Just Who Is the “Average American”

Sadly, biased political love to use the term “what Americans want” when in truth, it is really only what their more liberal or more conservative side wants.  I do think, however, it is safe to say that what Americans want is for their government to run much more smoothly than it has in recent memory.

Right now American like to think that the Congress that has been in session is particularly polarized and incapable of compromise.  And that may be true but it is certainly nothing new.  When Thomas Jefferson was elected, a Democrat-Republican, the Federalist party thought that it spelled the end of the republic for certain.  Jefferson was viewed as a radical left-winger who cared little for the safety of America.  He did, in fact, do his level best to reduce the military to near insignificance.

But the most polarized Congress ever was probably that which existed during Abraham Lincoln’s years as president.  Not only were the Republicans and Democrats at each other’s throats constantly, but within each of those party there existed groups known as “war Republicans,” “Peace Republicans,” “War Democrats,” and “Peace Democrats” who factionalized their own parties.  Each contented it knew what the American people wanted and what was best for the country.  Part of Lincoln’s greatness was his ability to bring these warring parties together.  To that end he took Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, as his running mate for his second term.  He jettisoned Hannibal Hamlin, his first term vice-president, a rather popular Republican, taking the southerner Johnson knowing that once the war was won he would need a southerner to bring the formerly warring parties back together.  That was not the only time there was a split-ticket in the White House, but it was the last time.

In 1908 the Republican party took the more cerebral William Howard Taft over the feisty Theodore Roosevelt as Republican party power brokers viewed TR’s populist tendencies as being too radical for the “Grand Old Party.”  Roosevelt was seen as a friend to labor, had worked diligently to break up monopolies, and was responsible for the starting of the national park system and other populist ideas of the day.  After his defeat to Woodrow Wilson 1912, Taft confided that he was quite relieved from the burden of such leadership.  Years later he was appointed to the US Supreme Court, a job that he was made to do, and ended his career as its Chief Justice and is generally recognized as one of the best ever in that role.  His genius was in Constitutional  interpretation, and not in Constitutional administration as is required of the president.

The point of this, so far, is that the partisan party politics we are seeing today is nothing new, and certain not the worst this country has ever experienced.  The strength of the republic is in its ability to be greater than any single person.

Political pundits love to clamor over who are Democrats and who are Republicans.  But statistics tells us that such definition is foolish at best.  The following diagram is what is known as a standard statistical curve.  It means that when you take a mixed population of anything, in this case the people of the United States, you can present that population with a high degree of accuracy using this diagram.


Look at this diagram as being read from left to right.  Think of it in terms of the left being the political left and the right as being the political right.  If you look at just the blue portion under the curve you will see 34.1% extending from the center to the right and left.  In statistics it is mathematically provable that any population will find 68.2% of whatever you are counting, in this case voting Americans.  This is also known as the first standard deviation.  The next 13.6%, or the 2nd standard deviation, in our example refers to the more liberal or more conservative members of either party, leaving the last 2.15% as the most liberal or conservative.  The mathematics behind these numbers allow for no more than a 1% to 2% error, a very small number.  But what it ultimately means, and most importantly, is that 68.2% of the voting public has close to the same opinion on any given target.

The problem we here in America have is that those political operatives who live in the 2nd or 3rd standard deviation, tend to do a lot of yelling and attention garnering with the claim that they are speaking for most Americans.  But in truth they are speaking for, at most, 25% of Americans.  These people have the sad tendency of being ideologues whose ability to moderate their view is rather limited.  They have the tendency to be heavy-handed and take a “my way or the highway” view on every issue.

I think I am like most Americans.  I am as likely to take a liberal view on any particular issue as I am to take a conservative view on it.  I am a person of strong convictions but I know that in the interest of the greater good there are times when, without abandoning my convictions, I must compromise to find the middle ground where we can all agree.  For example, even as a registered Democrat, I am extremely pro-military and I am not in favor of any military spending cuts as is now being proposed.  That is a rather conservative view I believe.  But to achieve a reasonable end I recognize I will have to give a little.  Another day is in the offing when everything will be in play once again and I can once again fight for what I believe in.

Personally, I view the majority of our congress as being moderates.  Sadly, however, I see them being far too heavily influenced by the more conservative or liberal members of their own party.  They seem to have forgotten the mandate placed upon them by their own constituency, and this is to do the will of the people who put them in office, not the will of the power brokers.



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