Liberal, Not Democrat: What It Means to Be Independent
I’ve contemplated writing this post for a long time. I really struggled with what I would want to say and how I would want to frame it. Even now, I’m not entirely certain, but this is what I know for sure: both political parties in America need us. They cannot win without us. And yet, neither party understands us, and they make no real attempts to do so. I think there’s a misconception that most independent voters choose to vote for third parties. Occasionally, this is true, but I would not say it is common. We understand the danger that poses. If we do vote, it’s always for who we feel is “the lesser of two evils.”
For independent voters, this could legitimately be the Republicans or the Democrats. We’ll consider both candidates, but we’ll also lean more toward one party than the other. For example, I am an independent voter, but I cannot recall ever voting for a Republican. When I vote, it’s usually for a Democrat. You might make the mistake of thinking of me as an IINO (Independent In Name Only), but this would genuinely not describe me. Just because I lean left doesn’t mean I’m a Democrat. In reality, I am far left of the Democrats on most issues, but I also support some traditionally Republican ideas, and there’s a lot of things I don’t like about either party. I’m an independent because I genuinely do not fit into either party. Remember this. It’s important.
Many independents in our country simply stay home on Election Day. We often don’t vote at all, because we don’t believe either party has our interests at heart or we believe it doesn’t matter who we vote for. In the case of the latter, this is because we don’t see any substantive difference in the outcome of elections. Clearly, there are some stark differences now, and perhaps there always has been. Unfortunately, those differences have only made the problem worse for independents. We truly do not fit into either party anymore. This is a fact our country is going to have to come to terms with.
For an independent who leans right, it is best to think of them more as centrists: what was right a few years ago no longer is. These voters are now completely disenfranchised. They have no voice in government and the last election has probably left them feeling pretty morose. For an independent who leans left, their hopes have been dashed twice now (Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders).
The horseshoe theory does not apply to independents. It might make you feel better to think of us this way, but it would be false, and you will have further alienated people like me. Independents are rational thinkers: we are not interested in purity tests or homogeneity. We look at individuals. We don’t need to agree with them on everything. Largely, we just want to know they’re sane, they’ll govern well, and they share our worldview to a fair extent.
As an independent on the left, I’ve never connected with any candidate in my adulthood until Barack Obama in 2008. What’s so interesting about that is how many other people also connected with him. He gave me hope, belief we would finally move in a direction that supports my desires. I deeply respect this man, but he disappointed me, and I did not vote for him again in 2012. I suspect this is true for other independent voters as well.
If you’re feeling offended by this, it’s important to understand why I stayed home. From my perspective at the time, he hadn’t lived up to his campaign rhetoric. He promised a lot and I did not see that materialize. I understand the repugnant treatment he received by the current incarnation of the Republican Party, but he had two years with a super-majority. He didn’t take advantage of that. He should have. I’m sorry to have to say it, but he let me down. It is what it is. But he never lost my respect. I’m not blowing smoke when I say I deeply respect him.
I’m being brutally honest right now, knowing some of you will judge me for this, because I want you to understand. I’m far from unique. For someone like me, Hillary Clinton was never an option. And when she ran in 2016, I was incredibly disappointed. I saw it as a coronation, plain and simple. This has nothing to do with misogyny in my case. I realize some of you will never believe that, but I am certain of this fact. I’m gay, and I’ve always had very liberal views on gender. I’m extremely sensitive and share a lot of other traits that aren’t considered manly. I rejected gender roles long ago. I did not like her because I genuinely believed she was corrupt. Not to mention, I was a very strong advocate of the Run Warren Run campaign. She was my first choice!
As a result, I actually started looking more closely at the Republicans, and I had a sincere interest in Marco Rubio at the time. Later, I would learn what a mistake that would have been, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. When Bernie Sanders came along, I didn’t pay him much attention at first. It was obvious he would never be the nominee. I didn’t know anything about him. And I had just been burned by President Obama, and I didn’t want to repeat that experience. But then he started making headway, and I learned more and more about him.
He seemed completely genuine and consistent, over decades. That appealed to me greatly. That narrative was a very powerful one for me and other independents: a principled individual who had the history and the voting record to prove it. He spoke about issues I felt very strongly about, but even then I remained skeptical for a lot longer than most. It wasn’t until I saw the way the media treated him and comments from Hillary Clinton herself that were verifiably false that I began to develop a connection to him. And it certainly did not help that she also offended me with her LGBTQ+ comments about Nancy Reagan. That was hurtful. (Aside: Please watch “How to Survive a Plague” on Netflix.)
At the same time, Hillary was facing a legitimate issue from her use of a private server while working as our top government diplomat. I have no doubt you are tired of hearing about this issue, and in one sense I don’t blame you, but in another I do, because I’ve seen very little honesty on this issue. She repeatedly lied and obfuscated what was obvious to everyone (including her supporters): she didn’t want her emails subject to scrutiny. It’s that simple. There’s no other logical reason for what she did. We all know this. I could not understand why she wouldn’t just admit to that. I still don’t get it. By not doing so, it made her look more guilty to independents like me, and that story just wouldn’t go away. Had she been honest, I would have respected her a great deal more, even with the bias I had.
You have to understand: in many ways, she reinforced the narrative that she was dishonest. This wasn’t brainwashing by Bernie Sanders or Russian bots. It’s a fact that she made poor choices that hurt her image with independents like me. I have just laid out some of them for you. I don’t want to rehash an election that is over. I just want you to understand that as an independent, my loyalty is not and has never been to the Democrats, so when I look at a candidate like her and see the hypocrisy noted above, it’s going to affect my opinion of her way more than it would if I was a Democrat. But you must also understand I’m not a Republican: my bias wasn’t personal, and I did not hate her. She could have won me over. (In fact, she did: her concession speech was the most honest and raw I had ever seen her and she moved me then. That’s the person I wish had run in 2016.)
At any rate, I began to really like Bernie Sanders. I definitely liked his message. Like Barack Obama, he gave me hope of a future that I want to live in. I believe many (possibly even most) problems in our country are traced back to economic inequality. If you grow up poor, your life is going to be difficult. Some will turn to crime and/or drugs. Most won’t get a very good education. They’ll suffer from health issues and a lack of healthcare access. They are more likely to develop depression. It’s just not a good life and that’s going to seep into every facet of their lives. These issues matter a great deal to me. No one should have to live in poverty in this country. I truly believe we could fix this if we just had the will to do so. Special interests, corruption, inequality, profit motives: all of these things and more prevent us from improving the lives of all Americans.
So if you can understand all of this, you can understand why I wanted Bernie and why I disliked Hillary. For a while, I was even #BernieOrBust. If I were a selfish person, I probably would have remained so too. But Hillary was running against Donald. That was problematic. I knew how many people he would harm. So I publicly said I would vote for Hillary: not for myself, but for all the people Donald would hurt. And I did, I voted for her. I did not regret doing this. To me, as an independent voter, she was “the lesser of two evils.” I also felt very strongly a man like Donald Trump should have been rebuked by all fifty states, so that no one ever again tried to become president the way that he did. There’s no excuse for that man.
Here’s where I got things wrong: I let Bernie Sanders rhetoric reinforce my opinion of Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t a villain. She made a mistake with the server and because she has been attacked so much in her life, she just doesn’t react the way others would have. She has done a great deal of good over a very long career. I didn’t get to know her. If I had, maybe some of what I saw wouldn’t have felt so important. I wasn’t aware of the chilling effect that women were experiencing at the time. I sincerely had no idea. At the end of the day, it took a man like Donald Trump for me to look at Hillary Clinton with fresh eyes. I regret it took this. And I apologized to Hillary Clinton and her supporters both here and here.
But that doesn’t change the fact that she was a problematic candidate for independent voters.
The election of Donald Trump shook me to my core, like so many others. It still shocks me that so many tens of millions of people could have voted for him. There are three things I think contributed to his winning. First, a lot of people were willing to overlook his inexcusable behavior. Second, a lot of independents couldn’t bring themselves to vote at all in this election. And third, he very likely took advantage of insecure voting machines in a few key districts in order to win the Electoral College.
Hillary should be president right now, but the reality is that if any other candidate had been running against Donald Trump, he would have squarely lost. I am convinced of this because two of the three reasons he won would not have applied. Independents wouldn’t have stayed home and it’s harder to rig an election when considerably more people vote. I’m not saying Bernie Sanders could have beat Donald Trump because he’s Bernie Sanders. I’m saying Donald Trump won because he was running against Hillary Clinton, someone who had too much baggage with independent voters. This is a mistake that Democrats are repeating, even now. They still haven’t learned this lesson. It’s why I’m writing this.
As I said in the beginning, neither major party can win without winning independent voters. I often heard the argument that if I wanted someone other than Hillary Clinton to be the nominee, I should register as a Democrat so I can “participate in the process.” Do you have any idea how arrogant that is? I’ve explained to you why you cannot expect to turn me into a Democrat. I’m an independent voter: if you want my vote, earn it by selecting a candidate I can get behind, or change election laws so I have more viable choices. The truth is the Democrats and the Republicans have rigged our election process to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else. And if I join your party and attempt to change it, I’m an infiltrator. If I remain independent, it’s “my fault for not joining a party.” And third parties are not viable candidates in this country for many inexcusable reasons. I am damned no matter what I do. There’s no party representing me or my interests in Washington, D.C.
So there’s the crux of the problem. We live in a country where tens of millions of independent voters are disenfranchised because they’re not given enough choice. Why can’t I vote for a third party without ruining the chances of a major party? This is in and of itself a form of voter suppression. Give us choice and we’ll turn out to the polls. You want that, don’t you? Why are we forced to choose between two candidates every four years? There are many other problems as well: everything from gerrymandering to racist voter laws to outright election fraud, not to mention the Electoral College literally making it so some votes are worth more than others. We need to comprehensively reform voting in this country, and I’ll explore that in a future post.
This is what I want to leave you with for now: I don’t really care that much about Bernie Sanders, but I do care that you treat him with such disdain, because ultimately you’re insulting me when you do that. I hate that you still throw around words like “Bernie Bros” and just assume anyone who supported him in the primary fall into whatever category that’s supposed to be. I care that you still don’t seem to understand what an independent voter actually is. There are certainly a fringe group of people who are solidly behind him, but they are not the voters I’m describing to you here. We are independent voters: we are not beholden to any candidate. But we are interested in their ideas, and we’d like an opportunity to vote for those ideas.
Donald Trump wouldn’t be president right now, the Republican Party would not be dismantling our democracy right now, if we had fair election laws in this country that gave a sincere voice to independent voters like myself. It’s not fair to continue putting us in this situation of choosing between two candidates. Just because it’s “always been this way” doesn’t make it right, fair, or dependable. Right now, I’m forced to vote for Democrats no matter what I think of them because the Republican Party have gone completely insane, but ultimately that won’t solve this problem. This divide is harmful to all of us. We would all benefit from more choice in our elections.