So, we did this today:
I voted for the Irish guy. No, not that Irish guy; this Irish guy:
And, by the way, spare me the kvetching. I’ve been at this a lot longer than a some of you, so you don’t get to lecture me about liberal purity. I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1980, and never once voted for a Republican – or, for that matter, a conservative of any stripe – in any one of them. I’m not a late convert to liberalism; I grew up with it. It’s in my blood. So I’m not in the mood for lectures.
The fact is, I don’t need to defend my choice. I’ve explained it many times before, and so far, no one’s been able to come up with a compelling argument to the contrary. If you need a primer on why even liberal purists should vote for Pres. Obama, I’ll let some one who’s much smarter than I am make the case. One Bob Cesca, to be precise, in his recent takedown of Matt Stoller:
The president hasn’t been flawless, that’s for sure. But has there ever been a flawless chief executive? Stoller singles out the achievements of FDR in the wake of the Great Depression but conveniently excludes FDR’s serious flaws — a courtesy Stoller clearly offers to most Democratic presidents except for Barack Obama. But what about FDR? Not only did he prematurely compromise with conservatives to engage in austerity which caused a double-dip recession, but FDR’s record during World War II would be decimated by modern progressives were they around at the time. Indefinite detention of Japanese Americans, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, the development of the atomic bomb. I can’t imagine [Jonathan] Turley and [John] Cusack ignoring these egregious trespasses without labeling them as “Rubicon Lines.”
The rational, reasonable approach to selecting a president involves deciding which of the two candidates is nearest to our personal values, both in terms of policy and leadership qualities. From there, once elected, we have a civic responsibility to engage in smart accountability. That is, pushing and persuading our leaders to do what we believe is right. Sometimes it works, as with Obama and same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and sometimes it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, we’ve still helped to elect a leader who’s at least somewhere in the same ballpark as our personal views. We don’t have to agree on everything and we can’t expect perfection or purity. Reasonable people ought to look beyond the narrow field of pet issues and view the presidency in its totality.
Look, as a general principle, I have no beef with third-party voters. That’s because (a) I believe in democracy, so you can vote for whomever you damn well feel like voting for; and (2) I voted for a third-party candidate in my very first presidential election – John Anderson. But when I made the decision to vote for Anderson, I did so only after it was clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Ronald Reagan would trounce Jimmy Carter; had the race between Reagan and Carter been close, I would have voted for Carter in a heartbeat. And beyond that, I voted for John Anderson in the naïve hope that a successful third-party run by a likable fellow like Anderson (and by successful, I meant, I suppose, respectable – more than single digits, anyway) would lend credibility to the very idea of third parties. It would lead, I thought, to real ideological competition among multiple political parties. It would mean that real liberals like me (and maybe real conservatives, too; why not?) would have alternatives … real alternatives, not just lesser-of-two-evil alternatives.
Never mind the fact that multiple liberal parties and multiple conservative parties would most likely lead to more compromise, not more liberal success; the idea was appealing to an 18 year old liberal in the disheartening last days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
But, of course, it didn’t happen. In fact, in my lifetime no third-party candidacy, even Ross Perot’s comparably successful Reform Party forays in 1992 and 1996, has managed to break the basic two-party stranglehold on American politics. And Perot, like George Wallace in 1968, was essentially a conservative. No liberal presidential candidate has come close to establishing a viable third-party to challenge the Democrats, and none of the current crop of third-party candidates is likely to do so.
Which brings me back to what I said about liking democracy. I don’t always like the results of democracy, of course, but I like the fact that we vote in more or less free elections, and that our votes usually – (ahem) usually – determine the outcome of those elections. And so I accept the fact that right now, in our current political climate, a candidate further to the left of Barack Obama is not likely to win enough votes to become president. Period.
Guess what? That’s democracy.
Now, if you don’t like that, by all means, vote for someone else. That’s democracy, too. But one thing I learned from voting for John Anderson in 1980: My vote didn’t change anybody’s mind. It didn’t move the country further to the left. It didn’t even move the Democratic Party further to the left.
So, third-party voters, get back to me when you figure out a comprehensive strategy to do that: To persuade a significant percentage – hopefully, a majority – of our fellow voters to support a genuinely liberal candidate. That’s the real challenge.
In the meantime, in a very close election like the current one’s shaping up to be, voting for a third-party candidate, at least in any of the states that are statistically too close to call, may end up handing the election to Mitt Romney. In which case, your third-party vote may make you feel good inside, but the rest of us will feel a little queasy for the next four years.