Last year I changed my voter registration from Democrat to Independent. There were two reasons. The first was in protest of a party that has lost its way and cannot effectively stand up to the other side. The other reason is that in North Carolina, where I live, Independents can vote in either primary. This means that I can vote in the GOP primary and choose the most moderate candidate.  Democrats never win where I live so participating in their primary is a waste of opportunity.

A couple of years ago there was a series of meetings that led to the establishment of Citizens Against Politics As Usual (CAPAU, pronounced Kapow!). It started as a few dozen people meeting in a restaurant and then went on to a few programs attended by hundreds of people ranging across the full political spectrum. What we all had in common was unhappiness with our political party system. CAPAU is at http://www.capau.org/p/home.html

Now that we have seen Congress at its lowest level of public approval ever; the partial shut-down of government; continuing brinksmanship over the debt ceiling; and a tsunami of far right legislation coming from Raleigh, a lot of voters are upset with the system. Here in North Carolina the GOP has a poor approval rating among Republicans (with 40% of them disapproving of the state legislature). It’s that bad.

So what can we do? The best answer I know comes from Mark Twain and a forgotten chapter of American political history. Let’s start with the history. The 1884 election saw a number of prominent Republicans switch allegiance from their party’s nominee James G. Blaine to the Democrat’s choice Grover Cleveland. Their main issue was the corrupt patronage system that had been overseen by GOP presidents. We can therefore understand the Mugwumps as political reformers. This was a close race resulting in the first President of the Democratic Party since the Civil War. The Mugwumps probably provided the Cleveland margin of victory. Noteworthy Mugwumps included mark Twain, Thomas Nast, Louis Brandeis (yes, that Louis Brandeis), Carl Schurz, and Henry Adams.

The term Mugwump is derived from an Algonquin word meaning “person of importance” and first came into use in American English around 1832 when it referred to people who felt too high-minded to debase themselves by being involved in party politics. After the 1884 election the term was also used to refer to fence-sitters or those who are politically unfaithful. I love Mark Twain’s definition taken from his autobiography.

I was a mugwump. We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties–that was our idea of it–voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him. Our principles were high, and very definite. We were not a party; we had no candidates; we had no axes to grind. Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind. By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office. When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name. We had no other creed. Vote for the best man–that was creed enough.
– Mark Twain’s Autobiography (North American Review, Dec. 21, 1906)

He wrote about Mugwumps also in his “The Gilded Age” which I have on my Kindle but have not read yet.
I found a website. http://www.mugwump.co/

I even found a recent political cartoon referring to Mugwumps.

Many pundits are comparing our times with the Gilded Age described by Mark Twain. I think that suggests we reconsider the Mugwump idea. When you go to the polls don’t blindly choose based on party or even ideology. Choose the best candidate, the one who knows how to do politics and is committed to serving those who voted as well as those who did not vote.

Let’s be Mugwumps.

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