It is officially the Halloween season. Why you ask? Well, all my son talks about is his costume, pumpkins, and candy. Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, the grocery stores have moved all the healthy food into the store rooms in back to make floor space for the M & M’s displays. Halloween is a unique time of the year. Any other evening, most Americans will pretend that they are not home when the doorbell rings. TV volume gets turned real low. Blinds are quickly shut. The entire family huddles on the floor as though the Terminator stands on their porch scanning the interior of the house with infrared vision. We teach our children street safety: 1. Never talk to strangers, 2. Never open the door for a stranger, 3. Never go to a stranger’s house. Yet, on one night a year, all that get’s thrown out the door. It is the one night a year otherwise sensible adults dress up like fools. The one night when it is okay to peer into the homes of complete strangers. To march our children up to dark doors in order to grovel for candy.
In an election year, it means something else entirely.
The scary specters at our door wear the most frightening things of all: No masks to hide their pleading faces; their costumes come in various colors and slogans. “Trick or treat” is not in their vocabulary. Their goody bag is for you! They are young–they are full of optimism. They are old–they are jaded. They are political canvassers.
As Halloween approaches, I wonder why I have not been besieged by these marauding solicitors, these pesky political canvassers that frighten us so. As a registered Independent, I wonder where my name has ended up? Especially here in Colorado. I naturally assumed that I would be fending them off with a sharp, hot poker. Instead, we’ve had visitors at the door for my wife, all belonging to her party, reminding her to vote.
Much has been made of the “independent voter” in this election year. A 2011 USA Today article highlighted the dwindling party affiliations, and commented that the politician who wins office this November will be the one who “is attractive to unaffiliated voters.”
But are we, the independent, the unaffiliated, truly independent? I’d like to think that I am. Having grown up in a home where American politics was rarely discussed–my parents are Dutch immigrants–I grew up apolitical. As a historian, and teacher of history, I try to stay neutral, to praise and belittle wherever praise and belittling is necessary.
In 1918, Charles F. Dole published The New American Citizen: The Essentials of Civics and Economics. In his study of politics in America, Dole said,
Among men, as in the schoolroom, there are some who always ask questions and want to know the reason of things…. Such as these, who think for themselves, and dare to stand alone, make independents in politics. Sometimes they are wrongheaded, or unsympathetic, or unsocial…. But it is important to have independent men in every community.
They are likely to prefer the good of the country to the success of their party. They will not act with their party, or will leave it, if it is wrong. If the other party changes, as parties sometimes change, and advocates measures that they believe in; if they change their own minds, as sensible men sometimes must; if the other party puts forward better candidates; or if a new party arises, the independent voters are willing to act wherever they believe that they can best secure the public welfare. They therefore help to keep the great parties right.
Does Charles Dole describe today’s independent?
If you ask most “independents” where they stand on various issues, you would probably find that today’s independent is more closely associated with one of the two major parties than they’d like to believe themselves. They hide their partisanship like child secrets the best candy from their Halloween stash from siblings… or parents. Others claim unaffiliated just because they don’t want to be drawn into a conversation around one of the three social faux pas at a dinner party: Politics, Religion, and Sex. With how vehemently people hold their politics, it is a safe route. (NPR, The American Prospect)
Are the divisive natures of the main parties alienating the moderate bloc?
Could these be our “independents”?
Are the parties changing, as Dole says they are wont to do, and are their constituents growing weary of the extremism coming from the two dominant parties? If they are changing, then are the voters thinking and looking not what is best for the party, but what is best for the country?
Unfortunately, listening to my peer circle, I would have to say no. Sectarianism still rules.
That doesn’t mean that people like me, the true independent, a person who seeks what is best for society like I look for what is best in my classroom still exists. We are out there. We are not less engaged. We are politically active and want to be convinced that a candidate is truly, overall, best for the country. Does that mean that I cannot accept a candidate who might be wrongheaded on issues? No. Does that mean I should dismiss a candidate who is unsympathetic? No. With as many “politically correct” issues, lobbyists in Washington, and demands placed on our civic leadership, they are bound to come off as wrongheaded on an issue or unsympathetic to a specific group. This does not mean that they are bad for all? No.
So, I will wait. I will pick at the Halloween candy sitting in a bowl by the door waiting the for the kids dressed in the latest superhero fad, princesses, or cartoon characters. I will keep my eye out for the Obama or Romney costume, hoping, in vain, that I will be visited like Scrooge by the ghosts of politics present. I will open my door to strangers, and I will keep my light on just in case a canvasser swings by and tries to woo me. Just don’t come by my house thinking the good candy is still in the bowl.