It was a hot, humid day in the heart of 2007. We pulled off from Highway 5 and headed north into Knoxville, Iowa, toward the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum for the next stump speech. We had a sunup to sundown schedule. I had driven this route before in preparation for this purpose. It was my job to lead the caravan to the next scheduled place and make sure the governor arrived on time.
A cellphone rang and caused an impromptu stop. The governor saw Dairy Queen and wanted an ice cream cone. He jumped out of the vehicle and ran inside, alone. This escapade was going to make us late. Within a matter of seconds, he was back in the car. The line inside was evidently too long. We arrived at the event right on time. As we pulled into the parking lot, I spotted the silly animal flapping its flippers, waving a sign that said “Flip Flopper.” I had heard about this unlikely creature popping up at other political events across the state. Another campaign was using this attention-grabbing tactic to sow seeds of contention.
Gov. Mitt Romney was labeled a flip-flopper early during his first run for president. It frustrated me to see these interparty animal house tactics in action. Was dressing up like a dorsal-finned water mammal the best way to distinguish policy from personality? I did not think so. It left a poor taste in my mouth for the candidate whose campaign had endorsed this behavior. In this moment, a flip-flopping Mormon seemed a lot less silly than a dancing dolphin. In the last decade, I have seen a lot more silly animals arrive in politics.
Recently, we purchased a children’s book that lets you mix and match different critters. The crocopotamus, tibra, likey, monphant and hippodile are some of my favorites. This book prompted me to consider some of the more interesting political animals of our time. The progressive patriots, freedom socialists, tea party resisters and liberty democrats come to mind. Sound oxymoronic? Welcome to 21st century America.
There used to be many Blue Dog Democrats, Main Street Republicans, centrists and moderates. Before them, there were Bourbon Democrats, Dixiecrats, Boll Weevils and Half-breeds. The old hybrids were arguably the best of both parties. Our new hybrids of today are a mix of the extremes from both ends of the political spectrum.
The similarities between the two fringes is called the horseshoe theory. The theory is the far left and far right are closer to each other than either is to the political center. Both criticize the status quo as the enemy. Of course there is some oversimplification inherent in this theory and some fundamental differences cannot be ignored.
Still, the middle road of American politics is increasingly narrow and a lot less traveled. The compromising souls on this path are getting squeezed out by radical progressives and socialists on the left and so-called tea partiers, freedom fighters, patriots and liberty legislators on the right. Each fringe is ironically similar in style and tactic. Resistance is a word being flung from each corner.
If you are not a single-issue candidate or purist for narrow or extreme causes, you must be soulless, valueless and spineless. If you are not anti-government or anti-business, you are mushy anti-American. Pick a side and stand as far to that side as you can. If not, we might confuse which side you are on. Palinism, Bernieism, Trumpism and now Ocasio-Cortezism have all substantially contributed to our new American animal house.
We are a hybrid nation. We will see whether future political hybrids on the left and right continue to reflect the nearly one-third of American voters that call themselves neither liberal or conservative and who reject the either/or ideology. Dolphins have a highly developed brain and exhibit empathy and altruism. Will our new political creatures have similar emotional and intellectual traits?
Dustin Manwaring is a business and estate planning attorney in Pocatello and served in the Idaho Legislature from 2016-2018.