Independents and Ideological Purism

In an op-ed USA Today's editorial board voices concern about the excess of political polarization in US politics, bemoaning the lack of bipartisanship and moderation in a "two party system of oil and water." They write:
Within both parties, ideological conformity is increasingly seen as a virtue. If the parties aren't sharply demarcated, the argument goes, voters will be confused or unsatisfied with the choices. In reality, the parties and interest groups care more about ideological purity than do voters. About a third of all voters call themselves independents. Many more are willing to cross party lines for the right candidate. But for the officeholder, the political middle has increasingly become a dangerous place.
The argument in favor of sharply demarcated parties to which the editorial refers is a fundamental aspect of the so-called 'responsible party model' of government, developed in the middle of the twentieth century, and mentioned here the other day. The irony of this state of affairs, however, is that ideological polarization between the duopoly parties paradoxically underscores their similarity: they have become mirror images of one another, mired in the same hypocrisies, versed in the same rhetorical strategies, and beholden to the same oligarchical interests.

It is thus not surprising that many people have declared their independence from the duopoly parties. A quick sampling . . . A Happy Camper at Meandering Thoughts considers the state of the Republican Party, writing, "I'm not sure I believe in the old two-party system Republican and Democrat. Either party seems to be a blend of the other." Food for Thought would seem to agree, arguing that the two-party system is archaic, and cannot but fail to represent large portions of the electorate.

What the bipartisan fetishists like those at the USA Today cannot seem to comprehend is that the quality of being an independent within the context of the two-party system is not non-ideological. Rather than read voter independence as a principled ideological stance, they infantilize the public and interpret independent voting as the pinnacle of middle-of-the-road pragmatism and moderation. This is the height of ideological purism. Discontent with the duopoly system and its corresponding ideology is purged of all political motivation and intent.

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