First, the bad news.
On November 3, 2004, the winning President-elect will not be a Libertarian or a Green Party member. He will be a Republican or a Democrat.
Sorry, folks. It’s true. Deep in your hearts, you know it’s true.
Now, the worse news.
Voting for a third-party candidate won’t change that.
No, I’m not going to tell you that if you vote Libertarian or Green or whatever, you’re throwing your vote away. On the contrary. A third-party vote is extremely effective. If you vote Libertarian, or whatever, you’re voting for George W. Bush. It’s quite likely that it will be the Libertarian and Green votes that put Dubya in the White House.
The Republicans know something that the rest of us don’t; they know how to operate effectively. It’s why the Republicans are spending a lot of money and a lot of time making damn sure that Ralph Nader and other “alternative” candidates make it on the ballots in certain key states. It’s pretty simple, really; if you can buy, trick, or cajole one percent of the enemy’s voters into opting out of an election that hangs on half a percent of the vite, you win.
So, the Republicans are financing Nader. They’re saying “There, there, you tree-hugging faggot-loving liberal, you go pretend to vote while we get on with the business of winning the election. That’s right, you Godless Arab-loving little pervert, you teach us a lesson. You show us where it’s at and send a message to us about how you feel about politics…by letting us win. Good little liberal.” In secret, of course, they’re laughing all the way to the White House.
Six of one ain’t half a dozen of the other.
In the 2000 election, I watched a speech by Ralph Nader in which he made the claim that it matters little if the Republicans or the Democrats win; they were, he claimed, exactly the same–the “Republicrat Party”–and one was as good as the other. In that moment, I knew I would never vote for him, because in his bid to win the Presidential election, he had sacrificed his own greatest asset–his intellectual integrity.
A lie repeated often enough will be believed, no matter how outlandish it may be. Witness, for example, the mind-boggling number of people who believe that the “borrow and spend” Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats.
The notion that the Democratic and Republican parties are the same is even more absurd. The last Democrat left office with a budget surplus, and had begun paying down the national debt; now, less than four years later, the Republicans have turned that budget surplus into the greatest budget deficit the nation has ever seen, in its entire history, ever. Federal standards on drinking water safety have gone down, logging and mining on Federal land has gone up, all under Republican watch…yeah, Ralph, they’re all the same, and you really showed us what for, didn’t ya? A Fundamentalist Christian who believes in anointing himself with oil, writes articles for white-supremacist magazines, and who thinks calico cats are demons sent out of Hell by Satan–I swear I am not making this up–holds the position of Attorney General of the United States. Think Gore’s Attorney General would look like that? Don’t bet on it.
The curse of the two-party system
Okay, time for another truth: The two-party political system sucks. It leaves little room for serious debate and no room for dissenting viewpoints; for people, like me, who live well outside the center of the bell curve, the two-party system works very poorly indeed.
But there’s another truth lying half-submerged beneath that truth: Right now, in October 2004, we have a two-party system, and it’s too late to change that before the general election next month. In twenty-four days’ time, the President-elect will be a Democrat or a Republican. Period. Deal with it.
The secret to weilding power–the secret to changing the world around you–is to understand the difference between action that is effective and action that is not. If you want to change the world, you must first understand what it would take to make that change. What would it take to create a three-party system? Voting Libertarian or Green ain’t it. The Republicans know that; that’s why they’re making sure Nader is on the ballot! The only way to create a viable three-party system is to get a viable candidate before the general election begins. A third-party candidate who doesn’t have a wide and deep voter base before the Republican and Democratic primaries doesn’t have a shot; it’s that simple. If he’s not already a contender before the run-up to the general election, this election is already over for him; the most effective course of action is to start planning for the next.
Realism is not defeatism
“But if everyone who wanted a three-party system would all vote Libertarian in the election, things would change!”
In fact, that doesn’t do the idea justice. Let me rephrase. Pure, rich, deep bullshit, shit from the very finest of Texas bulls hand-fed with the choicest of grains to ensure the most fragrant aroma and most jucy texture. Bullshit of the kind to make a grown man weep and children tremble. Bullshit of such magnificence as to make the strongest ofmen say, “Ayup, that’s bullshit, and I ain’t never seen its like afore.”
Bullshit. If everyone who wanted a three-party system voted Libertarian in the upcoming election, the Libertarian candidate might be thrilled and delighted to see that he’d bested all previous records and won a stunning four percent of the vote.
Now, I’m not saying there are not a whole lot of Americans who are dissatisfied with the two-party system as usual. There are. Just go to a Fundamentalist revival some time, and you’ll see that anger and disenchantment with two-party politics runs deep; there are many patriotic Americans who believe in their deepest of hearts that two party-politics means one party too many. Witness, for example, the Texas politicians warning their constituency in the direst of voices that if the Democrats win, “Bibles will be banned” and “men will no longer be permitted to marry women.” (Again, I swear I am not making this up.)
The fact of the matter is, most people don’t think about politics that much. They go to the polls (or, more often, stay away from the polls) every four years, hoping the guy with the best haircut wins. Anyone who’s waiting for the sudden backlash against politics as usual to usher the Libertarian into the White House on a sudden and unexpected wave of popular support had best not hold his breath.
You want to vote your conscience? You want to cast your vote for the person who best matches your ideas? Fine, but do so with your eyes open; we are all, at the end of the day, responsible even for the unintended consequences of our decisions. There’s a reason the Republicans are putting political opponents on the ballot: if you’re voting for a third-party candidate, you are part of the Republican strategy for winning this election. Cast your vote, but know what you’re voting for: four more years of the same.
And now, for some good news
A three-party system is possible.
It’s not going to happen this November; political and social change doesn’t happen that way. The curse of every revolutionary who has ever lived is that most of the time, most of the people simply don’t care.
But it can happen nevertheless.
There’s a catch: It takes more than going to the polls once every four years and voting Libertarian. It takes actual long-term, dedicated work. And it isn’t going to happen from the top down; sorry, that ain’t how it works. It has to happen from the bottom up.
You want to vote Libertarian, and have your vote mean something more than Bush in the White House? Vote Libertarian in the place where you can do the most good: in your local elections. Work from the ground up. Support third-party candidates close to home, where your vote carries more weight and you’re able to cast your vote without being manipulated by the Republican machine. Work at home. Create an environment where people say “Hey, if the Libertarians (or Greens or whoever) are doing right for me in City Hall, maybe they’ll do right for me in state politics, too.” You don’t walk from one coast to the other in a single step; you walk from one coast to the other by putting one foot in front of the other a whole bunch of times.
If a third party wants to field a candidate with a realistic chance of winning the Presidency, that third party is doomed from the start if it doesn’t have at least a billion dollars behind it. It’s no accident that Ross Perot came closer than anyone before him–and even he didn’t get double-digit support. But on a state and local level, a tenth that much money and a tenth that much work is going to get a whole lot of people who aren’t Democrats or Republicans into a whole lot of places.
It’s all about using power effectively–and that’s a lesson we can learn from the people who already know it.