America is a nation in crisis. Faith in our economic and political institutions, from Wall Street to Congress, is at or near historic lows.
Our crisis is fueled, in part, by two perceptions. First, that our government is becoming increasingly unrepresentative of, disinterested in, and unresponsive to, average Americans. And second, that the political process is broken- that our government is incapable of fashioning a coherent response to the range of problems our society is facing, including growing wealth concentration, the budget deficit, and combating global warming.
And as the dangers multiply, our tired political duopoly has offered us the following choice: Mitt Romney or Barack Obama; the Democrats or the Republicans. Does anyone except the most zealous partisan honestly believe that either man, or party, is equal to the challenge?
Like the high priests of two competing ancient cults, Romney and Obama continue to mutter the old incantations, and perform the prescribed rituals. But our political religions have lost their former magic. They can no longer summon the rains.
We have one last fighting chance, this cycle, to reverse the long, slow, steady march of decline and avert a future in which life becomes more marginal- economically, socially, and ecologically. So many people of good will, on all sides, are sick of the divisive hyper-partisanship, and of a political discourse dominated by extremists that benefits only a small, grasping, narrow-minded elite. We are fed up with the continuous subordination of the national interest to considerations of temporary, trivial, partisan advantage. We know it is destroying our nation.
We yearn for an adult, rational, responsible alternative. We want another option.
Meeting the challenges our nation is facing will require reform elements on both sides of the aisle to form new alliances across the old political divide. This will never happen unless a credible third party or independent candidate that we can all rally around arrives on the scene- one who transcends the bitter partisanship and personifies national unity.
The only person today who can plausibly play this role is Jon Huntsman. Huntsman’s service in government as a Republican governor and as our ambassador to China after President Obama’s election makes him a political bridge figure. He has the ability to appeal to Democrats and Independents, as well as moderate Republicans, and fashion a new transpartisan coalition.
More substantively, he demonstrated a willingness to confront the extremists and stand up for science and common sense during the Republican presidential primary. Moreover, on leaving the race, he expressed regret at joining the lock-step Republican opposition to the proposed deficit deal that would have seen ten dollars in spending cuts for every one dollar of additional revenue generated by tax increases. This is the type of independent thinking our nation desperately needs.
In an interview following his decision to leave the Republican primary, Huntsman recalled wondering during the campaign as he considered his fellow candidates if “this [is] the best we could do?” It’s still a pertinent question, but one that must be directed at both our major parties. Are the Democrats and the Republicans really the alpha and omega of America’s political discourse? Are they the best that we can do?
For many, the answer appears to be no. Signs of political disaffection are everywhere. The two major parties have both been leaking members like sieves for years. Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of political independents in America now equals the number of registered Democrats.
Some will say that an independent presidential candidacy has no serious chance of success. Perhaps this is true. The high level of political discontent in America, however, suggests that this would be an opportune moment to test whether it could be done. Indeed, a unique, historic, political opportunity might be beckoning. Moreover, Huntsman would not actually have to win in order to fundamentally alter our public discourse for the better- and that would be an act of great service to our country in an hour of desperate need.
From the looming post-election fiscal cliff, to the tangible signs that our climate is changing in dangerous ways occurring across the nation this summer, the inevitable reckoning with the consequences of hard decisions too-long deferred is now upon us. Difficult choices can no longer be avoided.
Cometh the hour, but where is the man? Paging Jon Huntsman.
Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of “An Upward Calling.” Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.