There's no "Independents Day" this week.
We independent voters don't have a convention. We don't get to take over a city and hobnob with movie stars and media celebrities; red, white and blue balloons won't fall on our heads. We will not, at least relative to the presidential campaign, be in Teddy Roosevelt's acclaimed arena, covered with dust, knowing either the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
No, we get to sit in the stands, doing our thing - thumbs up or thumbs down. Easy to say. Or so the political party establishment, which dismisses us as "unenrolled," tells us.
But, in a way, it's harder for us.
Party people support their party's candidate, although many of them had no more to do with actually choosing him than we did.
Professional party consultants get their man through the early trials. Less-connected candidates make some early advances. But in the end, it's the connections that count.
The activists at the Democratic convention are more liberal than their platform, and their candidate will move even farther to the middle in order to win. Republican activists are generally more conservative than their platform or candidates will be. Yet the party regulars do their loyalty thing, while we independent voters make our decision issue by issue, man by man.
As Bill Clinton said in his convention speech the other night, Republicans and Democrats have fundamental differences. This is true of the party activists, though not all the party voters.
Reagan Democrats had more in common with conservative Republicans than with the liberal wing of their own party. Libertarian Republicans are often uncomfortable with whole chunks of the Republican agenda. And people like me must decide which issues matter most, and which candidates agree with us on those issues, always supposing we can believe what they say.
During his convention speech, Al Gore asked this question of those who voted for George Bush in 2000: "Did you get what you expected?"
To be honest, Al, I never expect much.
At the time I voted for him, or more precisely, against you, I thought George W. had been foisted on us by the Republican establishment, which also had foisted his father on us, back when a lot of us voted for Ross Perot instead. Both George the Elder and you had become presidential candidates because, previously, the party establishment had chosen you to run as vice president for whatever insubstantial reasons vice presidential candidates are chosen - it was your turn or something.
That sense of entitlement didn't play on my field. I watched the 2000 Democratic convention, added up the cost of everything you promised to do for me, and decided I couldn't afford your generosity.
The nonpartisan National Taxpayer Union Foundation has just added up the cost of what John F. Kerry is promising this year and predicts "a $226 billion blow, on top of the 29 percent spending run-up under George W. Bush's term." So I can't afford Kerry, either. I can barely afford President Bush, with his new budget-busting prescription drug entitlement and "compassionate conservatism" for which our grandchildren will have to pay.
Of course, President Clinton when he ran had also promised all things to all people, and the "middle class tax cut" he ran on turned into a giant tax hike on all of us. On the other hand, he surprised us, and his liberal supporters, with welfare reform.
Clinton had become president after George Bush the Elder surprised his supporters by breaking the "no new taxes" pledge he took at his convention and began raising our taxes again. This is why conventions are, to the independent voter, a waste of time and money - they are carefully scripted propaganda, all fantasy and fury, signifying nothing.
But to answer your question, Al, I like George W. Bush better than I expected. Along with keeping his tax-cut campaign promise, he surprised the entire nation with leadership qualities that got us through the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001. I hope we, the unenrolled, can inspire him, John Kerry and future presidential candidates with this proposed Declaration of Independents:
I will vote, but don't take me for granted.
Don't lie to me, denying what my own eyes can see or my own ears have heard. Don't insult my intelligence by insisting that government can give me everything I want without a tax increase or intolerable debt.
Attack, if you will, your opponents' foreign and environmental policies; but tell me what you will do differently. Explain to me your own thinking on the economy, jobs and immigration.
Admit your mistakes as soon as they are realized, and ask for my understanding. I don't expect you to be perfect, just honest.
Be optimistic, but be aware that's one thing you can't effectively fake.
Give me your own vision for America, not that of your public relations team. Give me a reason to vote for you, not just against your opponent.
I am an independent, and I will pick the best man for the job.