The Independent Candidate
By A.D. Freudenheim

3 June 2001

Traditionally, one strength of "third party" candidates in American elections has been their willingness to be outspoken and straightforward, creating sharp contrasts to the usual Democratic and Republican party candidates. Where traditional candidates are frequently more concerned about using their media savvy to ensure that they do not alienate the different constituencies required to win an election, American independents often use a reverse logic, seeking to appeal to some voters precisely because they are willing to risk alienating others. This was certainly the case in last year's election and, as I wrote in October of last year, a factor in the exclusion of candidates Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan from the three debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Since then, nothing has changed fundamentally about our political system. Movements to "fix" the mechanics of our electoral process, such as the balloting problems in Florida, have been slow going and appear to be losing steam. The Green Party does not seem to have made any further headway in positioning itself as a national political force in the aftermath of Nader's defeat, and no other third party has risen to the challenge. (Whatever happened to the Reform Party, anyway?) At best, there has been a disruption in the GOP's expected smooth sailing, with the departure of Vermont's Senator James Jeffords from the Republican party - providing the Democrats with a one-vote majority in the Senate.

That Senator Jeffords has dropped the GOP in order to formally become an independent is newsworthy. In the days that have followed, much media attention has also been directed at some of the other senators who have made names for themselves as rebels within their party or within the Senate itself, and none more than John McCain. This weekend, the Senate's new Democratic majority leader, Tom Daschle, paid McCain a visit at his home in Arizona, which has set the media ablaze with predictions, counter-predictions, and lots of "anonymous source" spin that McCain is or is not leaving the Republican party and may or may not be mulling over another challenge to President Bush in the next election. A glance at the newswires shows articles with titles like "Post: McCain Considering Leaving Republican Party" (Reuters), "McCain Personally Reassures Bush on Party Plans" (Reuters), and "McCain: I Won't Leave GOP" (Associated Press).

Yet with his calm, resolute, and clearly articulated statements about why he left the Republicans behind, the buzz on a serious presidential challenger should be about Jeffords. As a moderate Republican, Jeffords would appeal to urban and suburban voters across the country; he has strong views on the importance of environmental protection (as did Nader), but seems less an "America first" trade protectionist than Nader, Buchanan, or Ross Perot. He is socially liberal - e.g. pro choice, strongly pro education - but is not entirely antagonistic to the financially conservative views of the party he left, and he supported (for better or worse) President Bush's tax cut plan. That Jeffords himself might pooh-pooh the idea of a run for president shouldn't matter, since the psychological draw of the reluctant candidate can often be stronger than the naked ambition of the party striver.

It does not appear to be working out this way, another indication of the narrow-mindedness of the American media; they will cast in a positive light those who (like McCain) challenge conventional ideas - but not those who appear to defy the system itself. More to the point, look at the media's interpretation of Jeffords' new political status: having left the GOP, his name now appears with an "(I)" instead of the "(R)" that was there before, his official designation as an "Independent." Why? Because to allow him to proceed without a label at all presents an even stronger challenge to those politicians and journalists who accept their own labels, and consequently try to slap labels on others. With that in mind, Jeffords may be precisely the candidate the American electorate should get to vote on: one who might turn out to be more interested in ideas than merely in their simplified, media savvy characterizations.

Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.