Independent--Party or Empty Slogan?

Jeff Alworth

The Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) is getting a lot of attention lately, not least because IPO Secretary Sal Peralta suggested that donations were required if candidates were to earn the party's favor. (He hastily walked back from those comments.) Thanks to a new fusion voting law, candidates can run under the banner of more than one party, and everyone wants to have that word "Independent" appear after their name. And why not? It's great branding, like hardy, trustworthy, and true. Everyone considers themselves an "independent." But herein lies the trouble--what exactly is an Independent?

We're at a particular moment in American politics that appears once every few decades. Eras are defined by governing philosophies, and no matter which party is in power, deference is offered to them. We had the great progressive era of the three-initial presidents (FDR, JFK, LBJ) which ushered in enormous gains in civil rights and social justice. This led to a conservative era of Reagan, defined by a reliance on market solutions and antagonism toward government. In between eras are periods of transition, marked by confusion and flamboyance. In the 60s and 70s, the liberals were the ones who were getting all the attention with their radical politics, marches, and minor acts of terrorism. George McGovern was the candidate who defined a generation--yet he suffered one of the worst losses in American presidential history. Liberals misread the signs and they doubled down on ideological orthodoxy, leading to 40 years of failure.

The current era of transition began after the 2006 election and looks quite a bit like the one during the 60s and 70s. Conservatives are the ones engaging in radical politics, marches, and minor acts of terrorism. The response is the same--seeking greater ideological purity. Sarah Palin may be the McGovern of this generation. Confusion is the rule, and it breeds lots of interesting responses. The Tea Party movement is one, but Oregon's Independent Party is another one.

In comments to a BlueOregon post last week, Jonathan Poisner observed that has "no unifying theory or interest holding it together." As far as I can tell, he's exactly right. Nothing on the website suggests core beliefs. Wrong, said Peralta:

If you want a unifying theme of the IPO, here it is: We want less partisanship, less special interest control over the legislative process, greater transparency in government, and more input from people who identify themselves as political Independents, regardless of whether they are members of the IPO.

I don't doubt that these are Peralta's goals, but they're not ones a political party is well-suited to address. Parties are useful at pulling together coalitions of like-minded groups to pass legislation beneficial to them. Lower regulations on business, for example, or greater funding for schools. The goals Peralta identifies are gauzy, feel-good ideas that everyone agrees with in the abstract, but which no group is pushing for. Less partisanship? How does a political party help? More input from people, greater transparency in government--nice, but again, who's going to rally around these? The one policy-based issue he cites, special interests, is a constant theme in American politics--but not a particularly potent one. In a recent Pew poll of voter priorities, lobbying finished 19th out of 21 priorities. Fixing the economy and providing jobs, that's what Americans want. About these issues the Independent Party is silent.

America has entered a time where politics and governing philosophies have gotten scrambled. Various groups are charging into the chaos in an effort to give it meaning. An Independent Party could thrive in Oregon--lots of voters have indicated they're not happy with the Democratic or Republican Parties. But these voters didn't abandon their party because it wasn't transparent enough or was too partisan--they abandoned it because it wasn't effective. Independents in Oregon run the spectrum from very liberal to very conservative, and they don't form a natural constituency. If the IPO is going to become anything more than an election-year bauble candidates affix to their name, it's going to have to figure out how to knit some of these people together. With real ideas to address real issues. Until then, it's just a slogan.

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    "Fixing the economy and providing jobs, that's what Americans want. About these issues the Independent Party is silent."

    Yesterday on KPOJ, Sal noted that jobs are the #1 issue identified by IPO members in a recent survey.

    But identifying the problem isn't enough. Ask just about any demographic slice, and you'll get the same answer. After all, it's the economy, stupid.

    It's not as if the IPO has a unique or creative solution to the problem of economic growth - or an ideological thrust that addresses economic growth.

    I'm with Poisner on this. The Independent Party is a bumper sticker masquerading as a party. The very fact that the IPO's leadership had to conduct polls to find out what their own membership thinks tells you that there's no meaningful substance there. It's a random cross-section of Oregonians who share nothing more in common than a dislike of political parties.

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      Here is a party with very definite views: Progressive Party of Oregon, as illustrated by the table on its home page.

      I would expect Kari to respond that Progressive Party is just a bunch of spoilers. Am I wrong about that?

      Minor parties just can't win with Kari. Either they stand for nothing (and are therefor bad), or they stand for something (and are therefor spoilers and thus also bad). Am I wrong about that?

      I see another inconsistency in this thread. Folks attack the Independent Party for not running very many of its own, unique candidates (although 9 of them are running in the IP primary this July). Focusing almost exclusively on cross-nominations of major party candidates is the strategy of the Working Families Party. But I see no attacks on the WFP for that reason. Since the WFP focuses on cross-nominating major party candidates, does that mean that the WFP stands for nothing?

      Further, if the Independent Party were to nominate dozens of its own, unique candidates, wouldn't the commenters on this thread denounce them as "spoilers"?

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      I'm with Poisner on this. The Independent Party is a bumper sticker masquerading as a party. The very fact that the IPO's leadership had to conduct polls to find out what their own membership thinks tells you that there's no meaningful substance there. It's a random cross-section of Oregonians who share nothing more in common than a dislike of political parties.

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    Isn't Independent Party an oxymoron?

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      Yes, it's always seemed that way to me. Contrarianism is not a cohesive political philosophy. Part of being an independent is abstaining from a party-oriented policy platform; in so doing they also abstain from the policy process in general.

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      Kinda like the Organization of American Anarchists.

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        Mitchell Gore, there are different types of anarchists and they differ somewhat in their emphasis, but they all definitely have specific ideology. Look it up.

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    The ideolgical orthodoxy that liberals doubled down on in 1972 was a hope to end one of the great holocausts of the 20th century.

    If there's any doubt about that statement, consider just the facts of the aerial bombing of SE Asia: over 3x the total tonnage of all ordnance used by all sides in World War 2 were dropped by the USA on three countries, from the years 1964-73. Nixon was responsible for about 2/3 of that.

    Laos alone had one thousand pounds of bombs for every person living in the country dropped upon it, from 1964-73.

    So, if ideological orthodoxy means an end to a criminal war, what other choice do we have?

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    I mean one could interpret the "doubling down on ideological orthodoxy" of having supported McGovern as having been a mistake, because, allegedly, it lead into the conservative era?

    My previous post illustrates that that is beside the point. What had to be done was to try to stop the bombing of SE Asia. There was no choice for decent people but to support MCGovern.

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    Stephen, I don't mean to belittle McGovern or the people who worked on his campaign. And I certainly don't mean to belittle the anti-war effort.

    My point is that, rather than tack back toward a pragmatist liberalism, the left went a bit crazy. The left also cauterized itself from much of American politics by saying things like "there was no choice for decent people but to support McGovern." Sixty percent of the country didn't, and they were the ones who formed the ruling bloc over the next 40 years.

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    Jeff, I stand by it: if a person had any knowledge of the extent of destruction of SE Asia and they still supported Nixon, I will question their decency as a human being. Politics be damned.

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    I don't know if this development supports the Sal Peralta agenda for Oregon, but Prop 14 just won in California, creating non-partisan open primaries.

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    Bill, Sal was a supporter of this primary concept when it was last on the Oregon Ballot in 2008 (Measure 65). But I'll let him advocate his own case on that.

    I find it heavily ironic (or maybe it's more of an "of course!") that this measure succeeded in a primary season which featured HUGE wins for uber-corporate candidates Fiorina and Whitman.

    We are in the new day of post- Citizens United. Are "open" (i.e. free-for-all primaries all that splendid? I can see the airwaves dominated by clever campaigns extolling the virtues of 2 corporatist candidates. Before the General Election, the corps will already have won.

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    If the IPO does, as Sal Peralta states, have some unifying values and principles then where are its standard-bearers, where are its own candidates? Parties as diverse as the Green, Constitution, Libertarian, etc., nominate candidates. The IPO seems to want to trade its "nomination" to major party candidates in exchange for the legitimacy they confer. Not the mention the confusion the name causes, I speak to a lot of voters and the number of NAVs who identify with the label "indepentent" without realizing that there is an Independent Party makes me wonder how many voters registered Independent actually know that it is a partisan organization.

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    Unlike most of the commenters here, Albany Democrat-Herald editor Hasso Hering easily found a unifying theme in the positions advocated on the Independent Party of Oregon website:

    "These ideas have in common that they favor state politics in which the average citizens gain influence and the special interests — especially the interests with lots of money — have less. The details are open to debate, but that’s not a bad program for which to campaign."

    The full editorial is at:

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