As the nation becomes increasingly polarized, the reality of politics becomes ever more obvious. Nothing illustrates that better than the recent circus (and subsequent side show) surrounding the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
Even before Kavanaugh was nominated, a number of Democratic senators stated they would vote against whomever President Trump nominated for the open Supreme Court seat.
Twelve years ago, no controversy surrounded Kavanaugh’s appointment to the federal appeals court in Washington, where he has served and earned a distinguished reputation.
Resistance to his Supreme Court nomination was strictly political, as Democrats saw his presence as up-ending a bench that has leaned largely to the left in recent years.
Kavanaugh’s qualifications were never in question; his anticipated originalist (conservative) interpretation of the Constitution, and the fact that he was nominated by a Republican president were the issues that motivated Democrats to use gutter politics to block his confirmation.
Republicans have also taken their turn at blocking and attempting to derail Supreme Court nominations, but the confirmation process has never before descended so deeply into the sewer of partisanship. That’s largely because the abyss between the ideologies of the Republican and Democrat parties has never been as wide as it is currently.
That abyss seems to have convinced Democrats that they are on an island that -- in the unforgettable words of US Rep. Hank Johnson -- is at risk of capsizing. The desperation in Senator Feinstein’s handling of the allegations against Kavanaugh is emblematic of the party’s desperation to block virtually every initiative of Republicans in general and President Trump in particular.
On the other hand, Republicans tried to block virtually every initiative of Democrats in general and Obama in particular. And while each side points to the other as being the cause of the current state of affairs, both are responsible, simply because they have evolved in diametrically opposed directions.
Fifty years ago, the parties overlapped to a degree; Southern Democrats typically voted in concert with the majority of Republicans. Those days are long gone -- as Democrats continually moved to the left, Southern Democrats became Republicans.
Consequently, both parties have become analogous to football teams, with one squaring off against the other. Party leaders are the quarterbacks, senators and representatives are the blockers, running backs and receivers, and voters are the team owners who decide who gets on the team.
Without a viable independent candidate, voters have to choose between a Democrat and a Republican. But regardless of a candidate’s stated positions and promises, if elected, he or she will almost certainly vote the party line because that’s the only way to gain sufficient support to get things done.
As an example, when I asked a state senator why he voted for a particularly odious bill that essentially disemboweled an existing city, his response was that he felt obliged to accommodate a party colleague (the bill’s author). The legislation passed largely because a majority of the author’s colleagues voted out of party loyalty, not on the merits of the bill.
The same type of accommodation exists at the federal level as clearly demonstrated during the Kavanaugh confirmation.
Lisa Murkowski was the only Republican who did not vote in favor of confirmation and Joe Manchin was the only Democrat who voted to confirm. Murkowski’s “Present” vote was an accommodation to Republican leadership as Senator Steve Daines was at his daughter’s wedding and unable to attend. Had Daines been there, Murkowski would have been a “no” vote.
In the aftermath of the confirmation, both Manchin and Murkowski have been banished to the sidelines by their respective parties. Their ability to serve their constituents by moving legislation forward has all but vaporized. Their only hope at remaining relevant is to strike a deal with members of the opposite party.
Conventional wisdom holds that voting for a third-party candidate is the best opportunity independent voters have to change the status quo. Yet history has shown that tactic succeeds primarily in taking votes away from the more moderate of the major party candidates.
In fact, until truly viable third-party candidates appear on a ballot, the best opportunity independent voters have to effect significant change is to vote in primary elections.
There are independent-minded candidates on both sides of the aisle, but they typically don’t make it to the general election ballot because they can’t muster sufficient party support. Independent voters can change that, just as extremist voters have upset traditional party candidates in a number of states.
Although it’s a general election, not a primary, California’s senatorial race may prove to be a blueprint for independent voters; Feinstein’s opponent is also a Democrat. (California has an open primary in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, move to the general election.)
Since the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Feinstein’s lead over opponent Kevin de Leon has cratered. It would be a master touch of irony if Feinstein’s highly partisan actions led to her defeat at the hands of independent voters.
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