The I’s Have It

We strive for all Americans to be properly and even proportionately represented at all levels of government, right? That’s why we appropriately celebrate when glass ceilings are shattered in elections.


Well, imagine if I told you that 35 percent of Americans are underrepresented in Washington. No elected official stands for what they want. That is the case but maybe it’s changing.  


Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema just announced a change in her party registration from Democratic to Independent. She’s got lots of company.  


According to Gallup, 35% a plurality of Americans regard themselves as Independents, not Republicans or Democrats. The number of Independents routinely exceeds the alternatives.    


In Arizona, according to the latest data as of the time of the midterm, it’s the same story. 33.9 percent of Arizonans regard themselves as “other” in comparison to 30.7 percent who say Democratic, or 34.7 percent who say Republican. Something’s wrong when so many of us have no one we can look to who is similarly registered. 


Angus King and Bernie Sanders regard themselves as “I”’s, but rarely exhibit the maverick behavior of Sinema. Heck, Bernie runs for President every four years as a “D.” Viewed this way, the House of Representatives and Senate do not look like America. Maybe that now changes.  


Senator Sinema’s explanation, published in the Arizona Republic, reads like a transcript of one of my Saturday morning commentaries:  


“Everyday Americans are increasingly left behind by national parties’ rigid partisanship, which has hardened in recent years. Pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges, allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities and expecting the rest of us to fall in line.”


“In catering to the fringes, neither party has demonstrated much tolerance for diversity of thought. Bipartisan compromise is seen as a rarely acceptable last resort, rather than the best way to achieve lasting progress. Payback against the opposition party has replaced thoughtful legislating.” 


“Americans are told that we have only two choices Democrat or Republican and that we must subscribe wholesale to policy views the parties hold, views that have been pulled further and further toward the extremes.” 


Sad but all true. 


We’ve surrendered the playing surface to the loudest voices in the media and in Washington. 


Some cynically say this is all about Sinema’s survival, noting that she’d have trouble winning a Democratic primary in 2024. That’s actually more telling about primaries. If Jeff Flake couldn’t survive a primary as an Arizona Republican, and Sinema can’t survive as an Arizona Democrat, then we have a primary problem in this country.  


Nuance is not tolerated, and the way to fix that is get the states that have closed primaries to open them up.   


In Arizona, for Congressional and State seats, Independents have to register 29 days in advance for one party’s primary or the other. But they have no such leeway for Presidential elections. 


Consider that if only there were a few more like Sinema, the balance of power would shift to Independents who might then see value in caucusing with one another instead of sitting with the two parties, so as to hold onto committee assignments.   


And then the I’s would really have it. 


Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.

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