I hate politics. I really honestly truly do. Democracy
is a poor excuse for governance. Especially the form of hands-off republic
that we call "democracy" in this beloved country. HOWever, as
friends of mine are quick to point out, I've never completely been able to divorce
myself from my interest in politics, coupled with a strong love for history
& philosophy. I also have a real contempt for stupidity being used
to justify further stupidity. It's for that reason, primarily, that I
have to get this off my chest. I've heard one too many people, especially
around the Brandeis campus, talk about how idealistic they are, but how crushingly
devoted they are to throwing their vote away on Al Gore. I can't take
it any more. I have to say something. Fans of my diatribes (see
the Heston one from March) will understand that I have a good sense of the futility
I'm up against, but I must shout at it nonetheless...
-SWC, Waltham, Massachusetts - 8 September 2000
I go to Brandeis University, an alleged hotbed of both "liberalism" & idealism. I'm not really sure what the first of those words means since, like feminism, it seems to be a concept that everyone who espouses it (or hates it) has an utterly different interpretation of. Utterly. I myself am inclined to go with radical folk-singer Phil Ochs' interpretation, taken from his song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal", wherein he concludes, speaking for the average liberal to the unruly radicals, "but I've grown older & wiser, & that's why I'm turning you in... so love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal."
It's precisely that spirit of liberalism that seems to be sweeping what I'd affectionately (though somewhat facetiously) like to call my campus & my nation. Amidst massive talk of a disillusioned voting populous & youth who don't care, a radical politician has managed to capture a great deal of imagination & ardor. Leader of the Green Party & long-time consumer advocate Ralph Nader has initiated another campaign for the Presidency of the United States in order to provide choice in a quintessentially choiceless election. He's not perfect by anyone's definition, but he provides such a vast improvement over the traditional 2-party political scene that, when confronted with the Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee polished sell-out moderates that are Al Gore & George W. Bush, most rational people who vote must seriously consider a vote for Nader. Aha, but you forgot our beautiful American liberalism! This "serious consideration" winds up, more often than not, being a whiny intonation that no matter how much better a person, movement, & ideal Nader may represent, it's throwing away a vote.
The remainder of this piece will attempt to demonstrate how ridiculous such a conclusion is, & how significant a "throwaway vote" voting for Al Gore really is. I'm assuming that most of my audience at this point will want nothing to do with voting for George W. Bush, so I'm going to spend little to no time worrying about dissuading you from that perspective.
In 1992, H. Ross Perot ran on a third party ticket for the Presidency. His campaign, garnering insane momentum unprecedented in an American third party, was hampered by a late-campaign dropout & return, as well as problems with a Vice Presidential nominee who made Bob Dole look not only coherent, but youthfully energetic. Nonetheless, extensive exit polling was done on the night of the election to determine what role the "vote-for-a-winner" factor had in an election, especially one involving a strong third party. The results were staggering. In an election in which the winner had gained only about 40% of the popular vote, a MAJORITY of the voters polled said they liked Perot best of the 3 major candidates. However, only 20% of the popular vote ended up in the hands of the most popular candidate, yielding him 0 electoral votes. The disparity between the actual & the potential? Universally, they didn't feel Perot could win, making a vote for him a "throwaway vote".
2 ways of looking at this debacle: obviously, in a very real sense, he COULD win, considering that had everyone voted their conscience, he WOULD have won overwhelmingly. But, considering that we live with the American voting psychology, every single person in America might have favored Perot to the other 2 candidates, & he still would be rendered incapable of winning. Whichever side you pick, the implications are vital.
Regardless of your views on Perot's politics specifically or the man himself, he is emblematic of the third party reality in the modern United States. Third parties capture the imagination of idealists & the people who belong in politics, because they break up the stiflingly monotonous tragedy that is the current political circumstance in this country. Year after year of 2 parties who bicker uncontrollably about taking the same stance on almost every issue & appealing to the most milktoast of perspectives & voters becomes tiresome to almost anyone who actually cares about the nation. HOWever, ten times more powerful than our imagination is our American commitment to being on the winning team.
Somewhere in American psychology, the roots of which I won't delve into too deeply, we picked up the idea that winning is everything. & if we ourselves can't win, being a supporter of the winner is the next-best thing. Despite our alleged love of the underdog, we will desperately cling as tightly as we can to anything linking us to a winning sports team, a winning nation in a war, or most especially, a winning politician. Maybe we're just afraid that the CIA is keeping records of everyone's "secret" ballot & the winning President will rage against all who voted against him. I honestly think that would be the most rational explanation for why Americans vote behind a curtain but act as if they're voting in a neon-light-lined glass booth, with each of their picks announced via satellite on CNN.
Breaking down this obsession with voting for a winner is the first step in allowing third parties & actual change to infiltrate our political world. The Perot example puts it most starkly... had we ridded ourselves of this one mental block, a third party would have held the highest office in the land (world?) & our country would have been changed irreversably. Instead, we face having Al Gore/George W. Bush maintain the status quo forever.
I'm not going to tell you that Ralph Nader will win. I'm not going to tell you he has a chance of winning. I will tell you that him not winning nor not having a chance of winning should have NOTHING to do with your vote. Your vote is supposed to reflect your will. The ballot does not ask "who do you think will win?". The ballot, contrary to popular belief, does NOT even ask "who do you WANT to win?". The ballot asks "who do you think is the best person for the job?". If you believe enough in the ballot to vote in the first place, you are OBLIGATED to answer the real question the ballot asks. Otherwise, I'm going to tell you something you won't hear anywhere else: don't vote.
But, I can hear the skeptics saying, there is a more powerful counter-argument than "he can't win". When faced with what you feel to be the practical choice, between Al Gore & George W. Bush, the former has lulled you into thinking he's kind of okay, while the latter makes you joke with your friends about moving to Canada. & you want nothing to do with making yourself improve your quality of life by ACTUALLY moving to Canada, so you're voting for Gore. This is absurd, for several widely divergent reasons.
First off, the differences between Gore & Bush are minute. Both of them want to be as moderate & dull as possible. Both of them are from the old guard of political machines & political families. Both of them support a continuation of American capitalism, wealth-stratification, & plutocracy that has ruled this country from its inception.
I heard Al Gore speak on the campus of the University of New Mexico less than 2 weeks ago. I was bowled over by how much of his time he spent pandering to the rich, privileged, & old. Especially given that this was his speech specifically targeted at the "younger set", considering he was a guest of the University. His primary issue seemed to be a maintenance of Social Security. I don't blame the guy - the old folks vote at a scale you'll never see from the youth. He's going where the votes are. But you can't think that he's not going to do that once elected. He's just about as big-money-favoring as Bush.
The differences that I've heard people actually discuss often revolve around abortion or school vouchers. To me, neither of these are particularly important issues of the day. They seem to me to be the product of a lukewarm political environment obsessed with stagnation, finding a couple of minor issues & blowing them out of proportion so it seems there are contentious issues to discuss. The 2 major parties would certainly have egg on their face if it were discovered that they agree on EVERY SINGLE ISSUE... what need then for the distinction in the first place? But the parties feed off their bickering & random partisanship, so these issues we have. But even if you care deeply about these issues, Nader probably has a stance on them which is more aligned with yours than Gore's. & Bush will have a difficult time not compromising with what will likely be a Democratic Congress. Real change, even on the minor stuff, is obscenely slow in our political process.
Ah, but you say, what about the SUPREME COURT?! That's Presidential power, & that's something that really matters! Well, kinda. I have yet to see a Supreme Court decision that "really mattered" since Brown vs. Board of Education, in all honesty. The closest decision I can think of to something that mattered was the '90's decision (I believe) to NOT offer homosexuals the same rights protection that every other group in this country enjoys. So, the most important decision of the last 40 years, by the allegedly "more liberal than conservative" Supreme Court, still went the wrong way. Don't tell me that Gore is going to nominate enough people to actively change that. Besides the fact that if you think change is slow via Congress, look at how it is in the Court. Even if you can't bear to see more "conservatives" on the Court, they probably won't rule on anything of consequence till they're about 90.
But even if they do, I come to another essential argument... BUSH IS GOING TO WIN. Your vote will not change this. American elections are being decided earlier & earlier these days... this one was over about a month or so before the Conventions. Bob Dole could've dropped out in August last election & I dare say no one would have noticed, nor would it have changed the '96 outcome. Bush has lead in the polls from the beginning & even if it looked a little closer because of Gore's Convention-bounce, Democratic poll numbers are always inflated because Republicans ALWAYS vote on election day, whereas Democrats, generally being more likely to be working on that day, unlike the frequently idle or retired Republicans, have substantially lower turnout on average. But, most importantly, the candidates will be debating THREE times in the future. & here we have the essential trouble for Gore. Gore, who seems to be forsaking his personal heredity by compromising a lot of his environmental stands, has the charisma of a dead fish. I saw him, I know... he got the loudest cheer of the night for his "I may not be the most exciting President, but..." comment. Bush has been lauded as a media darling for being vibrant & funny, without getting caught up in too much of that "detailed explanation" problem. Probably because "detailed explanations" elude him. Regardless of which, this is a formula for debating that will make the Nixon-Kennedy TV debates look well-matched. Bush might not QUITE pick up a 10% bounce in the polls after each debate, but the sum total of thrashing that Bush will hand Gore on national TV will be enough to secure the win that he already has locked up.
I predict 14 states that Gore is CAPABLE of winning... I'm not saying he'll win them all, but he'll probably get a majority & he WILL NOT get more than this in the electoral college. He WILL win Massachusetts, Tennessee, Connecticut, Oregon, & the District of Columbia. He MIGHT win Rhode Island, New Mexico, Arkansas, Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, Minnesota, & Maine. The rest belong to Bush. If you add up those electoral votes, it's less than 30%. What about California? They will have seen the landslide & all the Dems will stop voting before their polls close, since they've seen what happened in the east. You also have to remember that Cali is the same state that instated Proposition 187 - not an instant vote against Bush. What about New York? The state out-votes the city, & the state picks Bush every time. It's over.
So, all you people throwing your vote away for Gore, you're defending a mighty 14 states. That's the same practicality that you're using to say "I won't vote for Nader because he won't win". Gore won't win either, kids. Sorry about that.
So, besides your ideals, what ARE you defending with a vote for Nader? Well, matching funds in future elections are at stake in almost every state. A certain quotient, usually between 5% & 15%, will establish the Green Party as a "major" party in any given state. & 5% nationally qualifies the Greens for major-party status nationwide, opening the door to federal matching funds. & unlike the debacle the Reform Party dealt with after qualifying for this under Perot, the Greens are not a single-person-driven party... they were not founded by Nader, nor do they require him to survive & thrive. Considering that Nader's running close to that 5% threshhold nationwide, your vote actually COULD make a difference here. Also, the primary issue at stake is one of debates... Perot was able to use these to launch his campaign, along with a great deal of money he personally acquired. The Greens will never have much money at their disposal, so media coverage requires access to the debates. If Nader picked up 10% of the popular vote, he'd probably be able to edge the Green Party's candidate into at least one debate in 2004, fueling the potential for future change. Keep in mind that right now, it's Gore, your alleged lesser of the evils, who is responsible for keeping Nader out of the debates.
So, the choice is obviously yours. But this time, you actually do have a small modicum of choice. I will again say that it's better not to vote than to throw your vote away - maybe if turnout were even lower than last year's record-low percentages, politics would began to be seen as the irrelevance it really is in our modern culture. But short of that, if you are committed to voting, please vote for Ralph Nader. Or maybe the Socialist candidate, if that's more your style. Throwing your vote away on Gore won't help anything except the stagnant plutocracy.
8 September 2000
Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
For more ideas on politics & other (actually significant) parts of life, go back to the pond of peace.