Redefining Our Terms: How Discussing Politics in America Needs to Change

As the political divide between the Republican and Democratic parties widens and voters increasingly reject not only major party candidates, but an election system that disenfranchises millions of voters nationwide and disenchants millions more, it is important to examine the traditional “red versus blue” paradigm and whether or not certain terms can still apply — or were ever truly applicable — in the contemporary political environment.

Current trends suggest that the number of voters who choose not to register with the Republican and Democratic parties will continue to rise while a plurality of voters now choose to self-identify as independent of either major party. A majority of Americans no longer believe either party represents America and partisan gridlock has gotten so bad that the Legislative Branch is no longer productive or even functional.

The result of all this is an increased call to “moderate the nation’s politics,” but what exactly does this mean? Is the goal to just find a solution that falls somewhere between Republican and Democratic ideals? Or, is the goal to get lawmakers to focus on the most critical issues facing their constituents and finding practical and pragmatic solutions that actually work?

How does one define moderate or centrist? In the current political environment, centrists are often defined as people who hold a mix of conservative and liberal ideas, but as Chad Peace appropriately asks, “What if some voters are “left” of the Democrats on some issues, and “right” of the Republicans on others?” Can that really be described as a form of moderation? The short answer is no.

IVN contributor Josh Alvarez points out that people often make the mistake of confusing the terms “independent” and “moderate.”

If we want to look at problems from a truly independent-minded perspective, then we need to be willing to redefine the questions we ask and the terms we use.
Shawn M. Griffiths, IVN Editor-in-Chief
Analysts like to say independents lean toward one party or the other as if these voters are standing in the middle of two poles — swaying to one side or the other. Yet, a closer examination of so-called “moderates” shows that these voters are just as likely to hold extreme positions on various issues as partisan voters — sometimes even more extreme.

So, how is the term “moderate” appropriate?

There may indeed be people who believe that somewhere between Republican and Democratic ideals, there is a practical solution to be found. However, what would the moderate view on privacy be? If many Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree on, say, NSA surveillance, how would the “middle” be defined?

Further, suggesting that merely finding a moderate or bipartisan solution to a problem is going to produce a positive result suggests that we should continue to look at issues the same way.

Bipartisan solutions have, historically, not resulted in real solutions. At best, these “solutions” just kick the proverbial can down the road for the next generation to deal with. At worst, the middle-of-the-road approach can have an adverse effect and make things harder for the next generation.

The reason this happens is because the bipartisan approach often looks at issues and topics the same way.

How has the partisan conversation on the economy, taxes, foreign affairs, national security, defense, etc. changed over the years? The party leaders may change, but the conversation always stays the same.

Republicans and Democrats look at issues the same way they always have. They continue to ask the same questions and yet the answers given to these questions have not successfully resulted in real solutions, even when the answers are combined to form bipartisan compromise.

To have a real conversation about voters, elections, ending partisan gridlock, increasing voter turnout, and solving the most critical issues facing the nation, we first need to re-evaluate the way we examine problems.

While the initial response to this may be that it is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated, it is something people rarely do. The temptation is to look at problems the same way because society has been conditioned to look at them a certain way. We rarely think about questions that are not being examined, but could benefit the problem-solving process.

People talk about taking a “bipartisan” or “centrist-leaning” approach without actually defining what that means or taking the time to ask if such an approach actually works. If we want to look at problems from a truly independent-minded perspective, then we need to be willing to redefine the questions we ask and the terms we use.