On Tuesday, if history is any guide, several tens of thousands of Minnesotans will join others who are more or less like-minded politically for a biennial event known as the precinct caucus.
Democrats will convene with Democrats, choosing officers and delegates, debating the "planks" in their "platform," and undertaking an initial appraisal of the candidates who might carry those positions to elected office.
epublicans will do the same, with the special responsibility this year of briefly engaging a national audience with a nonbinding embrace of a presidential nominee.
Another few million Minnesotans of voting age will stay home.
Is this because the latter group doesn't know about governance and politics, or doesn't care? Yes and yes, in some cases. But for many political wallflowers, it's because their dance steps don't neatly trace the choreographed routines of the major parties.
So they don't pick a partner. The drawback is that they cannot then easily be proactive -- they are left to react to what the parties present. The bigger concern is that the partyless comprise as much as a third of the population of this state.
It's true that no matter how eclectic your views, you can probably find a group of people on common ground.
Thus there have always been middle parties and single-issue parties and fringe parties, and in modern times they sometimes collect the critical mass of votes required to achieve major-party status for a spell. In Minnesota, the Independence Party is one such party. Fully 12 percent of the voters supported its gubernatorial candidate in 2010.
That still leaves a lot of folks adrift.
Defining a platform for all those uncommitteds is no simple task. The nature of independence, after all, is that it can't be pinned down. Except: The politically unwed do have core values -- a framework on which their diverse positions are built. That is what this article shall endeavor to define.
Let's start by declaring what this philosophy isn't. It isn't splitting the difference. It isn't sitting on the fence. It is not some sort of murky response from a Magic 8-Ball -- "reply hazy, try again." It isn't even bipartisan.
It is recognizing that all actions have consequences, and that the withholding of action has consequences, too. It's weighing the full range of arguments and evidence, and making a decision. Sometimes that decision may be liberal, sometimes conservative. Where appropriate, it will be flexible. Where appropriate, it will be forceful.
Call it the radical moderation.
It's important to note that the major-party platforms are not devoid of values. They have long-established cores, which branch into arteries and capillaries of policy that nourish and guide but also tangle and bind and sometimes clot and explode.
The following platform represents one independent voter's method for teasing out the pragmatism in policy choices. Like any platform, it will be controversial. As is the nature of independence, each individual must fill in the planks.
• The greatest demonstrable good with the least demonstrable harm: To moderates, everything in life is an opportunity for a cost-benefit analysis. They're willing to pay up for quality -- particularly with infrastructure, the bones of the future -- but they'll challenge expenditures that don't produce the intended results. They'll seek reliable evidence -- and resist policies that are based on unreasonable fears. But ...
• Dials, not switches: Many public-policy discussions are presented as either/or propositions -- such as "no new taxes" on one side or "cuts will destroy" at the far end of the other. Yet to govern effectively in a volatile world is to master the ongoing art of calibration.
• Results occur at the margins: Public debate also tends to present policy choices as having sweeping impact. Some do, but typically neither the fondest wishes of supporters nor the worst fears of foes will come to fruition.
• Ideas can come from anywhere: Emotion-driven groups like the Tea Party and Occupy movements may not present workable solutions, but they do represent authentic frustrations -- a baton for moderates to carry forward. Yet moderates do not assume that the right to be heard is followed by a right to be heeded. That will depend on the merits of the expression.
BUDGETS AND ECONOMICS
• Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the rest: While a free market is the best path to a broad prosperity, it leaves a trail of victims. So moderates believe in a mostly free market -- one that allows enterprise to thrive but, out of a sense of fairness and a desire for social stability, provides a reliable safety net for those left behind and the resources necessary to adapt at all stages of life.
• Fiscal sensibility: While government is a constructive force in people's lives, moderates recognize the nature of bureaucracies to feed themselves. A certain degree of inefficiency will be tolerated out of a sense of realism, but ineffective or unsustainable programs will be rescinded or reformed. A moderate is willing to put any policy under the microscope at any time. Cutting waste, however, is just half of the equation. Having determined what's fruitful and efficient, moderates will not hesitate to acquire the revenue to support it.
OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD
• Foreign policy: Moderates have a tenacious dedication to diplomacy but realize that it benefits from the presence of a credible military threat. When war is undertaken, they understand that the actual battles are but a small part of the necessary commitment. Moderates hold themselves and their country to the highest standards and do not believe the behavior of adversaries justifies a departure from that.
• The environment: Though a human footprint is inevitable, moderates seek to leave the smallest one possible by promoting conservation and sustainability. This commitment does not waver with the rise and fall of energy prices, yet it is necessarily a long-term vision: Until methods of extracting energy from renewable sources can stand on their own, the development of carbon-based energy must continue.
INITIATIVE AND RESTRAINT
• Take calculated risks: From subsidies and incentives to privatization, moderates are willing to experiment. They understand that such trial and error will include failures and that any collective effort will have free riders. Moderates are not embittered by this, but will seek to minimize abuse. In addition, moderates understand that sometimes the worst will happen, but that regulation can mitigate this risk.
• Politics matters: Legislation worth doing is worth doing right. This may require education, persuasion, compromise -- and time. When highly charged goals such as the Affordable Care Act or collective-bargaining reforms are pursued by what others perceive as brute force, waves of recrimination can diminish or even negate the results. Courageous leadership is not just in the doing, but also the how and when.
• • •
None of this is intended to denigrate the major parties -- the country can't function without them. They're encouraged to make any use they can of the framework presented here. The rest of us can draw upon their best ideas, discard their worst, and proceed unfettered by ideological purity.
Still, the partyless are by definition outsiders, so can they realistically hope to overcome the moneyed influences in our system? Perhaps not. Are the ideas presented here logically impregnable? To consult that dreaded Magic 8-Ball: "Better not tell you now." But if moderates were to recognize the resonance of their voice, could they rediscover their role in shaping, not just enduring, our discourse and direction?
The 8-Ball again: "It is decidedly so."
David Banks, 44, is the Star Tribune's assistant commentary editor. He is not a member of a political party. He was raised in a conservative southern Minnesota family; his own voting record has been predominantly, but not exclusively, Democratic.