Editorial: Independent solution?

Like the government’s new health care website, ours (rappnews.com) crashed last week. Evidently not because of malicious hacking, but because of unanticipated demand — i.e., popularity. In the government’s case, that meant millions of Americans wanted to explore the benefits of so-called Obamacare. In the newspaper’s case, almost 40,000 people wanted to read our front-page story on the local economic effects of the government shutdown.

Forty-thousand readers! How could that be? That’s roughly five times the number of people who even live in Rappahannock County! The explanation speaks volumes about the way America works (or doesn’t work) today. A link to our story was placed in “The Drudge Report,” a news and gossip aggregation site that gained notoriety by breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton presidency. Matt Drudge has been described as “the Walter Cronkite of our era.”

Ah, for the good ole days of Cronkite, when information wasn’t so instantaneous, when most of the media offered more thoughtful analysis than salacious soundbites and made the effort, at least, at objective reporting, so that an informed citizenry could govern themselves. But in today’s America, “We the People” increasingly and unfortunately digest news from only those cable channels, Internet sites or Twitter accounts that positively reinforce our ideologically predisposed opinions.

Yes, for an old geezer like me, the political era when the Byrd Machine controlled Rappahannock County, and most of rural Virginia, is beginning to seem like a Golden Age. That was when local county bosses delivered votes and set the political agenda — versus now when big-monied special interests like the Koch brothers buy votes to polarize and control the nation’s conversation.

The Byrd Machine may be long gone, but it can provide a valuable history lesson in how to possibly resolve the current governmental dysfunction in Big Washington. It’s called the realignment of political parties: Sen. Harry Byrd, Jr. was one of the last of the “Southern Democrats.” When the national party moved too far to the left, in 1970, he became first an Independent, then a Republican.

Today’s Tea-Party-controlled Republicans have been too radical for at least four Republican congressmen from Virginia, who have indicated they would not insist that funding and reopening the government be held hostage to changing Obamacare. Rappahannock’s own congressman, Rep. Robert Hurt, should announce that he would join them to vote “yes” on a so-called “clean Continuing Resolution” to fund and reopen the government.

But since House Speaker John Boehner refuses to allow such a vote on a “clean C.R.,” what if moderate Republicans became Independents? In today’s Big Washington, where wild-eyed crazies seem to have taken over the Grand Old Party, maybe that’s not such a crazy idea? Think of the clout these 20-30 newly Independents would have! Caucusing with the Democrats or Republicans as they see fit. Not unlike like governing coalitions in Europe, which are beginning to look like exercises in stable, efficient governance compared to what’s happening in today’s Big Washington.

Walter Nicklin