Last week I wrote that both political parties were rapidly approaching a day of reckoning. Since I reckon that neither party is really interested in such a reckoning, it is time to seriously explore a third way. And if not the formation of a new political party, it is time to reexamine and re-enthrone the principles that forged this free nation. 

Third parties in America have never fared well. The money, the party machines, the influence and the power of the two dominant political groups have always been able to crush, and then reabsorb, any factions or rebellions. Those who dare to challenge establishment Democrats and Republicans seem doomed to destruction or, in the end, passive assimilation. 

Many a rebel has gone back to Washington with promises of taking on the establishment, only to find that life is much easier, reelection more certain and positions of power more prevalent by placidly falling in line with the party bosses.

A day of reckoning

The country is a center-right, center-left nation. Many in this quiet group have held their noses to cast votes for Republicans or Democrats because of past party affiliation. Whether they will continue to do that in the years ahead seems unlikely. The question will be whether this group will yield to the noisy extremes at both ends of the political spectrum or finally demand a party that truly reflects their principles, policies and approach to community and governing.

The ‘moveable middle’

Sometimes referred to as the “moveable middle,” this group is growing but has yet to recognize or operationalize its voice. Moveable middles are different from independents in that they tend to be registered Democrats or Republicans, spanning the center-left to center-right, but have disconnected from politics because they are exhausted by the divisive rhetoric coming from the angry extremes. 

Many in this group may not vote in the future unless candidates begin to speak to them in a way that matters and has meaning in their lives. These voters, which could determine the next several election cycles, want to hear policies and solutions centered in community, compassion, self-reliance and upward mobility. No one is deploying this language or talking about these issues in a significant way.

Community, compassion, self-reliance and upward mobility are hardly ever heard in stump speeches and the talking points of candidates for either party. The question is whether a party based on such principles could organize and win in the face of big money donors and big establishment power.

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Some of my friends and I have a group text where, over the years, we have suggested, half-joking and half-not, that it is time to form the Giraffe Party. Just think of all the good metaphors this party could lean on: “Always willing to stick their neck out for principles and good policy.” Our party “can clearly see the opportunities and challenges on the horizon.” We “always stay above the fray.” This party is “fierce in the face of threats.” (If you haven’t watched a giraffe fight, you should check it out on YouTube.) 

A party has to have a platform, of course. I have studied the platforms of both major parties. Each has ballooned over the years to somewhere between 25,000 to 30,000 words. The platforms have become documents driven by lobbyists and special interest groups. Platforms have become one more piece of the party arsenal for big-time fundraising. Yet, even elected officials from the respective parties have rarely, if ever, read them. 

A different platform

In 2013, I spent an evening with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. He raised the idea of a platform of principles similar to Abraham Lincoln’s. His platform was 1,200 words, which stood forthrightly for America’s principles and constitutional institutions, bringing about political liberty under the rule of law, defending and maintaining national independence, creating a vigorous framework for economic opportunity, and securing liberty and justice for all Americans. 

Abraham Lincoln’s platform in 1860 was brief and clear, speaking directly to the American people about the principles of the nation and the choices before them. This idea of a short, readable platform written directly to the American people has been bouncing around my brain ever since.

To have power, a platform must be read. And not just by wonks or politicos. Imagine a platform that every American could read in a single sitting or discuss around the dinner table.

The American people are starving for a dialogue on the principles that make us extraordinary. Citizens will never ask for such a conversation in a Frank Luntz-led focus group or request it in a Pew Research opinion poll. But they are straining to hear the certain sound of principles in the midst of the chatter and clamor of contempt-fill rhetoric. I believe we should sound our principles loud and clear.

President Lincoln called on our better angels. President Kennedy summoned us to ask what we could do for our country. President Reagan said he wasn’t leading a revolution but a great rediscovery of our values and common sense.

To put it simply, we must put our principles first.

Giraffe party platform

In 2016 I attempted to write just such a document with Dr. Arnn and Mr. Matt Spalding, also from Hillsdale. It was deemed undoable because Republicans and Democrats were disinterested. Anything that changes the status quo of power is too risky.

In the midst of the current political and social unrest I have gone back to the document we created many times. I have made some tweaks, combined and shortened a few things to fit it all into a 15-point, 1,000 word platform. 

Imagine a party, Giraffe or otherwise, that would declare the following:

  1. That the cornerstone of American government is the principle of human equality enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, under which all are equal in the rights with which each is endowed by their Creator, and that legitimate governments are instituted to secure these unalienable rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  2. That the Constitution of the United States, taking its authority from the people it represents and from whom the powers of government have been delegated, was ordained and established in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, and that in order to do so separates and assigns the powers of government among three branches to establish a necessarily powerful but fundamentally limited government. 
  3. That these principles and this form of government have established the longest enduring society of free men and women in history, that its greatness stems from the unity of its principles with its practices, and that we rededicate our country to its principles and commit to policies that harmonize with them.
  4. That all laws in the United States shall henceforth guarantee equal rights to every American and special privileges to none, and that, as the people are the rightful sovereigns, government in all of its actions must represent them and pursue their interests and common good.
  5. The principles of federalism must be restored and the separation of powers renewed such that only Congress makes laws and the president preserves the rule of law by enforcing only those laws properly made. The rule of law must be and shall be reestablished as a transparent, predictable, and binding framework of governance. That the federal government regulates too many aspects of our daily lives, giving rise to a class of experts, regulatory agencies and political elites that govern in ways that are increasingly undemocratic and undermine constitutional self-government. Congress and the president must return to their rightful, limited, constitutional powers.
  6. That the federal government has become overly centralized and nationalized despite the fact that most domestic policy is properly located in states and localities, and that federalism will preserve the proper constitutional authority in states and localities, bringing as well enormous budgetary savings, policy innovation, and improvements in the accountability of government.
  7. That it is the fundamental responsibility of the national government, and its core constitutional function, to “provide for the common defense” — which means, first and foremost, protecting the American people and their national independence — and that to do this the United States must be able and willing at all times to defend itself, its people, and its institutions from conventional and unconventional threats to its vital interests at home and abroad. Military action should be undertaken cautiously only for the national interest, and when pursued done fiercely and with utmost speed.
  8. That agreements with other nations, including trade agreements, should be made in the interest of the American people, and that no agreement should be pursued that undermines American sovereignty or the well-being and prosperity of the American people.
  9. That each nation has the responsibility and obligation to determine its own conditions for immigration, naturalization, and citizenship. Americans remain a most generous people, proving that compassion and rule of law are indeed compatible principles. Borders, entry exit systems, streamlined application processes and guest workers permits are all part of a proper approach to immigration. Ensuring the country’s national security while compassionately dealing with those who come to our shores and borders is the essence of America.
  10. That the economic policies of the federal government should aim to make the American economy vibrant and employment available to all, and that the relationship between private property and public benefit shall be emphasized and defended as a primary vehicle to reduce poverty and promote the common good, such that each has the right to the rewards of his labor and that every member of society can work hard, pursue opportunity, and advance based on individual talent and ability.
  11. That America’s vast investment in the social security of its citizens must be secure and protected, and that the social safety net for those in need must be preserved and improved in fiscally responsible ways that do not constitute an inhibition to work.
  12. That we stand committed to the education of all, recognizing that the responsibility for education should be in the states, in public as well as private and religious schools, and is best left in the hands of parents and local control. As in industry, the content of one’s character and the merit of one’s accomplishment should be the sole standards of achievement in American education.
  13. That every life contains meaning and possibility. From the aged and infirm to the yet-to-be-born, from the homeless and poverty stricken to the addicted and incarcerated, from the religious to the secular, from the minority to the majority, from the wealthy to most vulnerable — all deserve respect and the rights of each demand protection.
  14. That in upholding equality before the law, the federal government must protect freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and the freedom of association, so that families, schools, churches, and the other institutions of civil society can sustain and cultivate the virtues and character required for republican government. As our first freedom, the religious liberty of all citizens of all faiths must and shall be guarded not by tolerance but as a matter of right. That the promises within the Bill of Rights must be upheld for all. 
  15. And, finally, trusting in the American people and having set forth the principles for which this Party stands, we invite all citizens of this great country to join us in pursuing a new birth of freedom for our nation and ensuring that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth. 

To be clear, I am not launching a new political party, though I believe the Giraffe Party would have great promise. I hope these 15 principles will spark conversations among the movable middles of this nation to make their voices heard. Beginning at the dinner table and moving into public square, it is time for a different kind of political discussion. Whether current Democrats or Republicans are willing to engage in such elevated dialogue will likely determine whether the nation remains a two-party country or if a serious third party will emerge.

If as a nation the citizens don’t demand political dialogue that puts America’s founding principles first, we will not have political parties, or a nation, that will last.