Someone I know is going GREEN party this year. It seems another life-long Democrat has decided enough is enough. It’s time to go with a party that can get things done… or at least watch that party impotently protest while others do things!
And I could go on the usual tangent about how this is the Ralph Nader effect or the Spoiler Effect or what have you, but the truth is that I don’t see third parties as a problem so much as victims of a winner-take-all system. I rather like the idea of some third parties, but it is both ironic and unfortunate that the only way a third party will get into power is if a mainstream party changes the rules by which we elect leaders. Or through revolution. That could happen too.
And as much as I would love to get into a conversation about that, it’s decades down the road and we have to elect a bunch of people before the Mayan Apocalypse. So instead, I’m gonna tell you why you should probably just vote for one of the big parties. And I’ll probably mention, in passing, why if you absolutely have to go indie-underground on voting day you should do more than vote.
Voter Aggregation Is Key
The fact of the matter is that 1 vote isn’t worth a lot when you consider the entire voting population of your county, much less your state or country. Anytime you have an argument with someone about guns or abortion you’ve found a person that’s going to cancel out your next vote. So instead of thinking of political parties as they are (voracious, soulless money-monsters that understand their constituents seemingly as well as they are understood), let’s think about political parties as vote aggregation. By itself, that one vote isn’t worth a whole lot, but once you have some like-minded votes ready to go out there and find even more like-minded votes, that’s where the power comes from.
Note that I said “the” power and not “your” power. That’s because it’s not all about you. I wish it could be, but when it is they use ugly words like authoritarian, fascist, and douchebag to describe you. For better or worse compromise is the only option in a democracy. Anytime two people engage in a solution-finding exercise, all the way from passing a laww to agreeing on a pizza topping, compromise is there.
America is a big-ass country with a lot of people. Most candidates for anything have thousands of constituents. If you’re in the Senate and you’re not from a state like New Hampshire or North Dakota you probably have millions. That’s millions of people spending money, buying things, and generally living lives that you need to somehow convince to vote for you. You simply can’t do it alone. You need help in the form of a party or confab of some kind that can get you the press and cash you don’t have the reach for yourself. In modern history no man or woman has pulled off the presidency without this kind of backing. Few in the Senate have done so, and most of those Joe Lieberman types are still tied to established parties. This kind of riff-raff gets into the House of Representatives now and then because they’ll let anybody in.
But let’s say for a second that your guy or gal does get into office. Your Ron Paul (I’m aware he’s kind of a Republican) or whatever makes the dream come true and gets into Congress. What’s he gonna do? Well at present Congress has not one, but two “independent” senators that caucus with the Democrats. Maybe it’s because they got snubbed by their party or maybe it’s because it seemed like the symbolically appropriate gesture. I don’t know, but it’s indicative of the problem.
If a candidate doesn’t have anyone in a party to leverage for laws, he or she is largely unable to effect a change. And I’m not just talking about Congress. Even if an independent does land in the White House, which probably won’t happen until the current paradigm in politics is long over, he’ll be about as effective as a lot of people think the current President has been. Presidents can’t pass laws. They can moan at Congress all the live-long day, but they simply can’t pass laws. And while the President may be the most powerful man in the world, Congress is the most powerful institution. The U.S. Congress can do damn-near anything when it gets it together.
But we may be getting way ahead of ourselves, because all of this stuff is moot since…
Your vote isn’t enough.
Yeah, it’s great for established parties to accept your vote because they already have far-reaching recognition, institutionalized power structures, histories embedded in our countries development knowledge of how to win, and, uh, money. And even then your vote still isn’t really enough. How many times have you had some a-hole from this party or that party call you on your phone or knock on your door asking you to volunteer? Asking whether you’re going to vote? Asking who you are going to vote for? Asking what issues matter to you?
Odds are good that individual is either payed by a party/candidate or volunteers for a party/candidate. That’s because it takes more than a group of people with the will to vote to wake up one day and say “You know, I’m not very satisfied with my elected representative, and I do believe I’m going to vote for someone else.” Ah, if only it were that easy. Those huddled masses have to be goaded and prodded into aggregating their votes around someone new.
Bottom line is that saying “I’m going to vote for [CANDIDATE]” is only good if your candidate is part of one of the two established parties. For everyone else, pretty much all of their voters need to actually go out and do something about it besides checking a different name at the ballot. You need to go out and rally people for your candidate. You need to get in other people’s faces about your candidate. God forbid, you might actually have to be that candidate.
This is the real crux of the problem. It’s easy to say “I’m sick of this junk, I’m gonna vote for a third party” but until you put skin in the game in a very real way, which can translate into others putting skin in the game, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and for the party you like the least to enjoy 2-4 years of domination… or did I not mention that spoiler effect already? If not, see the video below.
So the bottom line is put up or shut up. No, actually the bottom line is suck it up and vote Democrat… unless you’re a Republican. In which case you should ignore this uppity liberal and follow your dreams.
But all kidding aside, my real point is that you can’t half-ass it with a third party. Really, you can’t even half-ass it in one of THE two parties. If you want it, and you really believe in it, you need to do something about it because voting isn’t enough. It never has been.