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Independent Uprising

Marc Sanchez

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John P. Avlon
(Sigrid Estrada)
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It's easy to see this election as being between Democrats and Republicans. Most candidates are affiliated with one party or the other. But an increasing number of voters are breaking out of party lines and defining themselves as independent. John Avlon thinks they represent the ideas of most Americans. He's the author of "Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics" and a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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John Moe: What defines an independent?

John Avlon: Independents tend to be fiscally conservative and socially progressive. They're folks who've declared independence from the two-party system because it doesn't represent them. They're sort of saying that the far left and the far right are equally insane and out of touch. And we've had a huge growth in the number of independents as a result.

Moe: What do you see politically from the two major candidates as the election approaches? How they're playing to those independent voters and what they're trying to do?

Avlon: Obama's whole primary stump speech was so directed at independent voters. I mean, his whole discussion was about how we had to change our politics to fix the broken, divided politics in Washington, and break through the red state/blue state divides that have held us back. And then I think as his nomination fight against Hillary Clinton got tougher, then you started seeing him pivot to more "Old Democrat" themes. But you just look at the fact that he's proposing a tax-cut plan. Well, that's very unusual for an old school Democrat. John McCain represents an outright revolution against the far-right of the Republican Party. They've always hated this guy because of his principled independence in the senate. But I think he's been surrounded in this campaign by so many folks who are of the Bush-Cheney-Rove era, who only know how to run play-to-the-base campaigns. It's really hurt his brand and his credibility on this front.

Moe: And to follow that logic, the selection of Sarah Palin would hurt him among independents.

Avlon: And it has. Sarah Palin has proven to be a deeply polarizing figure in American politics. You know, you excite the base at the expense of uniting the center. But that gamble hasn't paid off in terms of independents and undecideds.

Moe: Where do undecideds fit in among independents? What's the difference? What's the overlap?

Avlon: Well, undecideds are really just a function of an election cycle, right? If there are any professional, consistent undecideds out there, they should probably seek help. But if you look at the actual numbers - Wall Street Journal/NBC had a poll the other day that showed that 43 percent of undecideds were independents and 47 percent were centrists, showing the overlap there. But compared to 2004, a lot of independents felt they were choosing for the candidate they disliked least. And Obama and McCain had very high approval ratings for independents all throughout the summer. McCain had a brief bump, and then the economy kicked in. And as this election became a referendum on the Bush administration, and moderates in the middle class started feeling squeezed by the economic crisis, they swung heavily towards Obama, and they've stayed there to date. I think it's going to be incumbent upon Obama if he wins to really keep faith with those voters, many of whom were given a voice by Colin Powell.

Moe: Was that a Republican becoming a Democrat? Or was that an independent behaving as an independent?

Avlon: You know, Colin Powell's been forced to play politics by Washington rules, but he's got an enormous amount of credibility with independents. Really moral authority, because he's been independent. The reality is that Washington has this corrosive conformity that tries to force people into what David Brooks has called "teamism." My team versus your team. Us against them. And it's so disconnected with the way most folks want our political leaders to act. And when someone crosses party lines from a position of principle it reaffirms that.

Moe: John P. Avlon is the author of "Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics." He's a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Mr. Avlon, thanks so much.

Avlon: Thank you, sir. Take care.

  • Music Bridge:
    My Name is Johnny Hawk
    Artist: Global Goon
    CD: Family Glue (Audio Dregs)

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