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Third Party? For Whom? - Riffs and Licks
Third Party? For Whom?
Once again, we're getting down to the wire in a very close, and very important, election, and a disturbing number of people seem to be focused not on making sure the best candidate wins, but on supporting third-party candidates whose views better reflect their own, even if they have no chance of winning and in fact are more likely to draw votes from the better mainstream candidate.

I am not a huge fan of Obama. I didn't even vote for him in the primaries, and I am deeply skeptical that he will be able to make any serious change for the better. But I'm also reasonably confident that he won't make things significantly worse, which is (much) more than you can say for McCain and his frightening sidekick.

So on a practical level, I will be doing everything I can to make sure Obama wins, including spending Election Day doing get-out-the-vote work in Pennsylvania. (I've already voted, via absentee ballot.)

And let's take a moment to step back and think about the two-party system itself, which so many people seem to think is inherently evil. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, just had a national election. There were four serious candidates in the race, who were represented at all the debates, from the Conservative, Liberal, New Democratic, and Bloc Québécois parties. What essentially happened was that more than half the country voted for a more progressive government, but the Conservatives won the election since the NDP and the Liberals split the progressive vote.

Canada is, for the most part, saner than this country. Religious lunatics have little voice in government, there are actual debates involving actual issues, and corporatism is not quite as rampant. Yet their election went badly not only despite, but because of, their multi-party system.

In countries with a significant proportion of insane religious fundamentalists, a multi-party system is more frightening. It gives the crazies an outsize voice in politics. Look at Israel, where racist right-wing parties can topple governments. So whenever people bring up third parties in this country, I'm always amused that they seem to think Ralph Nadir would be a significant candidate. Hello? If this country ever gets a real third party, it's more likely to either be a right-wing religious party, or a right-wing Libertarian party. Which might help (by splitting the right-wing vote), but that means you should be hoping a third party forms on the other side, not your own.

So whatever your feelings about the two major candidates, the fact is that one of them will be President next year. You need to decide which one of them reflects your views and vision for this country, and make damn sure he is elected. Distracting yourself and others with talk of meaningless third-party candidates, is worse than pointless.


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mary_wroth From: mary_wroth Date: October 16th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't really agree with the argument you are making about political systems that are multi-party. However, I am a realist. And you've succinctly put the issue as regards our election.

So whatever your feelings about the two major candidates, the fact is that one of them will be President next year. You need to decide which one of them reflects your views and vision for this country, and make damn sure he is elected.

And that is why I'm voting for Obama.
nyhamsterhouse From: nyhamsterhouse Date: October 16th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
A couple things jump out to me in this post, since I'm assuming I'm one of your friends whom you've noticed is supporting Ralph Nader :)

The first is that I don't think the only reason that people focus on or support third-party candidates is because they want a third, or fourth party per se. For me, at least, part of it is turning away from the system we have, and searching for some other alternative. Adding parties could be one way of doing that, though as you point out, it's not perfect, and it also might backfire in my liberal face. But it could also be proportional representation, a national presidential election without the college, being able to rank people who are running, instant runoffs, or any other number of options.

Another thing that caught my eye is when you talked about how "distracting yourself and others with talk of meaningless third-party candidates, is worse than pointless." I disagree completely.

For example, I live in New York, a state where it will almost NEVER ever matter whether or not I vote, or whom for, because for most elections, there is no Republican running in any of my various districts. Sometimes, there is a contested primary (Dem), in which case it matters. Presidentially speaking? My primary vote matters. But my general election vote literally doesn't matter AT ALL. I happen to be a stickler for voting--if you don't vote, I feel like you are stealing when you call the police, take out trash, or make use of any other services provided by the government. I ALWAYS VOTE. That said, not so necessary here.

As a voter, I see myself as having three ways to express myself politically. One is casting my not-counting vote. So I always vote my conscience. Two is donating cash. I put my money where my values are. In the primary, I donated a great deal of money (for me) to Hillary, because I wanted her to win. In the general election, I have donated about the same amount to Nader, because I support his positions, and I have donated the same amount to Obama, because I want him to win. Giving money is important in a state like ours, where it can do the good on one's behalf that I did in the primary (ie, going door to door, voter registration, visibility events, etc). The third option is to volunteer--which for us involves doing things like what you are doing, going to PA and helping out, etc. I'm not doing that in this case because I don't feel passionate enough about Obama to advocate for him personally--which is why I'm giving more money than I usually would, to make up for my lack of walking and talking.

I really don't think that that is doing any less than I ought to. It's important to me to support alternate voices that advocate for things like regulation, gay and women's rights, equal pay, less rights for corporations, and a radical retihnking of our war policy. But it's also important to me that McCain not be allowed in the White House. So I've allocated my resources (from those three categories) the best way for me to feel good about what I'm doing, while still trying to actually impact the election. Don't you think that is what we all should be doing?
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 16th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wasn't actually thinking of you, Jess -- I don't have any problem with what you're doing, except for donating to Nad*r, but we know we disagree on that. :-) You are, in fact, not "turning away from the system we have" but trying to find a way within it to make better things happen.

Most importantly, you said, "it's also important to me that McCain not be allowed in the White House." And you're working in your own way to make sure that doesn't happen. I cannot believe the number of seemingly intelligent people who've said to me recently that it doesn't matter whether McCain or Obama wins. I cannot even begin to comprehend that thinking, and it scares and depresses me almost as much as the creeps at Palin's rallies.

One other point on local voting -- I support the Working Families Party, so I cast my not-terribly-meaningful vote for Obama on their line, to help a local third party that actually does accomplish practical things.
nyhamsterhouse From: nyhamsterhouse Date: October 16th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am willing to agree with people who say that (that it doesn't matter between McCain and Obama) in CERTAIN, long-term ways. Like, if I was an alien watching from space, I probably couldn't tell the difference. In reading the Pentagon Papers right now (oh, so slow going!) and Dan Ellsberg's book about them, it's so clear how both R and D presidents can come in with great ideals, and then do shit like fuck up a country for literally thirty plus years just cause god forbid the French or, later on, Americans looked like losers. They'd rather spend money we don't have bombing people we don't know who did nothing to us, ever, than to lose face. I know Obama and McCain weren't involved in those decisions, but... there's a big part of me that realizes that our current system (be that America, democracy, two-party, or whatever) corrupts and that America and its leaders all seem to think we have rights that we just don't, or shouldn't.

That said, as someone who cares passionately about the environment, abortion rights, women's rights, global warming, poverty, etc etc etc... clearly, there is a BIG FUCKING DIFFERENCE between the two of them. Hence the money to Obama :)
doodlegoat From: doodlegoat Date: October 16th, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Proportional representation would let a Nader campaign do some good. We don't have it. We're not going to get it. Nader should should shut up and go away.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 16th, 2008 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha, well put. But even with it, whatever good Nadir could do would be far outweighed by parties of the religious right.
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: October 16th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I live in a red state that is NO WAY going to go to Obama, and I'm an Obama supporter, do you think I should bother voting for him? There's NO WAY he's going to win. Shouldn't I nevertheless vote for the candidate I believe in, on principle that every vote counts?

So shouldn't I always vote for the candidate I believe in, on that principle?

If you think that I shouldn't vote for Nader, no matter how much I believe in him, because there's NO WAY he's going to win, then it would be consistent to agree with people who don't vote at all when there's NO WAY their candidate will win in their state.

I think people should vote for who they want.

And they should want Obama. But they should vote for who they want, regardless.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 17th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you should do things to make sure people you agree with get into office. I'm not so much talking about voting here as about preaching that McCain and Obama are equivalent so it doesn't matter which you vote for or support.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 24th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)


I can't vote for McCain, because I think he is likely to die in office, and Sarah Palin represents the very frightening (to me) hardcore religious right.

But Obama has not remotely convinced me that he deserves my vote, on several levels. In fact, his inexperience worries me and I'm not convinced he will do no harm. Several things he's said in debates are so ridiculous, I've found myself wondering if he's purposely making a false campaign promise or if he really has no idea what he's talking about. One thing I just noticed was his "wall st. vs. main st." ad -- if he seriously doesn't understand how the crisis on wall st. is affecting the credit markets used by "main st." then we're in a lot of trouble if he gets into office. Or maybe he's just pandering. Either way, it's just one example of things he says/does that continue to make me more and more concerned.

For that reason, I am still deciding between voting for Obama or voting for nobody. But I will still vote in my local elections, so it's not a wasted opportunity for democratic participation.

And seriously -- I don't think anyone could possibly be worse than who we have now.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: October 25th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Eh...

Thanks, Megan. I haven't seen that (or any other) campaign ad, but I hope he's talking about the failure to include foreclosure protection in the bailout rather than making what would be, as you say, a pretty foolish argument.

Obama aside, the prospect of McCain (and Palin) getting into office would make me vote against them even if I were not enthused about voting for Obama (and I've become so despite my initial skepticism and vote for Clinton in the primaries).

And I have to say, I think Palin would be worse than Dubya. She wouldn't have the opportunity to do as much damage, since it's hard to burn a house down twice, but she's less experienced, more vicious, perhaps more totalitarian, and has been willing to go MUCH farther in feeding the worst instincts of her fan base.
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