Not the Year for Minor Parties

In America, we have a two-party system.  This is not the result of some mysterious cabal, but simply a natural outgrowth of of the way we run our elections. When people vote for a third party candidate for President, they know that there choice has virtually no chance of winning.  However, by giving support to a candidate whose ideas are on the fringe today, perhaps they can play a role in making those ideas more mainstream in the future.  Certainly, the Socialist Party under the leadership of Eugene Debs laid the groundwork for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the candidacy of George Wallace played an important role in shaping the direction taken by the Republican Party of today.  So, even if a vote does not contribute to immediate victory, it is not wasted; it has influence. It reverberates in the electorate.

In an effort to be more democratic, our major parties have developed an elaborate, lengthy process to select the nominees.  However, despite all of the primaries and caucuses, many people, both independents and party stalwarts, are dissatisfied with the choices that emerged this year. So, they are looking elsewhere.

gary johnson close up

Gary Johnson

I find much of Libertarian Gary Johnson’s platform appealing: protecting privacy and security on the internet, ending the disastrous war on drugs, and reigning in the military. The major parties, busy competing on the basis of who can keep us safe from both the real and imagined dangers of the modern world, come down on the wrong side of all of these issues: they will try to undermine encryption standards on the internet, they will ineffectively tinker around the edges of drug policy, and they will increase military spending.

However, I disagree with the Libertarians on their fundamentally laissez-faire approach to the economy.  I suspect they would try to dismantle the social safety net, since they think “the proper and most effective source of help for the poor is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.” Their ideas of freedom ignore the vastly unequal bargaining position of an individual versus a corporation in the modern world. Their somewhat utopian vision of “a healthy economy that allows the market to function unimpeded” would simply allow powerful, unregulated multinational corporations to run amuck.

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Jill Stein

Since I am particularly concerned about the impact that our civilization is having on the natural environment, I am attracted to the Green Party, which has nominated Jill Stein, for President.  She has this to say:

 It’s time to build a people’s movement to end unemployment and poverty; avert climate catastrophe; build a sustainable, just economy; and recognize the dignity and human rights of every person.

On internet security, the drug war, and foreign policy, Jill Stein makes statements that I am in full agreement with:

Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem….Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights.

However, I am far too moderate to be enthusiastic about the Green Party, which “seeks to build an alternative economic system”.  As much as I admire the goals of “creating living-wage jobs for every American who needs work” and “transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030,”  I am convinced by the Washington Post’s analysis: their plan is an appealing “fairy tale”.

Since I think for myself, no candidate is going to be perfect, that is, in agreement with me on every issue. Even if such a mythical person were to exist and get elected, they would end up having to compromise.  My vote, inevitably, also represents a compromise. I am ok with this.  My judgement is probably less than perfect anyway.

So, why are people so dissatisfied with the choices that emerged from the major party  primaries?

Hillary Clinton Speaks At The University Of Miami

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has been in the public spotlight for a quarter century.  Ever since she said “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies” in the 1992 election, she has been pilloried by partisans who oppose her vision of the modern woman and by professional character assassins skilled in covertly leveraging the prejudices of the American public.  She has endured scandals, both real and fabricated, investigations, and an endless stream of congressional hearings. The details of her life have been closely examined by people determined to find a way to bring her down.  She is probably the most thoroughly vetted candidate in history.

Through it all, she remains standing.  Yes, she has her faults, and she has made mistakes during he long career in public service.  However, the worst that Trump can actually substantiate is that she didn’t handle her emails properly when she was Secretary of State.   All of this scrutiny over the years has trained her to be extremely cautious in what she says, and her lack of spontaneity puts many people off.  In addition, Clinton is far too moderate for many in her own party, as the remarkable candidacy of Bernie Sanders pointed out.  However, she is rational, experienced, knowledgeable, competent, compassionate, and, despite what was chanted at the Republican convention, basically honest.

It is ironic that the historic milestone, the first woman ever nominated for President by a major party, should receive such little attention.  That is because all the attention is being grabbed by the Donald, whose candidacy is what really makes this election historic.

Donald Trump is in many ways the opposite of Clinton: he is irrepressibly spontaneous, irrational, inexperienced, ignorant, incompetent, callous, and basically dishonest.  He has built a career promoting his brand, serving no-one but himself.

Perhaps you are tired of the Democrats brow beating you with the specter of some calamity should a Republican get elected.  Me too.  But this year, the Republicans have put forward an unimaginable catastrophe.  Historians, including Ken Burns and David McCullough, who usually keep their political leanings private, have taken extraordinary steps to warn the American people about Donald Trump.  Newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle which has usually endorsed Republicans, have come out against Trump in July, long before they would normally endorse anyone.  Even many Republicans openly oppose him.  One, Evan McMullin, has begun an independent campaign to oppose Trump because “someone needed to do it”.   All of these agree: Trump is a danger to our democracy.

And he could win.

His rallies are packed with supporters who enthusiastically cheer his most outlandish pronouncements.  Another contingent, having fed for decades on anti-Clinton propaganda, will vote for their party’s nominee no matter what he does or says, putting party loyalty ahead of loyalty to their country.  That adds up to a significant portion of the electorate.  If the remaining voters divide their support among the rational candidates, Clinton, Johnson, Stein, and now McMullin, it is quite possible for Trump to come out on top.

Currently, opinion polls are heartening.  However, such polls can lead to a dangerous complacency.  If a poll puts a state safely in one column or another, people may think that they might as well indulge in a minor party candidate, trusting others to make sure Trump doesn’t win.   Opinion polls have always had a margin of error, and the error is likely to be larger this year than in the past, especially with Trump disrupting the usual voting patterns.

In normal circumstances,  I would be sympathetic with those who choose to vote for a minor party candidate; such a vote can have important long term effects. However, nothing about Trump is normal.  When a fire starts, you put it out; long term planning can come later.   This is not the year to vote Libertarian or Green, even if you support the most radical of their proposals.  The stakes are simply too high.

If you care about the future of our republic, you have only one choice: Hillary Clinton.

 

 

 

 

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