One of the blogs I watch somewhat regularly is Bird Brains, formerly I Drew This, founded by a liberal cartoonist. He, and two other persons, post irregular political commentary and cartoons.
Normally I agree with what they post (since most of what they post is Bush-bashing and Democrat-bemoaning, pastimes I more than agree with). However, a recent post entitled Four Truths About Voting pissed me off no end. The four truths, paraphrased for brevity, are:
1. Voting for anyone other than a Democrat or Republican is a waste of time, so don't do it.
2. You can change one of the two big parties by working from within.
3. Nothing matters more than getting a supermajority in Congress.
4. You'll never get your ideal candidate on the ballot- you'll just have to settle for the least odious option.
Item #4 is correct, from a pragmatic point of view, but incomplete. Item #3 is taking a position I hold too far: you can't get what you want done without power, but you can't give up what you want done in order to get power.
The other two are not only false, but offensive.
Starting with item #1, quoting:
...two candidates with similar ideologies will split the vote, causing the remaining candidate to get a plurality and take the election... Voting for a third party as a protest vote is easy, and feels good. Since your candidate has no chance of winning, no matter what happens you get to disclaim any responsibility by saying, "don't blame me -- I voted for the other guy!" In the end, however, it really only helps the candidate that least reflects your views.
In other words, in a hypothetical election with three candidates- Republican, Democrat, and Independent/Libertarian/Green/Constitution/Roll Your Own Party- if you think the third-party man is the best candidate and vote for him, then you're actually ensuring that the Republican/Democrat gets elected. You MUST support the Democrat/Republican- in fact you OWE him your vote- because if you vote for the person you actually prefer, the worst possible option will get elected.
This is the kind of argument a wife-beater throws at his battered spouse to keep her from leaving. "Where else are you going to go? You HAVE to take what I give you, and be grateful for it- without me your life would be SO much worse!"
The same kind of mentality carries over to item #2. Quoting the operative points:
So if voting for third parties is ineffective, what can you do? Work within one of the existing parties... This is a lot more work than voting for a third party, but it can accomplish so much more.
The writer then goes on to refer to the immigration issue, which George W. Bush pushed forward only to receive a massive Republican-grassroots backlash. He omits the factor that a majority of Republican Congressmen already opposed Bush's immigration plan- he was trying to get it passed with Democratic support. The immigration issue was not an example of changing a major party from within. A better example would be Ron Paul, last of the Goldwater Republicans, who has actively undermined the Libertarian Party (and recently has begun working on the Constitution Party) in his attempts to reform the GOP. Result? The moneyed interests, entrenched leadership, and radical-religious base of the modern Republican Party have squeezed small-government Republicans out of all power within the party. In short, there's no way people from outside either of the big parties can change the course or agendas of those parties...
... which means there's no home in either party for small-government people such as, for example, myself.
But now we come back to the wife-beater argument this article delivers. Remember the line from the quote above: "This is a lot more work than voting for a third party, but it can accomplish so much more." This implies, again, that change is possible- if you work hard enough. This is our wife-beater shouting, "If I beat and abuse you, it's only because you didn't try HARD enough to CHANGE me! It's YOUR fault I'm so cruel and useless to you!"
"Liberal Seagull", your truth is not my truth. Here are my four truths, in counter to yours.
1. The only wasted vote is a vote for someone you don't want elected. Our voting system does not allow for "votes against," only votes in favor. By voting for a certain candidate, you are saying that that candidate is the best offered for the office in question... and you are endorsing that candidate, and all his or her actions, for the next term of office. You may claim otherwise, but that candidate, once elected, will point to the winning electoral results as such an endorsement.
2. The only way you'll get what you want is if you vote for it. In my case, Democrats and Republicans are pretty much alike- both favor larger government, less accountability for those in office, greater corruption, fewer freedoms for the citizens, and above all maintenance of the two-party status quo. Even on the Iraq war, the two parties are in agreement- they disagree only on how many American soldiers should participate at any one time. If this is what you want, fine. If you don't want what either of the two big parties is offering, though, voting for them will NOT get it. Voting for them only encourages them to keep on doing the noxious things they've been doing.
3. It is difficult, but not impossible, for third party candidates to win office. Unlike reforming the big two parties, working for a third party or independent campaign actually can produce results- although it requires intense commitment and hard work. The major difference here is that, unlike the big two parties, you actually get a chance to support someone for a purpose other than to prevent the election of someone else.
4. It isn't necessary to have a majority to wield power- only to hold the balance of power. In the Supreme Court, the final authority lies not with Chief Justice John Roberts but with Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy- the person who holds the tie-breaking vote between four biased conservatives and four biased liberals. Kennedy has been in the majority in 70 out of 72 cases in 2006-7... and decided the majority in all of the 24 5-4 split rulings. The main reason why a marginally Democrat-controlled Senate can't do anything to stop the Iraq war is Joe Lieberman, who won re-election with the opposition of his former party- a man who caucuses with the Democrats but wholeheartedly supports George W. Bush's war effort. It only takes a few people in the right place to redirect public policy...
... and, by so doing, send the big two parties the message that what they have been doing is unacceptable.
Yes, it is worthwhile to vote third party. Think of it this way: if voting third party was always futile, why have the big two parties made it so hard to do?
But if you keep voting for the big two parties- if you go back to the wifebeater- nothing's going to change. Neither party will change anything so long as it can count on your vote by waving the spectre of the other party in your face. The only way you can make those parties change is to take you vote away from them... and give it to someone else.
And if there is no one else, then work to get someone else on the ballot. Otherwise- as we've witnessed this year, with the Democrats unwilling to undo anything the Republicans have done- things will only continue to get worse.