Pranksters and clowns, left and right

Political extremists are luring Americans not only to the polls to vote, but also to the poles. The far left and far right are polarizing America in an attempt to win votes and power. The rest of us must stick together and not fall victim to polarization. We cannot allow them to make fun of us.

clowns to my left
Wildcards on the right
Here I am caught in the middle with you

– Wheel of Thieves, “Caught in the middle with you” (1972)

Now, we would never bother to state or imply that any particular politician is a prankster or a clown. There have already been too many who have hurled such personal insults. Principled politics simply uses a catchy chorus from a 1970s song to drive home the point that extremism on both the political left and right is not good for our country.

Every political party in America used to be known for its principles. Republicans used to be the party of liberty, free enterprise, and religious freedom, as well as limited government and national defense. Democrats used to be known for the principles of peace, equality, and protection of the vulnerable. Republicans were protectors of liberty, property, speech, and religious rights, as well as defenders of the law. The Democrats were protectors of the people, magnanimous of ideas and dreams.

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Parties were known for what they favored, not what they opposed.

The extremists of both parties today are the clowns and pranksters of the left and right, and they are trying to draw America to their polarized views.

How bad is polarization getting? When asked in today’s polls how much they like members of the other party, on a scale of 1 to 100, Americans rate members of their own party 56 points higher. Put another way, someone who put Republicans overall at “85” on the 100-point scale would put Democrats at “29.” A Democrat who would give Republicans a score of “29” would give fellow Democrats an “85,” on average. That kind of identity-based hostility against members of the other party is far worse than it was in 1978, for example, when the average gap was “only” 27 points on the same scale.

The sad irony is that political parties and ideologies depend on each other. They both have good ideas that can help America. As columnist Peggy Noonan recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal (attributing the line to Oscar Hammerstein), “Liberals need conservatives to stop them, and conservatives need liberals to boost them.”

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What should we do

In addition to its bashing of the left and right, “Stuck in the Middle with You” has a few other thought-provoking lines, beginning with the song’s opening words:

Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight.
I have a feeling that something is not right. . . (to refrain)
Yeah I’m stuck in the middle with you
And I wonder what I should do

We know that political extremism is “not okay.” Those of us “caught in the middle” must stick together. That is what we should do. We must let the political parties know that we will not follow them in their hatred of the opposing party. We will vote for what the parties love, not what they hate. We will vote for principled politicians.

To avoid being influenced by pranksters and clowns from the right or left, we must stay where we are and insist that political parties return to their principles. Back in the middle with us.

Quentin R. Wittrock is the founder of Principle Based Politics, of which this is an edited version of his blog.

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