Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman

New York, NY ““ During his pre-Tonight Show days of comedy, Jay Leno often used the line: “Do you know what sticks in my craw?” Then there was the late Rodney Dangerfield who’d say: “I don’t get no respect.”

Many independent voters, independent voter activists (yes they most assuredly DO exist), and small independent voter parties these days sound bit like Leno and Dangerfield. There’s a lot that sticks in the craw of independent voters, the largest and fastest growing part of America’s electorate. And they insist they’re getting no political and legal respect. These feelings ““ and the determination to do something about it ““ were in full display at the Committee for a Unified Independent Party’s national conference of independent voters titled “Can Independents Reform America?” held here last weekend.

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It sticks in their craw that the two major political parties have rigged the political system so that independent voters are perpetually asked to be “realistic” and hold their noses and vote for the less smelly of the two political parties. It sticks in their craw that there are constraints and biases built into the American system ““ including judges who belong to the two parties and allegedly issue biased decisions ““ to keep falsely suggesting that voters only have two choices when polls in fact show a large chunk of America is independent and wants a third choice, too.

It sticks in their craw that when an issue oriented Republican or Democrat wins office he or she is often under enormous pressure to follow a party line. So much so that some of them later ran as independents and then lost. Some of those now belong to what is being called “the movement” and attended the conference.

They also feel they “don’t get no respect” from new and old media, political partisans on each side — and even they-should-know-better academics who have in some cases attacked independents as people who seemingly can’t make up their minds. (Actually, an independent would argue that partisans often make up their minds BEFORE they even see or hear the details of a policy and take a position if their favorite talk show host, politician or blogger is in favor of it). And, as CNN’s John Avlon pointed out here, most talk shows set up the debate as Left and Right or Democrat and Republican as if there were no center or independent voters.

“In the space of one generation there has been a sea change,” Bryan Puertas, a 26-year-old activist and organizer with the New York City Independence Party, told the crowd. “Young people respond very positively to the message of independence and political reform.”

Puertas said he experimented with a group of young people and signed up 218 new members ““ 75 percent of whom indicated they want to participate actively. He later told me that the key is making democratic reform reality is to turn it into a vibrant “movement” for reforming democracy versus waiting for parties to change laws.

Indeed, both political parties play an endless game with independent voters. They put roadblocks in the way of reforms such as open primaries, keep strong independent candidates from appearing in important televised debates and keep the system rigged to favor themselves so independent voters must decide which party they hate less or fear more ““ or whether to stay home. Could the 21st century be the time where both parties FINALLY overplay their long-stacked-deck hand?

There could come a time where the bulk of Americans get tired of predictable partisanship and partisan “read meat rhetoric” if grave issues aren’t solved. And then the bulk of American voters ““ not just current independents ““ may feel they “don’t get no respect” and tell both parties to stick it in their craws. Or a bit lower.

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Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.

Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.