Voting third party: Why you’re wasting your vote

wasting your vote 2016 presidentDonald Trump is a fascist Manchurian candidate. Hillary Clinton is a warmonger who should be locked up. That’s where you are, and it’s not a good place to be.

You’re being told by folks on either side to vote their way or risk the end of civilization, but you’re going to vote your conscience, and that means … you’re looking at the third parties.

The Green Party has Jill Stein as its option, and the Libertarians offer up Gary Johnson, and both are pulling some numbers in the polls right now.

Depending on which poll you’re buying, Johnson is as high as 10 percent, which isn’t nearly enough to win anything other than a spot on state ballots in four years, but it’s something.

One thing I know you don’t like is hearing somebody like me tell you you’re wasting your vote if you go Johnson or Stein.

Ahem. You’re wasting your vote if you vote for Johnson or Stein.

Put down the virtual spears and rotten tomatoes. Vote for who you want to, but just know that neither the Libertarians nor the Greens deserve your vote, any more than you think Trump or Clinton deserves your vote.

For all their stated lofty goals and aspirations, neither Johnson nor Stein would be able to achieve anything from their platforms if elected.

The reason is probably obvious: neither would have anybody in Congress to work with.

There are exactly zero Libertarians in Congress, and, yep, you guessed it, exactly zero Greens. Nothing inherently impedes a third-party president from forging alliances with individual members or even an entire party caucus, but then …

Come on, third-party voter, is that really what you want out of your protest vote? To have your ideologically pure favorite have to compromise with the tainted two-party system to try to achieve anything?

Not like there’d be incentive for more than a handful of congressmen and senators to break away from their party bases to want to reach out. There would be a few picked off here and there with the thought that it might benefit them personally – again, third-party voter, do you really want people on your team who are only there because of pure self-interest?

But by and large, the two parties in the two-party system would ignore the hell out of the third-party president and legislate the way they’ve always done.

The lesson is that a political movement is not built from the top down. Our constitutional system is about as imperfect as they come, but it is what it is, and what it is involves checks, balances and other mechanisms that guarantee eternal inertia.

The real power in our government, by design, is not on Pennsylvania Avenue, but rather down the street at the U.S. Capitol, and the 50 state capitals.

The president has broad powers to make war, and to set policies in accord with laws passed by Congress, but on the whole the power to set the parameters of the broad expanse of domestic and foreign policy begins and ends in Congress.

So Jill Stein wants an emergency Green New Deal, jobs as a right and single-payer, all admirable goals (all things I want to see, personally), but good luck getting even a majority Democratic House and majority Democratic Senate to enact any of it, because of the way our system is set up.

Think back to 2009-2010, when Democrats had both houses of Congress, and President Obama had a mandate from the voters. The best they could do on healthcare was a watered-down 20-year-old conservative think-tank plan that the Republicans who once championed it now lampoon as Obamacare. The mere threat of the filibuster gave the GOP the power to do that; that’s how the game is played in D.C., like it or not.

Gary Johnson would have us scrap the tax code and start over, enact term limits for congressmen and senators, and … I have to admit I’m not sure what his thoughts are on defense and foreign policy, after looking at his campaign website, and seeing cloudy talk about how as president Johnson “will move quickly and decisively to refocus U.S. efforts and resources to attack the real threats we face in a strategic, thoughtful way,” which means absolutely nothing.

OK, so let’s assume a Johnson win. Neither party in Congress is going to agree to scrap the tax code for a single consumption tax, whatever the merits of the idea, for the simple reason that, as much as Republicans in particular demonize the IRS, there’s too much money coming in from lobbyists from business interests regarding tax breaks of various sorts to ever let that happen, at least in the current system.

Term limits, same issue: asking the current members of Congress to vote in favor of a plan to put them out of a job is just not going to happen.

The issue isn’t the merits of what either third-party candidate wants to achieve: it’s that they can’t achieve whatever they want to achieve without a political foundation.

And this is where you can tell that neither the Libertarians nor the Greens are serious about wanting to play a role in American governance.

I said it above: you don’t build from the top down. A movement begins at the ground and works up.

If you want single-payer, a New Green Deal, a single consumption tax, term limits, whatever, you start by working to elect like-minded individuals to represent you at the local level, at the state level, in Congress.

What I’m telling you here, yes, it takes time. It’s not something that will happen between now and November 2016, as if I need to even say that.

It may take a generation, roughly 20 years, to get to where we are now, ground zero, to there, where third parties are viable on the national stage.

And even if the Libertarians and Greens were to say today, OK, I’m in, let’s do this, it won’t be at all linear, because it’s not as if Republicans and Democrats are just going to sit back and say, hey, there are barbarians at the gates, whatever, back to business as usual.

The roadmap of American political history is littered with the wreckage of third-party movements that had their moments in the sun before having their raison d’etre stolen out from under them by one of the major parties.

Dating back to the Populists of the 1890s, the main thing that these third-party movements achieved was to throw national elections to one of the two major parties.

The Progressives of the early 20th century actually achieved something lasting in reforms in process in state constitutions in the Midwest and West; and the Perot movement in the 1990s provided Bill Clinton not only with two pluralities in presidential elections, but also the reputation of being a Democrat who turned a massive budget deficit into a surplus, by stealing Perot’s issue and running hard with it for eight years.

It’s significant that when the dust settles at the end of each political era, it’s the two major parties that are always standing at the end of the day.

They will not go down without a fight.

I’m not saying it’s not a fight worth waging. If you’ve read this far, thanks, one, and two, you can tell I’ve put an awful lot of thought to this, which might suggest to you that I think the effort is not only worth waging, but that it’s also essential that we start laying the foundation for the politics of our future.

But that having been said, you’re not going to achieve anything in 2016 voting for one of the third parties. The way our system is set up now, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be president, and only Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton has a chance of being an effective president for the next four years.

I didn’t make the rules, but I would like to be a part of changing the rules, and maybe one day that will happen.

It just won’t be this year.

Column by Chris Graham


AFP

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