A public development of my political and philosophical musings. Occasional thoughts on current events. Primarily for personal satisfaction.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

My brother and I have been having a very mild back and forth over the years because I tend to vote for third-party losers and he votes for a Democratic candidate he may or may not particularly approve of under the theory that, if you vote for someone who has no chance of winning, then you’ve wasted your vote.

This is part of an e-mail I wrote to him today, but I decided to post it as well because most of the opinions in here I’d post eventually anyway.

1) Being on the winning team is not going to make me feel better about the fact that someone I don’t particularly approve of is sitting in the White House.

2) If you cast your vote for the right reasons, you don’t need 50% to win, you need only about 10%. That’s because you’re supposed to be voting issues, not people. The person you cast your ballot for is merely the person who most closely embraces the issues you want to see enacted (sure, if the guy actually has a chance to win, then experience and personality matter too, but they are iffy, best-guess qualities that should supplement but never replace issues).

The point here is that, if you get enough of the vote to swing an election, then your issues will be adopted by the major parties. It’s called ‘stealing the opposition’s thunder’ and it has a long history in American politics (the Democrats used it to destroy the Grange movement over 100 years ago). So if you’re voting issues, then you don’t need to win to win, you just need a decent showing.

3) At the end of ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail,’ Hunter Thompson grouses about how he’s tired of holding his nose in the voting booth. How long, he wonders, do we have to support our chump to keep their chump from winning? When do we get to support a real candidate, someone we can get excited about supporting?

That was thirty years ago and we’re still asking that same question. The answer is obvious: so long as we’re willing to vote for a chump, we’ll keep getting chumps to vote for. If you don’t care to look beyond this election, then vote for the guy you think will win. If you care about the long term health of our democracy, then vote for the person you wish would win—even if you need to bring a pencil and write in your own name.

I have no evidence, but I also have no doubt that if we voted for the best person, then at least sometimes we'd get the best person, instead of merely hoping for the person who sucks less.

4) Finally, a general observation about third-party voting: after the last presidential election (and even occasionally now among the more incompetent and lazy journalists), it was really annoying to hear about how Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the victory by taking his votes. The necessary assumption was that they were Gore’s votes—he had a right to them.

The assertion is absurd; those votes never belonged to Gore or Nader, they belonged to the people who cast them. Al Gore didn’t get those votes because Al Gore didn’t earn those votes. (Nader cost Gore the victory in precisely the same way Perot cost Bush the Elder and Dole the victory, but you never hear Republicans whining about Perot. Whatever else they may be, Republicans are more mature than Democrats.)

Which brings me to all this focus on ‘electibility.’ There are a lot of reasons why America is a pathetic excuse for a democracy right now, but ‘electibility’ is one of the biggest and getting bigger. To not support a person you want to support because you don’t think he can win, to focus almost exclusively on the ‘horse race,’ to pressure candidates to drop out when hardly a vote has been cast, to rally around the leader for no better reason then that he is the leader, is to allow the media to cast your vote for you. Even if you vote on election day, you have removed yourself from the democratic process.

Even if you vote for the winner, you have wasted your vote.

So that's my two cents.

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