Journalist, editor and author Marcia Ford gets her news from Comedy Central. This small detail suggests what you can expect from her latest book --- a rollicking yet informed perspective on politics that isn’t afraid to flout convention. Make that “conventions,” as in the Republican and Democratic conventions that will be convening this summer to formally select their presidential candidates. Ford eschews both parties.
“The truth is, I am every partisan politician’s worst nightmare --- a registered independent,” writes Ford. “Wildly unpredictable in my voting habits over the last three decades and more, I have cast ballots for Democrats, Republicans, independents and assorted loose cannons. I have also cast ballots against Democrats, Republicans, independents, and assorted loose cannons. And I have cast no ballot at all in those years when political ennui overtook me, when voting for the lesser of two evils appeared to be more evil than not voting at all. In those years, I intentionally avoided the evil of two lessers.”
Independent voters like Ford have been dubbed “Purple” voters for their penchant to blend Red- and Blue-State politics (not to mention Green and all manner of politics that have avoided a primary color designation). But far from being indecisive or non-committal, Ford contends that Purple voters are passionate about politics, so much so that they’re unwilling to passively play into the two-party system that stifles real dialogue and effective governance. She writes, “When a candidate is not beholden to a major political party, that candidate is free not only to speak her mind but also to engage in more creative problem-solving.”
Ford also points out that the two-party system has been especially poisonous for faith communities who are often held hostage by religious political rhetoric that tells voters they risk spiritual and/or personal failure by voting the wrong way. Ford, who left a church that became politicized, writes, “While pastors were preaching the Republican line, the spiritual life of their congregations was draining away drop by drop.” And it’s not just a problem in conservative churches: partisan politics plays out in liberal mainline, African-American and other churches. “As paradoxical as the image may seem, if Christians remained morally centered, their votes could swing all along the political spectrum.”
WE THE PURPLE came out of an idea for an essay, and sometimes it shows, with digressions that fill up space on the page rather than keep Ford’s thesis focused. Rabbit trails abound. And at one point she takes the position that those who don’t vote, even if their reasons amount to laziness, should feel entitled to complain about the government. Basic freedom of speech issues aside (of course, no is suggesting that people who don’t vote actually have their right to free speech taken away), it does seem fair to suggest that those unwilling to engage the political process should be reticent to complain when that process results in unwanted outcomes. How her assertion on behalf of non-voters fits into her ideas about morally centered, independent voting is unclear to me apart from the fact it’s certainly an outsider position and therefore would be welcome in the large embrace of Purple politics that she advocates.
It’s this large embrace of Purple politics that gives WE THE PURPLE something of an unwieldy arc. Given that independent voters are so, well, independent, Ford’s effort to speak on behalf of Purple voters as a group often seems counter-intuitive. But her book does provide a helpful framework, especially for evangelicals, for thinking about the real deficiencies of the current two-party system and what ordinary people can do to buck that system. According to the statistics, Purple voters are increasingly a force to be reckoned with. WE THE PURPLE offers helpful insider analysis of this trend for people scratching their heads over the non-affiliated and those already “proud to be Purple!”
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on March 5, 2008