What I wish I could have voted for

Steve Brawner
Steve Brawner

On March 20, 1854, a group of anti-slavery activists met in a one-room schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin. They formed a new political party at that meeting and called themselves Republicans.

That schoolhouse is generally considered the Republican Party’s birthplace, though that’s disputed. Momentum was building across the country. Six years later, Abraham Lincoln was elected the country’s first Republican president. Five years after that, the Civil War ended, and so did slavery.

This year I cast yet another “protest” vote in the presidential race – not really for a candidate, but against the two major parties and their policies. There were 11 other names on the ballot in Arkansas, and I chose the Libertarian even though that party does not really reflect my views.

The Electoral College makes an individual’s vote mean little in a solidly red state like Arkansas. President Trump was going to win this state. I used my little vote to try to help the Libertarians reach 3% so they could qualify for the ballot here in 2022.

This was the fifth time I cast a vote for a third party or independent presidential candidate. All have been protest votes except perhaps the first in 1992 when I voted for Ross Perot. He was temperamentally ill-suited to be president, but he had run a campaign where he actually explained a challenging issue, the national debt, and offered concrete solutions. At the time, the debt was $4 trillion. Today it’s more than $27 trillion.

I am tired of casting protest votes. Like those people in Ripon in 1854, I want to vote for something.

The party I want to vote for would be centrist, pragmatic and fiscally responsible. It would not assume the government is the solver of all problems, but it would not declare that government is always bad or pretend that it’s going away.

It would do what is necessary to balance the federal budget once this pandemic is over, which means it would cut spending where it can and increase tax revenues where it must. It would seek to enact a legal mechanism that encourages a balanced budget.

This party would balance the budget because one of its guiding principles would be creating a better America and a better world for future generations – not simply living for today and the next election. That means it would prepare for the next pandemic, invest in cures and treatments for viruses ahead of time, go to war now against cancer, and take seriously the threats of climate change and plastics pollution.

It would support political reforms such as term limits, campaign finance transparency, and ranked choice voting. It would never forget that ensuring free, fair and competitive elections is more important than whoever happens to win the next particular one.

It would at least try to unite the country rather than divide it into groups to be pitted against each other. It would let the culture war be fought more often in the culture and at the state level, which means it would be OK with Arkansas and California being different.

Finally, its nominees would not forget that truth exists, despite the fact that individual humans are imperfect interpreters and communicators of it. Sometimes the truth is, “I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s, “I was wrong, and now I’ve changed my mind.”

And the truth is also this: “Virtually all policies create winners and losers, and ours are no different. We’re open to others’ ideas.”

In short, I’m looking for a party where someone like President Dwight Eisenhower would fit in, and maybe Sen. Bob Dole. He’s 97 and too old to run. Well, maybe he wasn’t this year.

I recognize this column is somewhat pie in the sky. A political party is a collection of individuals who can be both noble and self-interested. Mine would argue and squabble like any party does. Once it gained power, it eventually would be corrupted.

Then it might be time to start another one. But before it became corrupted, maybe it at least could balance the budget a few times.

Sometimes it’s just time to shake up the system. A lot can happen when a few people try. It did 166 years ago, starting, at least in part, in a one-room schoolhouse.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.