by Mitchell Croom
There is no doubt that many readers of this article will already have encountered other pieces that either extol the moral virtue of refusing to participate in the two-party system, or denounce third party votes as an electoral “waste.” As is often the case with Internet-led debates, both sides of this rift ignore the truth at the heart of the other side. The two-party system does create questionable outcomes, and voting your conscience is always justified. However, it remains an electoral certainty that one of the two major parties will win the White House, and so voting for anyone else will be something of a “protest” exercise. None of these points, however, get at the meat of the issue.
Voting third party is not a fruitful use of your ballot, but not because of the spoiler effect. People have a civic duty to choose the candidate with whom they most align. If a third party candidate represents your interests well, they should receive your vote, period. Here’s the thing: you really shouldn’t agree with them. Not because of any “strategic” purpose; simply because their positions are immature, poorly thought-out, and harmful to the country.
It’s natural to overlook the ignorance of third party policies. The media rarely, if ever, covers them or their leaders. People’s default assumptions about them go unchallenged and these parties become amusing, innocent sideshow attractions, instead of critically-examined political entities. So let’s examine them.
The Libertarian Party is by far the largest, best-organized and most energetic third party in the United States. They claim to stand on a platform of “social liberalism and fiscal conservatism,” which appeals to many voters who would prefer to see their own taxes lowered, but also support (or don’t care about) social issues like gay marriage or abortion. Yet these voters, who are by and large moderates, would be severely displeased if Libertarians ever gained control of the US government. The “Libs” are not fiscal conservatives; they are fiscal extremists. Their platform states,
“We call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.”
Let’s briefly note that “abolishing” the IRS is a nonsensical appeal to the emotions of people who hate the government. As the government’s revenue-collector, the IRS is indispensable. Abolishing the IRS would simply mean establishing a replacement organization to perform the same function, but with a different name (wasting tax dollars in the process). But more importantly, the federal income tax constitutes 1.5 trillion dollars in revenue per year. The entire federal budget is $3.8 trillion. If we eliminated all discretionary spending – shutting down the entire US military, ending all education grants to state and local governments, ending all federal housing assistance, closing the entire Department of State (including every single US embassy and consulate around the globe), cutting all environmental protection efforts, completely deregulating nuclear power plants, defunding NASA completely, firing everyone at the NHTSA, the FAA, the FCC, the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA, the staff who work in the White House and Congress, and much, much more – it would still only cut $1.1 trillion.
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The Libertarians’ answer to this is that they won’t go after discretionary spending first; they’ll cut what’s known as “mandatory spending,” which constitutes our biggest welfare programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and TANF (food stamps). Here, they have a problem. You might think it’s that a 1.5 trillion dollar cut to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and TANF would create millions of newly poor seniors who can’t afford to pay for housing or get healthcare when they fall ill (which happens fairly frequently to older people). You might also think that it’s the millions of currently-poor Americans who now won’t be able to afford the most basic healthcare, flooding emergency rooms, skipping out on their unpayable bills, occupying doctors’ time without any compensation, and increasing wait times and costs for everyone. And you might think it’s the borderline-inhumanity of denying hungry children access to food. But it isn’t.
Their problem is that income taxes don’t pay for welfare. Payroll taxes do. And the Libertarians have already pledged to end all payroll taxes, saying “we oppose any legal requirements forcing employers to serve as tax collectors,” which is what payroll taxes are.
So they’ve already committed to ending all mandatory spending (or at least the payroll taxes that pay for it), and all discretionary spending (or at least the income taxes that pay for it). The only taxes they don’t explicitly denounce are excise taxes and duties on imports and exports, which account for only $291 billion, only 7.7% of the total budget. How well do you think our government would function at one-thirteenth of current funding? The Libertarians think, “just fine.” Either that, or they have yet to realize the lunacy of the spending cuts they propose.
Cutting taxes down to 7.7% of current funding means you can fund nothing but the interest on the national debt. No military, no welfare, no transportation projects, no student loans, no food stamps, no NASA or FBI or CIA or Federal Reserve or Smithsonian. Nothing.
The next time you see Gary Johnson’s genial face on the Internet, remind yourself that he’s the standard-bearer for a party that would deny basic services to hundreds of millions of Americans, who would fund nothing but the “minimum payment due” on the nation’s credit card bill, and who sees nothing wrong with that.
The Green Party is taken far less seriously than the Libertarians, not only by the public, but apparently by their own members. Whereas the Libs try their best (with questionable results) to fill ballots with candidates for every office from the White House to the local school board, the Greens rarely run outside of presidential elections. They spend four months every four years proclaiming that the time for “revolution” has come, running some candidate who sounds like a less-likeable Lorax, and as soon as they lose every single state, go home for another 44 months. That is not “revolution,” and I would imagine honest-to-God revolutionaries don’t appreciate their misappropriation of that term.
Their platform, which at press time has not yet been updated online for the 2016 election cycle, reads like a far left pipe-dream (which I say as a lefty myself), ignorant of reality or political plausibility. It advocates total US nuclear disarmament, without accompanying disarmament of our fellow nuclear powers, something no first-year student of international security would consider for a moment. Mutually assured destruction has kept the nuclear peace for 70 years, and disarmament would be the most destabilizing and dangerous event to happen on the nuclear stage since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Their platform also asks for an unparalleled commitment to environmental protection that would seriously harm the US economy, is not supported by the electorate, and would be opposed to the death by congressional Republicans. It denounces the use of fossil fuels to produce energy, while also condemning nuclear power, the only current feasible alternative. It opposes man-made pesticides (apparently unaware of the crops, livelihoods, and even lives that would be destroyed) and seeks to ban the use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), a pseudo-scientific and baseless scare tactic of the far left that has gained a regrettable amount of traction in the center. Their platform is, in a word, unrealistic.
Their current standard-bearer herself holds some views even more out of step with the country. Jill Stein, MD, recently untangled herself from an affair springing from her apparent refusal to admit that vaccines do not cause autism. When asked if she believed in that nonexistent connection, she repeatedly pivoted to bashing “big pharma,” leaving listeners wondering if she was riding the Jenny McCarthy anti-scientific bandwagon. Now, after being widely criticized, she claims that she has always believed in the efficacy of vaccines. But after issuing that curt affirmation, she still pivots to big pharma’s stranglehold on the American health services, and how she understands that people don’t trust such a corporatized system. I, too, believe that the government should not take such a laissez-faire approach to an inherently inelastic market like healthcare; but if asked whether vaccines cause autism, the answer is simply “No.” Making any other excuses or allowances for that most harmful belief is a betrayal of both science and medicine, two things that Doctor Stein should have more faith in. Most recently, she also expressed concerns that schoolkids’ brains could become damaged from exposure to Wi-Fi signals, demonstrating a fundamental lack of knowledge of what Wi-Fi is or what it could ever do to a human brain.
I have a great deal of personal sympathy for the Greens. They are fundamentally a party of liberals who are dissatisfied with a piecemeal approach to civil rights, the environment, or foreign policy. They want a transformation of American government, and they want it now. But Max Weber was right when he said that “politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” Progress is not won by being the most correct (not to imply that the Greens are), or by being the highest-minded, or even by being the loudest (though that will get you decently far). You must convince the people, that “average voter” whom Churchill hated, in order to make your revolution last.
The Green Party is fundamentally disinterested in educating the public, convincing moderates, or compromising in order to achieve progress. To their credit, at least they don’t seem mystified when they lose.
All Voting Is Strategic Voting
The preceding paragraphs are meant to disillusion anyone who might think that any third party in America is some noble enterprise that simply can’t convince the “sheeple.” If either the Libertarians or the Greens found themselves in control of the US government, they would implement policies that would fundamentally harm the United States in myriad ways. But upon reading my arguments, a third party voter might still respond that either Stein or Johnson is “better than the alternative” in this election. Which is where the wheels really come off the wagon.
At the top of the article, I said that the spoiler effect is not a sufficient reason to vote for a major party candidate. And that’s true. If you believe in what the Libs or Greens are selling, then you should vote for them, period. But if you don’t really adhere to their platforms, if what I’ve written above troubles you, if you can admit that you’re not in love with Stein or Johnson either, then please do not vote for them. At the point that Stein or Johnson is no longer your ideal candidate, then you are engaging in strategic voting. You are asking the same question that hundreds of millions of Americans are asking: “How can I put my vote to its best use?” And without a candidate to inspire you above all others, as both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have done for many, you are forced into making strategic considerations. You are forced into picking the lesser of evils.
At that point, you should choose a major party candidate. Because if you’re not willing to give your all and lose for a cause that’s greater than any one election, if you don’t truly believe in these candidates and their flawed platforms, then the best use of your vote is to support the candidate that’s closest to your views who actually has a shot at winning. Otherwise, you become a revolutionary without a cause, lending your vote and voice to candidates you don’t really support, in protest against other candidates you don’t really support. Always voting for a major party candidate may be cynical, but voting for a third party you don’t actually agree with is the most cynical move of all. Not only do you vote against common sense and responsible policy, but you tacitly admit that your vote will not matter, since if it did, you would never cast it for that candidate.
Sometimes, the most principled action is doing your best to help others achieve the best outcome, even when that task is unpleasant. Please, read all the parties’ platforms, critically evaluate every candidate, and go vote your conscience on November 8.
Mitch Croom is a joint BA/MPP student at the College of William & Mary, where he studies international security, American politics, and civil rights. He is the current Senior Research Fellow at the Project on International Peace and Security, the only undergraduate think tank in the world. Also at W&M, he serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Monitor Journal of International Studies, the Chair of Student Life in the William & Mary Student Assembly, and the President of the Graduate Policy Association.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
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