St. Martin’s Press
If you follow any contact sport—football, basketball, or ice hockey, for example—you’ll know that the key to success is holding the center. On offense, the center opens up scoring opportunities; on defense it prevents the other side from reaching its goals. Even a decidedly non-contact sport like chess emphasizes controlling the middle, the center, the place from which strategy develops and victory comes.
Politics seems like a full-on contact sport these days, and, as Linda Killian points out in her excellent new book, The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents, the center is where all the action is. Yet somehow the center—the 40% of the body politic that claims to be moderate and/or independent—has been manipulated out of its political power, it’s political voice. Through carefully crafted two-party machinations that have compounded over many years, many centrists are relegated to the sidelines when it comes to the important process of selecting party candidates or—as importantly—mounting opposition to the two-party status quo.
“If a minority group were getting shut out of full participation in the political process,” Killian writes, “there would be a huge outcry. But Independent voters are far from a minority group. There are more of them that either Democrats or Republicans.”
Beginning with a taxonomy of sorts, Killian takes us through the personal journeys of several moderates and independents in four parts of the country: New Hampshire, where live the NPR Republicans; Colorado, home of the Facebook Generation; Virginia, residence for the Starbucks Moms and Dads; and Ohio, home of the America First Democrats. All these, she says, are the middle, the center, the moderates, people who vote candidates and issues rather than party, who are most disgusted with our nation’s rampant polarization, and who have almost no voice at all anymore.
In describing both average citizens and moderate politicians in these four swing states, Killian makes a strong case for fighting back against a system that limits (and, in some cases, completely disenfranchises) these voters when it counts most—during primaries. Her analysis—cogent and tight—becomes frightening when you realize how many millions and millions of independent voters would exercise their voices if only they could. Exacerbating that reaction is the knowledge that more and more moderates are either being forced out of office by primary challenges from extremists, or are choosing to leave politics because of the increasing dysfunction resulting from polarization. (Of note is the fact that one of the moderates Killian lauds, Olympia Snowe, has in fact chosen to resign for just this latter reason, a decision made after the release of Killian’s book.)
Once Killian has covered the descriptive bases, she launches into an examination of very important questions and issues, trying to understand how the polarization impacts our country (and our day-to-day lives) and also how we, the moderate middle, can turn up the volume on our voices and concerns. She suggests active participation—and not just at election time—through organizations like CoffeePartyUSA and NoLabels, two of several groups that share the mission of empowering the moderate voices in our country. She also provides a “battle cry” for change, focusing on what each of us can do to make an impact.
“Voting is not enough,” she writes. “Concerned citizens must get involved in civic life.”
She is absolutely right. And her book—which makes the case that you and I have much more power than we know—is an important and timely read. Highly recommended.