Preface: I love you no matter who you vote for. Even if it’s Trump. I don’t think there is much progress to be found in ostracizing or villainizing those who make poor decisions, whatever those decisions pertain to.
When Bernie first announced his campaign, I was on board. I had known about him for a long time prior, and I was immediately excited, even if doubtful. I felt the bern. But by the time the NY primary rolled around, I ended up checking the box for Hillary. Admittedly, I stood in the booth for a solid 10 minutes as I weighed that choice, but that’s where I landed when the time came to pick.
I’ve not mentioned this to many people, as I’ve had a genuine fear of what my more passionate friends would think. I don’t want to lose their respect. I hope they’re able to understand.
I made that choice out of pragmatism. It was very clear, at that point, that if Bernie had a real shot, he needed to win South Carolina months prior. He got trounced there, and while he had respectable showings in many states thereafter, he was always losing ground. So, it was my desire to see his campaign wrap up and move towards reconciliation with Hillary so that we could secure the election against Trump.
As Bernie’s campaign has winded down, Jill Stein has picked up many people of the #bernieorbust attitude. This is not surprising, of course; a significant fraction of Bernie’s base were independent voters that only registered as Democrats just to vote for him. So it should be expected that there would be some people returning to that. But there are some basic facts about the democratic process in America that make voting third-party an unwise decision.
The two-party system is the inevitable outcome of our electoral process
In America, we use a very naive system for determining winners called first past the post. Combined with the way we draw electoral boundaries, which results in gerrymandering, there is literally no other possible long-term outcome for elections in our system.
There are ways to improve on this, but it requires changing some of the most fundamental parts of the legislative and electoral process. It’s made even more difficult by the huge number of negative incentives built in to our current system. Politicians, like every other person on the planet, want to keep their jobs. Significant changes to the system are a literal threat to them. Call them cowards or corrupt, but most of us would exhibit identical behavior in the same situation.
The end result is this: third party candidates are truly not viable. They cannot win. The system does not allow it. Many people point to elections a century or more ago to argue against this, but this represents a failure to understand how much the political ecosystem has changed in the 20th century. Gerrymandering was simply not as prevalent when Lincoln or Teddy were elected.
Presidents have little or no power to change this aspect of our system
No doubt, the president is important and powerful – but the most meaningful aspects of legislation occur in the boring, unremarkable places in government: at the state and local level. If you want real change to sweep the country, the place to start is at the bottom, not the top. Implementing single-transferable voting at the local level would be a massive step forward in advancing the country towards more fair voting processes, and would increase voter engagement and turnout. It’s also totally feasible. Local and state law are – compared to federal law, at least – not that hard to change.
Voting third party in the hopes of creating systemic change is an up-side down way of achieving progress. If I may dare an analogy – it’s a bit like trying to use cold fusion to solve our energy problems, before the technology has even been invented. If you truly want to vote third party, the place to start is in pushing for electoral reform.
Bernie understands this, which is why he transitioned his platform in the last month or two to push for progressives to run for positions at the state and local level. It’s also why he endorsed Hillary. He knows that part of moving forward means not moving backwards.
Votes are not unilateral endorsements
There is a popular notion about the meaning of a vote. To vote for someone is to give them your unmitigated blessing, to take them as your own, until death do you part. This is a totally unrealistic perspective on voting.
Case in point: I love Obama. I think he’s done a fabulous job, and he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest presidents. That doesn’t mean I love everything he’s done. He’s utterly failed to halt the erosion of privacy and civil liberties caused by the NSA. He’s advanced the use of weaponized drones across the world. His responses to racial injustice have been consistently insufficient. His promises of transparency were not fulfilled. He failed to close Guantanamo. There’s been meager advancement on climate change and energy policy. His approach towards trade has been highly questionable, with the TPP being a potential disaster (though I lack the fundamental understanding to spout about this).
But he made significant progress on health care. His administration has gradually become a champion for LGBT rights. The Recovery Act was a great success, even if it didn’t go as far as I wanted it to. He modernized significant portions of the US government’s public and online presence, which were basically non-existent under Bush. He ended the war in Iraq. He’s staunchly resisted prejudice against Muslim and Mexican Americans, and made reasonable attempts at immigration reform. His appointments have been very strong – especially Loretta Lynch and Tom Wheeler. He’s a fantastic orator and has delivered many powerful, inspiring speeches.
My vote for him was not an endorsement of his mistakes and poor decisions. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that McCain/Palin and Romney/Paul would have been disasters for progress in America and across the world.
It’s hard to know how different the world would be if a handful of Nader supporters had picked Gore in 2000. It seems very likely that we would have avoided the war in Iraq, which may very well be the root cause of the birth of ISIS. Many of Bush’s judicial appointments would not have occurred, meaning Roberts would not have been appointed, meaning Citizens United would have been struck down. We would certainly have seen much more action on climate change, one of Gore’s pet topics. The US would not have actively condoned the torture of innocent people.
No, we cannot blame Nader or his supporters for the actions of Bush/Cheney and their administration. But we can say with some degree of certainty that the country – and the world as a whole – regressed under their leadership. There is no honor or virtue lost in making the pragmatic choice to avoid a repeat of this outcome. Most of us can agree that Trump would be far more disastrous than Bush ever could have been.
Personally, I can vote for Hillary with a clean conscience. In a system that only presents two choices, she is clearly the more competent, less racist, less sexist, and more intelligent. She will make mistakes, and I will have no problem criticizing these mistakes. She will also do some things right, and I feel confident that she will do more right than wrong.