Monday, October 30, 2000

Week of 10/30/2000

End Game For The "Wasted Vote" Argument
- by David Matthews 2

"The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness or holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold onto." - Eric Hoffer

There seems to come a time in every election season where calm discord gives way to fanaticism. Where once there was room for all views and all perspectives, it becomes time when zero-sum arguments and "black-or-right" mentalities take over. Accusations fly fast and furious. People start thinking "If you’re not with us, then you’re against us!" A siege mentality essentially takes over what was once a calm and open forum.

One of the signs of that zero-sum mentality in politics comes when politicians and their supporters start tearing at all independent voices and all independent and third-party candidates.

Their arguments are often stale and overused. "Why vote for a candidate who cannot win?", they ask. "Why throw your vote away?" "A vote for your candidate is a vote for my opponent." "A vote for your candidate is a wasted vote."

This year, the most eloquent supporter of this zero-sum drivel is John N. Doggett, a talking head, management consultant and lawyer, who feels quite passionately that any vote that is not for George W. Bush is a vote for Al Gore for president. He feels that although Bush is far from perfect, he’s not as "bad" as Gore, and therefore we should vote for the "lesser of two evils."

Nothing really original.. but then again, what do you expect from your run-of-the-mill conservatives? The words "creative conservatives" is about as much an oxymoron (with emphasis on the "moron" part) as "compassionate conservatism."

Some people, though, were creative in their arguments. One person in the chat room recently told Libertarians and other third-party supporters that now was not "the right time" to vote for their candidates. That it was more important to vote for George W. Bush to prevent Al Gore from getting elected.

Over on the liberal side, things are just as heated. Singer Melissa Etheridge, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson have all unleashed their zero-sum arguments on behalf of Al Gore. Their fear being that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader would somehow "steal votes" away from Gore.

Al Gore’s running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, even went so far as to proclaim that Nader supporters were "throwing away" their vote and are helping elect "somebody who is diametrically opposed to what they are for."

This is a rather dangerous statement for any political candidate to make personally. Even Gore refuses to directly subscribe to such a notion, remembering that when former Senator Bob Dole used it against President Bill Clinton in 1996, he lost badly on election day.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick to death of hearing about all of these zero-sum arguments. All of these whiney, divisive, manipulative, guilt-ridden arguments from the dominant political parties. I’m sick of hearing them.. and I know I’m not alone in this.

And so I am here to do what should have been done years ago. I am here to end each and every single one of those "wasted vote" arguments once and for all. I intend to slaughter, skin, gut, de-bone, fillet, and cook on a grill every single "wasted vote" sacred cow argument the conservatives and liberals use today.

Let’s start with the notion that now is not "the right time" to support third parties. Well to quote former president Ronald Reagan, "If not now, when?" When WOULD be the right time to support third parties?

It supposedly wasn’t "the right time" back in 1996, because we supposedly HAD to vote President Clinton out of office.. even though that didn’t happen, even with the sluggish third-party vote. It supposedly wasn’t "the right time" back in 1992, because we supposedly HAD to re-elect President George H. Bush. It supposedly wasn’t "the right time" back in 1988, because we HAD to keep the Reagan era alive by electing the elder Bush. It supposedly wasn’t "the right time" in 1984, because we HAD to keep Reagan in office so he can "finish his job." It supposedly wasn’t "the right time" in 1980 because we HAD to "save the nation" and vote President Jimmy Carter out of office. It supposedly wasn’t "the right time" in 1976 because we supposedly HAD to keep President Gerald Ford in office so the nation can "heal" from the stains of Watergate. And it supposedly wasn’t "the right time" in 1972, when the Libertarian Party first got started, because we supposedly HAD to keep President Richard Nixon in office.

So let me ask you zero-sum supporters… if it wasn’t "the right time" in 1972, and it wasn’t "the right time" in 1976, and it wasn’t "the right time " in 1980, and 1984, and 1988, and 1992, and 1996.. and supposedly is not "the right time" in 2000 to support third party candidates.. WHEN WILL IT BE "THE RIGHT TIME"? 2004? 2008? 2012?

The answer from them, of course, is never. It NEVER would be "the right time" to support third party candidates, or even to MENTION ideas that differ from their party lines. To quote a certain sports entertainer, the two dominant political parties would simply force the active voters of America to "know your role and shut your mouth!"

Then there is the ever-popular argument by people like Doggett who say that we need to "compromise" and vote for the "lesser of two evils." Compromise, huh? Isn’t that how we GOT our problems in the first place? When the two parties asked the voters to compromise instead of it being the other way around?

The truth of the matter is that the Democrats and the Republicans don’t want to compromise. They want people to give up their beliefs and compromise their ideologies to support that larger body that is not willing to give up anything in return.

And why SHOULD they give up anything? They have their core supporters, the people who will be there no matter WHAT the party does. So why should they give up anything?

In that regard, those third parties do serve a very important function.. they represent the disgruntled voices of change. People who want more than just lip service from the status quo.. they want REAL change. Those third parties serve as the venue for those voters who feel they’re being ignored by the Democrats and the Republicans.

Remember balancing the budget? Getting rid of the deficit? Those issues weren’t even on the radar of the GOP and the Democrats until Ross Perot ran for president in 1992 and got 20% of the vote! Then, suddenly, both sides were on the deficit-cutting bandwagon. Perot didn’t win, but his platform was quickly absorbed by both parties.

And that also takes care of another tired zero-sum argument by the two-party monopoly.. that it was useless to support a candidate who "cannot win." If Perot’s campaign was "useless", why did both parties go out of their way to co-opt his platform?

This is not a horse race. This is about choosing the candidate you feel best represents you. That’s what the whole election process was designed for in the first place!

Many third party candidates like Ralph Nader and Libertarian Party’s Harry Browne know that they won’t win this year. But they can serve as the symbol for all of those disenfranchised voters who have been screwed over by the two-party monopoly, and get that two-party monopoly to take a more serious look at their ideas.

There are basically three groups of people for whom the elections ARE all about winning and losing: The career politicians themselves, the special interest groups, and the political consultants. Three groups of people who have a vested interest in winning, because it means power and money for them.

The rest of us? Well, your average Joe and Jane Six-pack could care less whether a jackass or a bloated elephant wins. The letters R and D have become so interchangeable in recent years that they’ve lost all meaning to the general public. All they care about is what the government will do for them and to them.

Doggett likes to talk about history, saying that the two-party monopoly has always been the mainstay in American government.. well, somebody better explain to him how Abraham Lincoln got elected president in 1860, because at the time, there were not two, not three, but FOUR main political parties. There were the Democrats, the Southern Democrats, the New Whigs, and that fledgling party called the Republicans. Now if the two-party monopoly then was really as strong as people like John Doggett would like to think it was, Abraham Lincoln would NEVER have been elected president. It would have been between the Democrats and the New Whigs.

So much for history.

Lastly, let’s put to rest the crux of the "wasted vote" argument.. the notion that if you vote for a third party candidate that you’re somehow "stealing" votes from the other candidates.

That is perhaps the utter piousness of our two-party monopoly.. that somehow each party candidate OWNS a particular block of votes automatically, and that third parties somehow deprive them of "their" votes. For instance, that Republicans "own" the conservative voters, or that the Democrats "own" the environmentalist voters.

Well let’s get brutally honest here.. those votes are not theirs to begin with! Never have been, never will be. They don’t own votes outright simply because they have the "blessings" of the two-party monopoly. This is not some kind of federal entitlement program for career politicians. Like any other candidate, George Bush and Al Gore have to EARN each and every vote they get. And if they fail to get enough votes to win, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

If Al Gore loses in the general election, it would not be because Ralph Nader "stole" votes from him. They were never HIS votes to begin with!

If George W. Bush loses in the general election, it would not be because Pat Buchanan or Harry Browne "stole" votes from him. Those votes were never HIS to begin with!

Bush and Gore are not entitled to any vote outside of their own, and if one or the other cannot earn enough votes to win the day, that person has nobody to blame but himself!

But can you truly "waste" your vote? Yes, you can. You can waste your vote by either not voting at all, or by surrendering your vote to those "wasted vote" advocates like John Doggett.

Remember that voting is about choosing the candidate that YOU feel would best represent you and your beliefs. You. Not some special interest group with an agenda to push. Not some political consultant looking for even larger consulting fees and a cushy chair on the Sunday roundtable shows. Not some career politician looking to line his or her retirement account on your tax dollars. It’s about picking the candidate who best represents YOU.

Always remember that, and always remember what John Quincy Adams - the sixth president of the United States - once said: "Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."

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