Orman, a Princeton-educated, self-made businessman, ran as an independent. Through a confluence of breaks, savvy and hard work, he drew enough support to freak out the GOP.
The party’s heavy hitters were trotted out to Kansas. Their job was to tar Orman as a stooge of Harry Reid who would solidify the Obama agenda.
It worked. Orman lost, although he garnered 43 percent of the vote.
The experience confirmed in Orman a determination to address America’s political malaise head-on. Hence the book. One of his guiding insights is this: “Partisanship has become the new prejudice.”
Consider these statistics, highlighted in the book: In 1960, 4 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans said they would be “displeased” if their child married someone from a rival political party. By 2010, one-third of Democrats and half of Republicans said they would be “somewhat” or “very” unhappy at the idea.
On the other hand, a full 43 percent of Americans identify as independents. And 35 percent say they are moderates. The problem is they often don’t have a candidate to support. So they hold their nose and choose. Or they sit out Election Day.
Orman writes: “[I]ndependence from the party line, from the special interests that control both major political parties through campaign cash, and from extremists who control each party’s primary process — that’s what this country needs to move forward.”
Orman’s plea is for the centrist, unaffiliated electorate to back independent candidates who can run up the middle to victory while the two other parties push candidates on the extremes.
Yet in the political scene as it’s now constituted, independents run the risk of becoming ciphers in Congress, shut out by party loyalists. They also face the question that stymied the Orman campaign: Who will you caucus with?
Orman’s answer was simple: whichever party is working to solve the problem under consideration. He was branded a liar.
That dynamic might change if even a handful of such candidates were to be elected at the national level — say, five true independents to the Senate. That is a long-term goal of the Centrist Project, which backed Orman.
The Centrist Project reports that 74 percent of Americans are angry about the way government works. And 89 percent disapprove of how Congress does its job.
Sadly, those very people are likely backing opposing candidates in the current election cycle and might not recognize each other for all the shouting and finger-pointing.
People fed up with Washington are largely fueling the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. One wonders what might be possible if those people could be persuaded to recognize their shared values, to research the roots of their problems dispassionately and to withhold assigning blame to scapegoats.