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Jokers and clowns, left and right

Extremists in both parties today are the clowns and jokers of the left and right, and they are trying to pull America toward their polarized views.

The United States Capitol building
The United States Capitol building
REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Political extremists are pulling Americans not just to the polls to vote, but toward 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 let them make fools of us.

Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am stuck in the middle with you

– Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You” (1972)

Now, we would never make it our business to state or imply that any politician in particular is a joker or a clown. There have been too many already who have thrown around those kinds of personal insults. Principle Based Politics simply is using a catchy refrain from a 1970s song to drive home the point that extremism on both the political left and right is not good for our country.

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

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The parties were known for what they favored, not what they opposed.

Extremists in both parties today are the clowns and jokers of the left and right, and they are trying to pull America toward their polarized views.

Here is how bad polarization is getting? When asked in surveys today how well they like members of the other party, on a scale of 1 to 100, Americans rate members of their own party 56 points higher. Stated differently, someone who put Republican people generally at “85” on the 100-point scale would put Democrats at “29.” A Democrat who would give Republican people a “29” score would give their fellow Democrat a “85,” on average. That kind of identity-based hostility against members of the other party is much worse than 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. 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 hold them back, and conservatives need liberals to pull them forward.”

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What we should do

In addition to its jab at those on the left and right, “Stuck in the Middle with You” has a few other lines that are thought-provoking, starting with the very first words of the song:

Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight
I’ve got the feeling that something ain’t right . . . (refrain)
Yes, I’m stuck in the middle with you
And I’m wondering what it is I should do

We know political extremism “ain’t right.” Those of us “stuck in the middle” should stick together. That’s what we should do. We should make known to the political parties 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 jokers and clowns left or right, we should stay where we are and insist that the political parties get back to their principles. Back in the middle with us.

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