There’s a song from the old TV show “Hee Haw” that went like this: “Where, oh where, are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found … ”
You probably know the rest, if you’re of a certain age.
But where, oh where, are the independent citizens? Who speaks for political moderates and progressive conservatives? Where, oh where, did the Americans go who believe that the heart of a true patriot burns with desire to be a good steward of this country’s wealth — our human and natural resources — not to turn the country into a capitalist theocracy or a left-wing technocracy?
In urban areas of the United States, extremists on the left pour forth regulations imposing “progressive” policies on businesses and individuals. We independents express our dismay, but quietly. “Please don’t do that,” we whisper. “It’s not a good idea.”
Extremists on the right strip voters, consumers, workers and the environment of protection from harm or exploitation. They do this in order to guarantee a few more jobs — but mainly to create higher profits and shareholder value for corporations. Again, we independents are disappointed, but we don’t actively resist. “Why are you so reckless and mean-spirited?” we query, while drowning our dismay in craft beer or cold press coffee.
Given the chaos and paralysis created by partisan extremists, those in the center, uncommitted to any political party, are either dead or hiding. And yes, that includes me, the one trying to speak now — but perhaps too late to do any good.
I know, I know, our current crop of political leaders in the Democratic and Republican parties have heard this whine and dance from independents like me before; it’s all crambe repetita as far as they’re concerned. They continue to exclude from power any but the partisans from either side. The one doctrine all extremists agree on is that they must protect the two-party system (and the spoils they provide) from any threats from independent voters in the political center.
As a progressive conservative, I cannot join a party that is driven by the interests of government employee labor unions and those who use claims of victimization as a shield from personal accountability and a bludgeon to get their way. How does imposing more and more regulations on small-business owners in the community, who work long hours with little respite, serve the people of that community? How does forcing every family to use public schools for early childhood education ensure that kids will be better prepared for kindergarten? Minnesota’s current governor does not speak for me on these issues, and I don’t think he cares about that.
However, I no longer recognize the party that started me on the path to political activism. Cuts and bans for urban transit while increasing subsidies for rural roads and bridges (provided by taxpayers in urban areas)? Undermine free public education in order to provide subsidies for tuition-based, private education? Treat taxes as legalized theft, not as an investment in the community? The Republican representing my community in the House does not speak for me on these issues, though she’s quick to spout the party line set by politicians in St. Paul when challenged by constituents.
We in Minnesota are days away from the possibility of yet another failed legislative session, with extremists insisting on “victory” for themselves no matter the costs to citizens and communities across the state. It’s probably already too late to do anything to change the outcome, but those of us in the center — the independents, the moderates, the progressive conservatives — we need to at least try. We need to make these extremists understand that they don’t speak for the majority of citizens, and that their current hold on power is temporary.
Because if we don’t, we will end up becoming a 21st-century version of the silent majorities of the past, who were counted as supporters of those in power while terrible things were done in their names.
David Rask Behling lives in Albert Lea, Minn.