to cross the aisle on important issues. Amash is strong in opposing SOPA, PIPA, the NDAA, and drone strikes on Americans as well as war in the Middle East, issues that play well with many young grassroots progressives. He also bucked his own party on the budget issue — losing a seat in the House Budget Committee as punishment. The loss merely served to enhance his brand among the conservative grassroots, and his star continues to rise.
In addition to the positive attention he received by the Huffington Post, The Atlantic and many others in the progressive milieu for his filibuster in defense of civil liberties, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has crossed the aisle again, introducing a bill with Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy to eliminate federal mandatory minimum sentencing, something few in his own party would ever dare touch, particularly in this hyper-partisan era.
Independence for libertarians is like water to fish, and it has served to improve political clout of the libertarian wing of the GOP even before Senator Paul's historic filibuster turned him into "the new voice of the GOP" according to analysts as diverse as Pat Buchanan and Mo Elleithee. Rand Paul is part of a movement that may be the first generation of politicians that embraces the obsolescence of party politics and all the two-faced histrionics that go with it.
Libertarians can get away with this because they have broken the electoral mold — following in the footsteps of former Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas), they have proven they can get elected without pandering, telling their constituents comforting falsehoods at the expense of difficult truths, and putting particular interests over principles. As long as people continue to prefer a clear message and intellectual consistency to partisanship, this bodes well for American politics.
As most of us are aware, the internet is moving to help create new changes as well, not in the least because it has granted quicker access to information: virtually anyone can look up a bill in mere minutes and tell whether they are being lied to. It also has begun to shift power out of the hands of party bigwigs and scattered what used to be a rigid pyramid structure.
Decentralized political structures and grassroots energy, mostly coordinated online by smaller groups and non-profits, are slowly taking the place of the old party system. The parties know this, which is why GOP Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican establishment have suddenly embraced Rand Paul. The filibuster’s enormous popularity showed them the writing on the wall; the party leadership is recognizing the decentralized libertarian and Tea Party activist network is fast becoming new model to elect conservatives, given the victories of fiercely independent senators like Paul and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over establishment candidates, and contrasted with Romney's crushing defeat last year.
The return to independent thought in American politics is slow and arduous, but palpable. The future looks promising. As Alexis du Tocqueville noted: "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."