Thursday, December 5, 2013
This is the first regular column by Alan Caron, who will be writing about Maine politics and policy from an independent perspective. Caron should be well-suited for the job: A lifelong Mainer, he calls himself a "disgruntled" Democrat who served on Gov. Paul LePage's transition team and supports Angus King's bid for the U.S. Senate.
It gave me nourishment, information and humor. Back then, we never thought about color TV. That didn't seem possible, so nobody complained. Eventually color sets did arrive, of course, and we all got one as soon as we could afford to. Now black and white is just a museum oddity and an art form.
When it comes to the world of politics, I'm beginning to feel as though we've all been watching black and white long enough. Every challenge that we face, it seems, is quickly reduced to an absurd simplicity of good guys versus bad guys. Whole spectrums of color are flattened into one or another shade of dull gray. At a time when the complexity of our challenges is immense and growing, requiring all of our best thinking and collaboration, politics seems to be all about reciting dogma, celebrating ignorance and winning.
This rush to the simple can be traced to the narrowing of each party's core base of support, around the tea party on the right and progressives on the left. Each, in its own way, is highly orthodox and rigid. They act as the gatekeepers of their respective party's primaries, safeguarding against the emergence of any of those dangerous moderates or independent thinkers. Their success, in recent years, has only accelerated the flight of voters away from either party. It also is producing nominees who cannot seek new truths, reject old bromides or find compromise without fear of retribution.
The current Senate campaign illustrates the problem. With weak turnouts in both party primaries this June, 5 percent of Maine Democrats selected the candidate who presented herself then, and does now, as the "most progressive" in the field. The Republicans took another route but arrived at a similar destination. There, a lifelong moderate morphed himself into a tea party champion to secure the nomination, sneaking past the palace guard along the way but also burning bridges with old allies and friends like Sen. Olympia Snowe.
As this election will soon prove, such close adherence to the ideological wings of their respective parties won't allow these candidates to effectively reach out to a larger audience of moderates and independents, whether inside or outside their parties. If they were somehow elected, they would have even less ability to do anything in Washington but add to the existing gridlock and overheated rhetoric that has paralyzed the place.
It wasn't so long ago that both parties were broad and inclusive. They were big coalitions of interests with lots of room for people across a wide spectrum. Their nominees tended to represent the cross-section of voters within the party rather than on the edges of it. Parties also were sources of new ideas and innovations. Those days are rapidly closing. Today, just about the last place we look for new ideas or inspiration is political parties.
With the exception of the drama around high-profile presidential debates, partisan exchanges today are becoming both increasingly irrelevant and unbearably boring. With just a little bit of preparation, most of us could write in advance what the two parties will say on every issue. Partisan posturing has become the fast food of public discourse, neatly packaged for the drive through window. Fish sandwich or hamburger? Sorry, we don't have any other entrees. Could I interest you in a side of bad history, conspiracy salad or talk-radio nonsense?
I get that there are people who like that stuff. They like the cage-fighting aspect of it. They want the smug assurances that they on the side of the good versus the bad guys, saving the country and not having to think. But if we don't start thinking again, and soon, we're all in big trouble. So I'm going to try to stir things up a bit and along the way urge the sensible people in both parties, and the people who have abandoned parties already, to help find common-sense solutions to our many problems.
I'm not striving to simply change the conversation from black and white to shades of gray. What we need is a wide-screen, full-color conversation, in high definition with surround sound. We can start by calling out these senseless ideological food fights that are hurting all of us, every day, and keeping Maine and the country from reaching our fullest potential.
Step one: Change the channel.
Alan Caron is the president of Envision Maine, a nonpartisan think tank based in Freeport He can be contacted at: