When I talk with anyone who professes to be a political "independent," I always ask what they imagine they're still "independent" from. There is less and less room for genuine independence in our dwindling private sector.
Of course, the independent voter is generally more interested in declaring his liberation from the two major political parties. Maybe he doesn't like either of them, or dislikes the way one party is run, and what the other party stands for. Frequently independent voters say they want to entertain ideas from both parties, choosing whichever makes sense to them, bound by no abstract institutional loyalty. Some cynically believe there isn't much real difference between what the two major parties want anyway.
The latter point is interesting, because we're constantly told that bipartisanship is the highest virtue in Washington. The parties are supposed to resolve their differences and get stuff done. The public has been conditioned to loathe the notion of paralyzed government, from "gridlock" caused by irreconcilable political differences, to partial government "shutdowns." In the Obama era, there have been increasingly strident demands that political resistance to the President's agenda is illegitimate, even treasonous - a mindset that would, if taken seriously, mean the only truly significant election is the presidential race every four years, with Congress serving as a sort of advisory board for the all-powerful executive. (Of course, the Democrats pushing this notion today are not really serious, and will instantly drop their "support the president" definition of bipartisanship the next time a Republican wins the White House.)
But nearly everything the government "gets done" makes the people less free. Independence is lost with every dollar of tax taken, and with every dollar of government money spent, even when the two amounts do not remotely agree. Government spending shrinks the private sector, no matter where they money comes from. Every rule and regulation collapses the range of options available to the individual. We spent a gigantic amount of time merely figuring out how to comply with the body of law that towers over us... and if your independence cannot be measured in time, the amount of your energy that is yours to enjoy or invest as you see fit, then how else can we measure it?
There is a system that exists independent of the two political parties. Elected officials have delegated vast power to a bureaucracy that is not accountable to the electorate. This system is aggressive. It wants to get bigger, which means it wants the realm of independent action to grow smaller. The government is very good at lobbying itself; its vast army of employees command considerable electoral muscle, supported by an even larger ballot-box militia of dependents who will reliable vote to protect the interests of the State that nourishes them. What good does it do to posture as an "independent" from political party machinery, when you live in thrall to a system that is increasingly less responsive to your vote?
It was never realistic to believe that a gigantic central government could be "controlled" by voters. For one thing, the votes come too infrequently. A ballot every couple of years is no substitute for the daily decisions and responsibilities that constitute true independence. And yes, you have to accept responsibility - which includes a measure of hardship - in order to enjoy freedom. They simply do not exist when separated from one another. When you ask maternal government to protect you from hardship, you are compromising the independence of those around you. Every bailed-out, propped-up, government-nourished enterprises rests upon the bones of lost opportunities that others might have been able to exploit more effectively.
There is no way to have a giant government with independent citizens. We are often told that benevolent government can "free" us from material need with its redistributive magic, but that's not the way it works. You are not independent of the hand that feeds you. One of the most remarkable features of the Obama era is how often we're told that we are no longer permitted to resist the demands of the State, not even with the votes that were formerly presented to us as the currency of freedom. ObamaCare is the "settled law of the land," the debt ceiling must be raised without question, the deficit can only be addressed through tax increases... it's amazing how much has been swept off the table, isn't it?
Big Government is all about the dead hand of the past dragging us into a future of limited options. You don't like the way things are going? You should have voted differently two, four, six, or eight years ago... only back then, you were not told that you'd never get another chance to vote differently. Perhaps you weren't even old enough to vote, when the election that settled your future came and went.
I would love 2014 to mark the beginning of our return to real independence in the United States. We can be both independent and united, you know. We never should have allowed ourselves to pass the point of equilibrium between those impulses. Unfortunately, independence cannot be preserved by skipping out on politics, because the size and hunger of the State leave no avenue of escape for the non-participant. I truly understand the impulse to avoid all this petty squabbling, but it's like a book-of-the-month club: do nothing, and the petty squabble of the hour will be brought to your door, whether you like it or not. You, and your children, will be obliged to pay the bills accumulated in your name. The longer you wait to join the resistance... the longer you put off marching to the ballot box... the more shocked you'll be about how much is no longer subject to debate.
As for this business of picking and choosing from a bipartisan smorgasbord of ideas: unfortunately the people who want government to grow larger, tell you what to do, and seize more of your property are very well organized. The political class is no longer terribly impressed by lone non-conformists. But they really should hold greater respect for what independent people can accomplish. Perhaps 2014 will be the year when we begin reclaiming our independence and showing the compulsive organizers what we can do.
Happy New Year!