Finley: A party for the rest of us

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Watching the excellent PBS series The Roosevelts this week, I was reminded that politics in America has not always been about choosing between Republicans and Democrats.

At various times in our history, voters have bolted from the dominant parties in favor of something new that promised answers to the needs of the time. Roosevelt, then a former president, mounted a comeback in 1912 as the candidate of the Bull Moose Party, formed by progressive Republicans opposed to their party's conservative drift. He didn't win, but he garnered enough votes — 27 percent — to finish second behind Woodrow Wilson and block the reelection of his political rival, William Howard Taft.

A half-century earlier, the anti-slavery movement, finding no satisfaction in either Democrats or Whigs, produced the new Republican Party, which saw its man Abraham Lincoln elected to the presidency in 1860.

Maybe it's time for another realignment. A growing number of Americans — call it the vast middle — are being left out as Republicans march steadily to the right and Democrats hew harder to the left.

More than half of Americans now support gay marriage, according to polling. A survey by the Pew Research Center this spring found more voters prefer a smaller, less powerful government. And on abortion Americans are conflicted, with a majority favoring the right to choose, but also open to reasonable restrictions.

So which of the two major parties would suit a socially moderate, fiscally conservative American who'd rather shelf the abortion debate for awhile? Neither.

The same Pew poll asked voters which ideological category they fit into. Thirty-four percent said conservative and 21 percent answered liberal. But the largest group, at 39 percent, described themselves as moderate.

Yet neither major party can honestly claim to welcome moderate voters.

While the traditional wisdom is that a successful presidential candidate must come from the middle because that's where the votes are, that certainly hasn't been true of the last two presidents. Neither party allows moderates to be nominated.

So the largest bloc of voters in America has to decide whether they find the intolerance of the Republicans or the gluttony of the Democrats to be less offensive.

Given their numbers, moderate voters shouldn't have to bow to political parties that no longer allow themselves to be influenced by more temperate voices. A new party that stood left of center on social issues and right of center on fiscal issues, and had no litmus tests on any issue, could provide a home for the nearly 4 in 10 voters who straddle the middle.

For it to form, leaders within both parties who share the frustration with what Republicans and Democrats have become would have to muster the courage to break away and start anew building a political infrastructure. Donors would have to come with them, and voters would have to break old habits. I've never belonged to a political party in my life, but I'd join this one.

I'm not sure what this new party should be called. But Bull Moose has a nice ring to it.


Follow Nolan Finley on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek."