My Vote Is Not A Protest Vote • There Is No “Just This Once” in Politics • Voting for the Lesser of Evils Enables a Race to the Bottom • I’m Voting for the Future • It Takes All Kinds. • Third Party Presidential Candidates Build Party Visibility for Candidates at All Levels of Government • The American Republican Party was Viable within Two Years and in the Oval Office Within Six • I’m No More Selfish Than Any Other Self-Interested Voter Is On Election Day • Summary
I’ve found that some of the most acerbic, haughty, and belligerent political critiques so far this election season to have been levied not at Donald Trump or his supporters but rather at us third party supporters who were more-or-less minding our own business before the travelling Grand Giugnol commonly referred to as “mainstream politics” came to town and dumped endless rivers of useless effluvium down our facebook feeds.
The first of such critiques that I came across was fairly polite engagement from the Huffington Post entitled Think Really, Really Hard Before Voting For A Third Party Candidate. Really. Civility declined rapidly from there, with relationship advice guru Dan Savage’s blustery tirade, and most recently with professional bloviator Jim Wright’s argument-free calliope of insults. In fairness, Jim Wright prefaced his piece with allegations of receiving “angry messages about Jill Stein and Gary Johnson”, to which his piece was intended to respond. All the same, if I’m scrolling down my facebook feed, minding my own business, and suddenly smacked in the eyeballs with Jim’s suggestion that I’m might be a “fucking selfish asshole”, then maybe it’s high time I wrote my own defense. Here it is: I’m voting third party in November. Here’s why your grandma-lecturing facebook posts won’t change that.
My Vote Is Not A Protest Vote.
My opinion here will not apply to everyone, and I’m not trying to win converts with it. I’m simply explaining myself today. What people ought to know about me first is that I’m a lifetime Libertarian voter. I first registered to vote as an Independent sometime around 2001, changed my affiliation to Libertarian a couple years later, and voted Libertarian for President every cycle since then. I am not a protest voter. I am a life-long Libertarian voter because I generally support the principles of the Libertarian Party platform. I vote for Libertarians.
I am neither a disaffected Democrat nor a disaffected Republican. I understand that a lot of voters this cycle are looking into the Green and Libertarian Parties because they are Republicans and Democrats who happen not to like this year’s presidential picks. To these voters, I don’t think I could honestly recommend the Libertarian candidate without first changing their minds on various matters of public policy. Surely, I would love it if they voted Libertarian with me, but I wouldn’t snooker anybody with a bait and switch. I don’t think, for example, that disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters should vote for Gary Johnson unless they’ve done some serious mind-changing on policies of economic intervention. Jill Stein, maybe, but not Gary Johnson.
Having voted for Libertarians for years. I’m not among the disaffected major party voters that some of critics are trying to talk down from the ledge of possible third party voting. I’ve been down here voting third-party for years. Those who are trying to get me to change my long-established voting practices have all of their work ahead of them.
There Is No “Just This Once” in Politics.
A common theme heard among the critics of third parties are references to a current political exigency. For example, from Think Really Really Hard:
I cannot state it emphatically enough: Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, under no reasonable assessment is she “just as bad” as Donald Trump. … Very marginally indicating support for a third party candidate’s agenda is far less important than adding your weight to prevent President Trump. This year is not normal. … The most important outcome in this presidential election is that Donald Trump not become the Most Powerful Person on the Planet.
Under Jim Wright:
… We are out of time and you must now face it. … … We are out of time. Clinton or Trump. These are the choices. Face it.
There’s an urgency to these posts, telling me that this is an important year to stop an imminent evil. For that reason I should, at least for this cycle, set my own desires for this country aside and add my weight to the likelihood of a Hillary Clinton presidency. But as we Libertarians know full well from watching our government in action, there is no “just this once” in politics. If I neglect my principles this cycle, the teeth-gnashing mainstreamers are going to expect me to bail them out every cycle henceforth. I won’t do that. Win or lose, and most likely lose, there has to come a time when I get to provide my honest feedback to the government and vote for the things I believe in.
Third-party voters have a longer time horizon longer than those in the mainstream. I’m considering the future of American politics beyond November 8th. Do these Clinton supporters believe that the nightmare of a Donald Trump presidency will be all over once Hillary Clinton is elected on that date? I’m not so sure about that. Obviously, barring some sort of meteor or comet collision during the next four years, there will be a 2020 election.
Even assuming Hillary wins this November, I believe that Trump will leave a legacy. He has kicked down political doors. Where others have feared to tread before him, Donald Trump has proven the openly xenophobic, guileful, anti-PC candidate to be viable. That’s not going to disappear on November 8th. I believe that’s here to stay. There will be followers. There will be a next time. Am I to abandon my own principles and fall in line with the Democratic Party in the wake of a lifetime of Trump protégés yet to come? Dream on, Democrats. I won’t do that. I won’t do that now, and I won’t do it in the future. As long as there are candidates whose views I actually support, I will vote for them.
“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
I spotted the quote above from Thomas Jefferson posted at a construction site across the street from the Free Library of Philadelphia central branch downtown. It perfectly represents what I think of my third-party vote. In matters of principle, I stand like a rock. I’m not neglecting them now, just because there is an exigency. I’m not taking any requests at this time to bend my principles. Rocks do move sometimes. There may be a day in the near future when this rock moves. That day is not today.
Voting for the Lesser of Evils Enables a Race to the Bottom
I see a race to the bottom in the future of two-party American politics. Once the Donald Trump template catches on, it won’t be long before Democrats figure out that to get elected, they need only be slightly less horrible than Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders popularized the word “socialism” during the 2016 primaries, albeit this time of the “democratic” variety. Is this the next phase for Democrats? Will the 2024 election be between Donald Trump and a Bernie Sanders protégé? After that, how long will it be until America’s two-party system becomes a contest between open fascists and open communists? I don’t want to sound alarmist, because I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily imminent, but that’s the political evolutionary process. That’s the road a people walk down when they resign only to the lesser of two evils.
All the while, at every step along the way, there will be those who will beg, plead, and wail that I avoid the worse evil at each particular step. Sorry, Democrats. If I have to walk that road, it won’t be of my own volition. You all are going to have to drag me along by voting for the monsters of your own making. I’m not doing that. I’m standing by my principles.
I’m Voting for the Future
Jim Wright scolded:
Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, one of them, is going to be the next president. This is simple fact and if you can’t wrap your head around that, distasteful as that may be for you, then you’re in the wrong place.
Libertarian voters like me are not necessarily voting for a win in 2016, although that would be nice. Besides winning and standing by my principles (whatever they’re worth), I vote for two additional things when I cast my Libertarian ballot.
- I vote for minor party status under the FEC rules of eligibility for public general election funding. Five percent of the popular vote is required for the Libertarian Party to be eligible for public funding for the next presidential election cycle. Full rules of eligibility are available at the FEC’s web site.
- I’m voting for party visibility. When I see the pie chart after the election showing the vote tally, and the Libertarian Party shows up has having received one or two percent of the vote, I feel proud to have helped it achieve even that small slice of visibility. Of course it isn’t much, but I hope for a sort of snowball effect where as more people see the that popularity of the Libertarian Party is growing, they’ll be more likely to investigate and perhaps be convinced to join.
If Jim Wright can’t wrap his head there being other long term goals at work when voting for third parties, then maybe he’s not the guy to lecture me about third party politics.
It Takes All Kinds
Just because I have chosen to vote for the future, that doesn’t mean I see no value in voting for the present. Obviously, the present is very important. Avoiding a present day calamity is very important—but so is breaking free of this government’s century of decline away personal freedom, fiscal discipline, and economic sanity. I believe that a better electoral process and a reverse in the trend toward ever-greater economic intervention requires a vanguard of voters to sacrifice their votes for the future.
Some of us have chosen to put our votes toward 15% in the news polls and a 5% end result today so that we can have a third voice on the debate stage and a better publicized Libertarian campaign in 2020. I don’t believe that negates the work the mass of voters are doing when they cast their votes to avoid a present calamity. Voting for the future is a separate job. Some of us need to break away now and start laying the groundwork for future elections, working alongside the majority of voters who do the work of managing the present.
I’ve chosen to be in the vanguard and devote my vote to the future. This is not a job I intend to abandon indefinitely upon the perennial nagging of the present-voters and their increasingly lousy candidates. To the contrary, the lousier present candidates become, the sooner we should be opening the electoral process to more viable options. Showing increased support for third parties on November 8th helps lay the groundwork for that.
Third Party Presidential Candidates Build Party Visibility for Candidates at All Levels of Government
Critics of third party candidates have become accustomed to simply bellowing “BOOO! Go home, spoilers!” at the Libertarians and Greens of their ire without consequence. Now that the Libertarians are polling double-digits in some places and in some demographics, “Boo! Go home!” no longer suffices as a well reasoned counter-argument. Therefore, today’s critics of third party candidates are pulling new arguments out of their asses in an attempt to sound erudite. They imagine themselves as wise grandmas, lecturing the little ones on political strategy. One of their arguments goes like this one, from Think Really, Really Hard:
The genuine growth of a third party will be based on actually winning elections at the lower levels and building a base of support locally. Random performance in presidential elections is not the crux of the effort.
Dan Savage unloaded primarily on this point.
Here’s how you fucking [get a third party movement off the ground]: you run people not just for fucking president every four fucking years. …
If you’re interested in building a third party, a viable third party, you don’t start with president. You don’t start by running someone for fucking president.
Where are the Green Party candidates for city councils? For county councils? For state legislatures? For state assessor? For state insurance commissioner? For governor? For fucking dogcatcher? I would be SO willing to vote for Green Party candidates who are starting at the bottom, grassroots, bottom up, building a third party, a viable third party.
If Dan Savage would kindly direct me to the successful third party movement he’s built upon this advice, I’d be most interested to consider it. Perhaps I know no better, not having built such a successful third party myself, but I suspect Mr. Savage is incorrect about this. I think he pulled this advice out of his ass because, with third parties polling in the double digits, he’s had to come up with something more thoughtful-sounding than, “Boo! Go home, spoilers!” Decorating his argument with four-letter words enhances the appearance of confidence, but not validity.
The way I see modern politics, for any third party to achieve any sort of visibility at any level of government—enough for large numbers of people to become interested in actually learning about the party and engaging in their ideas—it must have a candidate in the national presidential race. Period. The success of local third party politicians nowadays depends in part on having a presidential candidate who can be the party’s national color bearer and represent the party’s principles to national news outlets. That’s how politics works nowadays.
I think it’s pretty lousy that politics has come to this. I would rather everyday people be more interested in local politics than they are in national politics, but I just don’t see that being the case. I can attest from my own experience that, for young people, the presidential race is certainly the gateway to political interest at all levels of governments. Political interests begins at the presidential level and then trickles down to local politics. That’s how it goes.
I’d be interested to see what Dan Savage’s facebook news feed looks like. I’m looking at his Wikipedia page here. It says he was born in Chicago, Illinois, and now lives in Seattle, Washington. These both seem like large cities to me. I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and most of my friends also live around the Philadelphia area. Here in Philadelphia, my news feed every day is jam clogged with posts about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and occasional posts about Gary Johnson. I don’t recall seeing a single post yet about the major party candidates running in Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s race. I don’t recall seeing a single post yet about Pennsylvania’s Auditor General’s race. I don’t recall seeing a single post on facebook about Pennsylvania’s Treasurer’s race. The only race my friends on facebook are posting about is the presidential race. I highly suspect that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has greater name recognition among my facebook friends than my state’s major party candidates for Attorney General, Auditor General, and Treasurer. With one week left in the election cycle, I have yet to see a single article, meme, or viral video about any Pennsylvania state or local candidate on facebook.
I don’t know what facebook news feeds look like in Chicago or Seattle, but if Dan Savage can show me can show me where his facebook news feed is alight with articles, memes, and viral videos about his state assessor’s race, his state insurance commissioners race, and his local “fucking dogcatcher’s” race—in numbers to compete with the presidential race for his attention—then I’ll say, “Okay, maybe Dan Savage isn’t completely full of shit on this point.” But if I look on his facebook feed and see nothing but Trump, Trump, Clinton, Trump, Trump, Trump, Clinton, Johnson, then I’ll know he’s full of shit up to his eyeballs, and the only reason he said these things about third parties was that, pressed for an answer by a caller, he had to come up with something a little more thoughtful sounding than, “BOOO! Go home, spoilers!”
The American Republican Party was Viable within Two Years and in the Oval Office Within Six.
Dan Savage further reasons:
[I]f you want to build a viable third party, more power to you. I could see myself voting for a Green Party candidate for president in 25 years, after I’ve seen Green Party candidates getting elected to state legislatures, getting elected to governorships, getting elected to Congress. Then you can run some legitimate motherfucker for president.
Again, I have to say that this is more of the same throwing up of arbitrary hurdles for no purpose other than to limit the public’s available choices, and it’s a blessing that Dan Savage doesn’t actually carry any actual clout in the debate and election processes. Could you imagine a Dan Savage Rule—a mandatory or implied 25-year wait period for new party eligibility for participation—implemented by either of these institutions? Under expectations like those is where progress goes to die.
Googling up the history of Republican Party reveals a contrary precedent on the building of a third party movement. Through the magic of Wikipedia, let’s take a trip back in time to the origins of the modern Republican party.
The first whisper of the Republican Party’s future name occurred at a local meeting in 1854 Wisconsin. By 1856, the first state Republican governors started rolling in, and the Republican Party had a viable presidential candidate in John C. Frémont, who lost the election that year to James Buchanan, 114 electoral votes to Buchanan’s 174. By 1860, Republican governors had basically swept the northern states, and Republicans elected their first president in Abraham Lincoln. this happened within six years. Not 25 years. Six years.
The early Republican Party presidential nominees were viable after two years, winning after six. Compare that to the Libertarian Party, which formed in 1971 and after 45 years hasn’t managed to elect anyone other than a handful of mayors and state legislators. The Green Party was similarly founded in 1984, and hasn’t found any more success after 32 years. What’s the difference? Did the early Republicans just do a real bang-up job of electing city councilmembers, state assessors, and dog catchers within two years? Is that how they built their party so quickly? I don’t think so.
What the early Republicans had that today’s Libertarian and Green Parties don’t have, I suspect, is a political product that most Americans wanted, and which wasn’t being offered by the other major parties of the day. Sure, you can get a lot of present-day Americans to admit to having libertarian tendencies or to describe themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, but when it comes time to cast the ballot, most Americans simply are not with the Libertarians. They are not as opposed to regulation and Libertarians, they’re not as opposed to economic intervention as Libertarians, and they’re not as opposed to wars and foreign intervention as Libertarians. Nor are most Americans, I guess you’d say, as socialist as the Greens.
The Libertarian Party has trouble electing local politicians for the same reason it has trouble electing national politicians: The public generally is not yet interested in voting Libertarian; therefore it’s harder to get decent candidates to commit to running. Once running, it’s harder for a Libertarian candidate to achieve more than one or two percent of the vote. Americans simply don’t want Libertarians in office enough yet to step away from the two major parties. Americans are not yet so compelled to seek out alternatives. Once aware of the alternatives, they are not yet so compelled to vote for the alternative. This occurs at both the local level and at the national level. If and when this changes, it will change at both the local level and at the national level, just as the Republican party did in ages past.
As the major party candidates grow increasingly intolerable, the visibility of the Libertarian Party will rise, and I believe it will attract more genuine followers. I think Americans will begin to find libertarian ideas as convincing as I find them, once the people can trouble themselves to actually invest in understanding libertarian ideas instead of simply accepting Bill Maher‘s or Salon.com‘s misrepresentations.
An important part of building the libertarian third-party movement is to have a presidential candidate on national cable news, in between the major parties’ sad offerings. Win or lose, having a figurehead in the presidential race inspires party devotees to get active in building the party locally. As these local and national candidates become more numerous and visible, I think more people will start looking seriously into the arguments and ideas of Libertarians, and that’s how I see the party growing.
I’m No More Selfish Than Any Other Self-Interested Voter Is On Election Day
Jim Wright threw this out, and I had to re-read a couple times before realizing he wasn’t necessarily criticizing all third party voters, but here is what he said:
Now, if you write to tell me it doesn’t matter, that your state is all tied up one way or the other and so YOU can vote however you like and it doesn’t matter, but swing state voters of course must vote for Clinton so YOU don’t end up with Trump and you can’t see what a fucking selfish asshole you’re being, then I am very likely to speak rudely to you as I have now reached the limit of my patience with this nonsense.
At first I read this to mean that I’m being a “fucking selfish asshole” for not abandoning my principles to join the herd to vote for a major party candidate. Then I re-read it and I thought it might mean that I would be a “fucking selfish asshole” if I told people in other states how they “must” vote. I’m still not really sure exactly what would make me a “fucking selfish asshole” under Mr. Wright’s formulation here.
Obviously, like Mr. Savage, Mr. Wright would rather simply just say, “BOOO! Go home, spoilers!!!” but he’s getting enough e-mails on the matter where he can’t simply leave it at that and maintain credibility. Mr. Wright’s reaction is to bark out a sort of half-baked apoplexy that I have to parse a few times to try to figure out what it means.
I’d be interested to read the e-mails Mr. Wright received wherein third party voters wrote to him and ordered potential readers in swing states that they “must” vote for Hillary Clinton, upon some penalty. If I were to play the lesser-of-two-evils game, I’d say I would better tolerate a Hillary presidency than a Trump presidency. I might even let the fact slip out in some hypothetical e-mail that I might write: Forgoing the conclusion that either Trump or Clinton would win, it could be said of me that I would prefer most mainstream voters in swing states to vote Clinton.
As a third party voter, however, I would never say that swing state voters MUST vote Clinton, while I vote third-party from a non-swing state. I would say what I’ve already said above: Stick to your principles. Vote for, not against, where possible. Avoid mere protest votes where possible. Does it make me a “fucking selfish asshole” to stick to my third party principles and advise others to stick to theirs principles and vote their consciences? I would hope not.
Even if I did literally say, in an e-mail to Jim Wright, that “Voters in swing states MUST vote Clinton!” how could such an imperative be anything but rhetorical? What leverage could I possibly have over voters in swing states to vote for Hillary Clinton? Granted, if I ordered voters in swing states to vote for Hillary Clinton and credibly intended to employ some enforcement mechanism to actually change people votes under duress, then yes, I would really be a “fucking selfish asshole”. Short of that, it’s hard for me to see without reading the actual e-mails how they rise to that level of villainy. I don’t see how those who vote their conscience in non-swing state while realistically hoping or imploring for a Hillary victory in swing states are “fucking selfish assholes”.
And what of the fact that one might feel morally entitled to vote third party only because their state is “tied up one way or the other”? If it is true, in fact, that one’s state is tied up one way or the other, then what quarrel does Jim Wright have with the few people in those states who turn third party? Why is he so specifically directing ire at people who’s votes wouldn’t matter anyway, if the election conclusions in those states are forgone? Does Mr. Wright want them to vote major party anyway, even though their votes are generally known not to matter—or does he simply want them to knock off the empty rhetoric of implore, wherein they powerlessly implore that people in swing states vote Clinton?
Or, perhaps most interestingly, does Mr. Jim Wright want potential third party voters to ignore the foregone conclusions of voting in a safe state and vote major party anyway, as if their vote mattered? Hell, if that’s what we’re doing, then I’ll be ignoring the foregone conclusion of the general election, and voting third-party as if my third-party vote mattered, thank you very much.
Anyway, without me credibly threatening voters in swing states to vote major party or else, I’m having trouble understanding how I’m being a “fucking selfish asshole” by voting third party, even if I would less oppose a Hillary Clinton presidency than a Trump presidency. If that makes Jim Wright more “likely to speak rudely to me”, then so be it. I’m judging him on his coherence, not his manners. If he has anything more coherent than this to say about how third party voters in non-swing states are “fucking selfish assholes”, I’d be interested to hear it, as rude as he’d like to make it.
Gary Johnson Is Qualified to be President of the United States
Lastly, on the matter of Gary Johnson’s qualifications. Dan Savage believe the Libertarian candidate is “fake”:
I have a problem with the Greens, I have a problem with the Libertarians. I have a problem with these fake, attention seeking, grandstanding Green/Libertarian party candidates who pop up every four years, like mushrooms in shit, saying that they’re building a third party.
Jim Wright asserted without argument that:
Neither Stein nor Johnson is in any way qualified, both are less qualified than Trump, and their party platforms are goddamned ridiculous fantasies. Dangerous fantasies in some cases that are fantastically ignorant of how the world actually works.
Whether the Libertarian Party platform is a “goddamned ridiculous fantasy”, I’ll agree to disagree for now, as that’s beyond the scope of this post, but I won’t concede the issue of Gary Johnson’s obvious qualifications. If Jim Wright doesn’t like the Libertarian Party platform, that’s understandable among a diverse electorate, but Gary Johnson’s qualifications for the presidency are beyond reasonable dispute.
I’m not quite understanding the metric under which Johnson isn’t “in any way qualified” to be president. Obviously, as a former governor, Gary Johnson is qualified in the same way that 17 presidents before him—a full 38% of them—have been qualified.
I understand that Jim Wright has built his reputation on being a sort of military man’s man. In that capacity, I’m sure he has a certain understanding of “how the world works”, so perhaps Mr. Wright is criticizing Gary Johnson’s shortcomings in the foreign policy arena a la his Aleppo gaffe. This is fair enough, but let it be known also that Gary Johnson seems to have polled highly among active duty military and veterans, even shortly after the infamous Aleppo Moment. The same was true for Ron Paul before him, as well as Bernie Sanders. It seems to me that candidates of humble foreign policy always seem to do quite well among vets and active duty military.
If Mr. Jim Wright’s assessment of “how the world works” is based on any expertise in the fields of markets and economics, then I think he owes it to us to describe that expertise beyond his unsupported assertion that Libertarian economic proposals are “goddamn ridiculous fantasies”. If he’s written other posts on economics, I’d be interested to peruse them, provided they are a little more intelligently written than his curt dismissal here.
- I’m a lifelong Libertarian voter, not a protest voter. I am voting for the Libertarian.
- I won’t indefinitely postpone my Libertarian vote to avoid the monster of every future election cycle.
- Voting for the lesser of two evils each cycle enables major party candidates to become progressively worse over time.
- I am voting not only for the president, but also to raise party name recognition and to achieve official minor party status with the FEC.
- I understand the need to avoid present disasters, but some of us need to break away a vote for the future.
- The most effective way to build party name recognition nationwide is the run a candidate in the presidential election.
- When the Republican party was new, it was viable within two years and elected within six. It didn’t have to build a movement out of dogcatchers and auditor generals because it offered a product that the American people wanted and that no other party was offering at the time. Americans are still reluctant to sign on to the Libertarian platform, but may be more willing to as name recognition increase through presidential political activity.
- Voting third party is not selfish, and neither is hoping and imploring through rhetoric that people in other states vote against Trump. Influencing others’ votes through duress is selfish.