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Bob Lonsberry

I Want My Politics A La Carte

 

In America, we’re ticked off because our TV cable is bundled instead of a la carte.

We sign up for cable and we have to take the whole bundle. Some of the stations we like, others we don’t, but they’re all thrown in there together.

What we want is a la carte.

We want to pick and choose.

I want some of this, and a little of that, and none of that stuff over there.

It’s a compelling argument.

Everyone agrees with it, except the cable companies. They don’t like it because they make their money forcing us to take – and pay for – what we don’t want. And that’s no good.

But this isn’t about your cable company.

It’s about your political party. And my political party.

Because they operate on the same principle. In the world of Republicans and Democrats, we don’t get a la carte, we get bundle.

And that doesn’t really make any sense.

Both parties bundle together various priorities and philosophies that, though married by habit in the American political mind, really have nothing to do with one another. But the conventions of American political loyalty require members of both parties to swallow the pill whole.

Democrat voters get coopted into backing the entire Democratic agenda, and Republican voters get coopted into backing the entire Republican agenda.

And it doesn’t really make any sense.

Look at some of the traditional groupings. Democrats stand for labor unions, abortions, gay rights, environmentalism, redistributive tax policy, women’s rights, the interests of racial minorities, an active, interventionist government and opposition to sprawl, consumerism, capitalism and fossil fuels. Republicans, for their part, are pro-gun, anti-illegal immigration, in favor of free trade, big fans of drilling, pro-military, pro-life, pro-balanced budget and extremely fond of quoting the Founding Fathers.

Those are the two bundles. Pick one.

And we’ve operated that way for about a generation.

The universe is divided down the middle with the Democrats claiming one side and the Republicans claiming the other. Which makes no sense.

Because many of the issues of both parties have nothing in common with one another. Further, one could easily believe strongly in aspects of both parties’ agendas while passionately disagreeing with aspects of both parties’ agendas.

The linkage between each party’s priorities often simply doesn’t exist.

For example, what if you’re in favor of gay rights but also believe in the Second Amendment? Do you back the party that promotes gay rights or the party that protects the Second Amendment?

Why do we automatically presume that the fact you belong to a union puts you in favor of abortion and high taxes? Are environmentalists and redistributionists always the same people? Can’t you favor both affirmative action and a balanced budget?

Who says being conservative means believing in free trade, or that being liberal means believing in amnesty for illegals?

Common sense says it’s very possible – even probable – that many Americans would like a few priorities from the progressive menu and a few other priorities from the conservative menu.

But the parties don’t go for that.

There are no conservative Democrats left, and there are no liberal Republicans left. Both parties have defined themselves so strictly and stridently that if you fail to buy the whole bundle you get denounced by your own party. You are not a free thinker, you are a traitor.

Granted, in a two-party Republic, coalitions of philosophies must be cobbled together to create a governing majority. But those coalitions have now been set in cement and are unwavering, the coalition taking on a larger role than any of its component philosophies.

Which polarizes the population while empowering the worst ideas of the majority party and silencing the best ideas of the minority party.

Further, and worst, the party becomes the dictator of orthodoxy. Instead of it serving your philosophy, you must serve its philosophies – even if you disagree with them.

And that doesn’t serve the interests of freedom or self-governance. The parties and their ruling coalitions make out pretty good, but the regular citizen doesn’t.

Being black doesn’t make you anti-fracking. Being for school choice doesn’t mean you’re against sprawl.

The parties have drawn the lines and they have boxed us in.

And we should resist that. No, don’t abandon your party. But don’t sell your soul to it, either. Vote across party lines, make principled stands and selections, and push for candidates who will mix up the status quo a bit.

Americans have typically believed in two parties and stood for two philosophies. That clear choice is a good thing. But it must be the servant, not the master. And over our 200 years, the parties have each evolved, with some philosophies bounding back and forth between the two.

That could happen again.

If the political parties would only let us get what we want a la carte.

Instead of being forced to take the bundled product.

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