Remember the “silent majority”? According to Nixon, it was that big group of voters in this country that sort of suffered in silence. They had strong opinions, yet didn’t voice them. It was his contention that if he could tap into this group during his campaign, he could win. He was right. He won the elections in 1968 and 1972. At that time the “silent majority” leaned right of center based on their support for Nixon. The nation was going through significant changes known nostalgically to many of us as the 60s. The Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Women’s Movement, the “pill”, and Baby Boomers coming of age seemed to all happen at once. For many in America this was too much too fast. It was these slightly fearful and dismayed Americans that comprised the “silent majority” that Richard Nixon was speaking to. The government was functioning, however its decisions were certainly not liked by everyone. It was a time of strong passions vocalized on our city streets. Some of those passions were reflected in violence. It seemed at times as if the very fabric of America was being stretched to its limits. But as polarized as things felt then, they feel more polarized today. And this time the “silent majority” is simply so fed up that they are opting out. The fabric of America has not been in such danger of tearing since the Civil War.
How many times have we heard a pundit say that the midterm is a base election. The winner will be the party that is most successful at bringing its base out to vote. The base voters have always been the true believers. They have voted for their party, right or wrong, in every election. So, the party with the largest number of registered voters in a specific district or state will win as long as they can bring out the voters. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the voting booth. It turns out that the largest number of registered voters now consider themselves independent. They support neither party. That is incredibly important in a Presidential election, yet in a midterm, as long as the base comes out, the parties are fine. They don’t even fight to win the independent votes, they just want to get their base out.
So, once again we have a great silent majority of voters. They are fed up with the dysfunction that has become Washington D.C. They are tired of the nonsense that parades across their TV sets every evening. They are not extremists. They are pragmatists. They aren’t looking for extreme solutions, just movement towards a solution. Yet on every issue whether it is gun control, education, immigration, pay equity, climate change, war and peace or the deficit they see only the most extreme positions bandied about in Congress and by radio and TV pundits. The most frustrating reality is that nothing ever gets done. Today the word “compromise” is spoken in hushed tones as if it is heresy.
The reality is that midterms as base elections feed the extremes and turn off the independents. As long as that silent majority of independents excludes itself from the battle, the dysfunctional behavior that continues to pervade the halls of Congress will not change. What’s more, the numbers point to a potentially more extreme Congress after this midterm. If we want change it is not enough to just get out the base vote.
Nixon had the right idea. We need to speak to today’s “silent majority” and get them out to vote. The potential for a functional Congress is there. We just need to send them to Washington with a different set of marching orders. The only way that will happen is if the great silent majority in the middle makes itself felt. We need to get the independents to opt back in and go to the polls this November.