This song always gets us confused. (see video in margin)
We always think it is the song called 'There's Something Happening Here' by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The only problem is that it is called 'For What It's Worth' and it was performed by a band called Buffalo Springfield for some reason.
We got to think about this song the other day when we were talking with a long-time Democratic consultant, operative and campaign manager in North Carolina. A 5-minute phone call turned into an hour-long conversation which led to some mighty surprising conclusions in these days when supposedly there is no 'middle ground' between the two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats.
First of all, many people might be surprised we were even talking at all. But there are a surprising number of older, now more mature people who have grown up in and around North Carolina politics who are saying the same things at the same time...and they are not going to be of a lot of comfort to rigid, rock-ribbed believers on both extremes of the political spectrum.
After exchanging a few war stories to establish bonafides and have a few laughs to begin with, the conversation sorta went along the following lines:
'You know, we have been fighting the same battles for the past 30 years in North Carolina and federal politics...and not a whole heckuva lot has gotten done, especially in the last 10-15 years or so'.
'You are right about that. The more and more we get ideological purity on both sides of the political spectrum, the more extreme the nominees get coming out of the primaries and the less likely they are to compromise and work together to get things done for the common good.'
'Yeah. That plus gerrymandering during redistricting has made it a far more polarized state and nation.'
'Hey! Wait a minute! The Democrats in North Carolina sure were not even and fair-handed when it came to redistricting for the 140 years prior to the Republicans taking over the NC General Assembly in 2010, you know.'
'You're right. The Democrats kept a heavy thumb on the scale their way when they controlled redistricting, that is for sure. But what can be done about it now, today to get things back to where elected representatives and senators work to get things done during sessions and not just try to 'get re-elected' with polarized districts?'
'Well, I will tell you one thing I have noticed going on in North Carolina over the past 4 years. 50% of the young people I meet with say they hate the Republicans and they also hate the Democrats with equal passion! How's that for 'bipartisanship'? They have signed up as Independent/Unaffiliated voters in droves and there doesn't seem to be much movement away from that trend.'
'You are exactly right about that! Both the Democrat and Republican Party have closed their eyes to this and just hope that it will all go away somehow and the young'uns will somehow someway come back a'running to their Momma and Daddy's Democratic Party or the Grand Old Party as it was under Ronald Reagan!'
'The current Unaffiliated registration is about 30% right now in North Carolina. We have heard other experts say it may reach 41% by the 2016 presidential elections. If 50%+ of the young people are now running to register Unaffiliated in 2014, what will they do for the rest of their lives...stay Independent or not?'
'That is the $64 billion question right now. Most people stay in the same party they voted for for President the first time. But the young people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 seem to be the same people who are now registering Independent all over the country so who knows what will happen with them?'
'What if someone charismatic who has run statewide before and is prominent in many ways raises his or her hand and says: 'You know what? I am fed up with the Republican/Democratic Party too! And I am going to run as an Independent and try to change things up here in North Carolina!'?
'That is what it would have to take to shake things up, but it would definitely shake things up, that is for sure.'
'What do you think the 'platform' if you will, of the NC Independent Party would have to be to attract these unaffiliated registered voters to vote as a bloc for the New Fearless Leader?'
'Well, for one thing, he/she would have to be a fiscal conservative and willing to run a tight financial ship as the head of government. One thing the Independents HATE is politicians wasting their tax money on stupid things. Especially the young people. They are going to have to pay for all the debt out there right now as it is.'
'That's for sure.'
'The other thing they are going to have to do is tell everyone that what goes on in the bedroom is nobody else's business! In fact, he/she might have to make it very clear that until we get the economy rockin'-and-rollin' again and everyone who wants to find a job can find a job, they would not try to advance or rollback any current law on social issues. Save those for a later time at a later date.'
'That is easier said and done.'
''Yep, it is. But it has to be done. An America where millions of people can't find a well-paying job and the economy is just barely puttering along is not the time or the place for a lot of rhetoric and polemics about abortion, gay rights and illegal immigration.'
'That sounds sort of like the '50's under Ike where everyone paid attention to their own lives and what went on behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. On both sides of the political spectrum.'
'So be it then. We have been ripped apart by our profound differences on social issues for the past 30 years and we are no closer to solving the abortion issue than we were in 1980!'
'I have seen tons of pro-life and pro-choice people get elected solely because of their stance on that tough issue...and hardly a one of them have been leaders in reducing the federal debt; balancing the budget; fixing our financial banking system or solving world peace.'
'Precisely. We need more accountants, financial planners, CEOs, engineers, educators, nurses and doctors running for public office from the local municipal races to President!'
'We also need true leaders who will stop signing all of these hundreds of inane pledges and just promise the American people one thing and one thing only: 'I will do the best I can to support and uphold the Constitution...and if you don't like the way I do it, you can run against me in the next election and try to take my place!'
'Man. We need to keep this conversation going.'
There is indeed 'something happn'ing here' in North Carolina, in Ohio, in California and in Texas. There are hundreds of congressional districts where a Democrat or a Republican has less a chance of winning due to gerrymandering than a snowball has a chance to roll down a hill in Hell.
However, these very same 'unwinnable' districts are eminently winnable by someone running as an Independent or Unaffiliated voter assuming they have some reasonable sense of dignity, intelligence and reputation going for them. All they have to do is attract 90%+ of the Independents in the district plus maybe 20% of the minority party in the same district plus 10% of the majority party voters.
You need 50%+1 to win most 2-candidate elections, some primaries being the exception. However, in a general election with 3 candidates, the candidate with the plurality or most of the votes wins as long as the margin of victory exceeds certain limits to avoid a recount.
What happens if 1 person runs as an Independent...and wins? You think a second, a third and then a flood of people would follow their lead?
That is how political transformations have happened many times in American history.
Maybe we are just in the middle of one brewing right now and no one really even knows it yet.