This year, like most years recently, seems to be dominated by politics. At least during Party Primary season, Republican politicians seem to vie for the dubious honor of being seen as the Most Conservative or the Most Trump; Democrats vie to be noted as the Most Liberal or Least Trump. One has the impression that members of the two major political parties would not agree on what time it is, even if they shared the same wristwatch. Is there a better way for politicians to get along, reminiscent of the halcyon and perhaps fictional days that saw Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill as friends? Here is my own somewhat mathematical (are you surprised?) pie-in-the-sky plan to do that, at least at the Congressional level. Let’s just look at the U.S. Senate as an example. Its membership of exactly 100 makes the numbers easy to work with.
As a thought experiment, let’s lay out a number line from 1 to 100, with “most conservative” at one end and “most liberal” at the other, and for the sake of argument have the 100 at the conservative end. Republicans and Democrats might not agree as to which end is the better one, but they would probably agree pretty closely as to which Senators are around which number. Where is Bernie Sanders? Probably in the single digits. Ted Cruz? In the high 90’s. Now let’s divide that number line into quartiles – a concept that I use in teaching my Statistics students. There is the first quartile, numbers 1 through 25, followed by the second, third, and fourth quartiles, the latter numbers 76 through 100. But let’s only worry about the middle two, expanded just a bit so that its numbers run from 25 to 76 rather than 26 through 75 so that redefined “middle” constitutes a majority of 52 Senators. There is probably some overlap around the numbers 45-55, but in today’s Senate a little over half of that middle 52 would be Republicans, a little under half Democrats.
Here is the rule I propose. Get that group together and have them agree virtually 100 percent on any major issue, before it comes up for an actual Senate vote. Reduce taxes or expand the deficit? Have the middle 52 work out a compromise. New Supreme Court Justice to be confirmed? Let’s see which names would capture all 52 votes. Expand or reduce military and/or social spending? Require an answer that would at least gain begrudging support from all 52.
But what about those at the ends, numbers 1 through 24 and 77 through 100? The answer ought to be: nobody cares. Sometimes one end or the other will excitedly support that middle 52, and the other end likely oppose it – and which does what may change from one issue to the next. But they are not – and should not be – at the center of any significant discussion. That role should be reserved for the middle 52.
Left, Right, or Center? I vote for Center. And that is how I plan to vote in November, too. Whatever you think – and wherever you see yourself in that number line – I hope you plan to stay engaged, to figure out where your favorite politicians place from 1 to 100, and to vote!