The rationale

When I tell people that I intend to vote Nader, it tends to make people angry at me, be they friends, my live-in girlfriend, or people I don’t know at all. Then their anger turns to confusion. They always say the same thing: “You’re throwing your vote away.”  Here is my response to such a charge.

The point, or at least most desirable aspect, of democratic government is the possibility of change.  This is good compared to, say, monarchy or theocracy.  It allows government to adapt to changes in the environment, according to the needs of the people, rather than the other way around.  Voting is not the same as betting on the outcome of a football game, as choosing the winning side does not automatically or necessarily benefit the voter.  And yet, people in the United States’ current duopoly approach the election in just such a manner, with “third party” candidates relegated to the level of a “push” decision.

The most popular argument against voting outside the duopoly is that it takes a vote away from one of the top two candidates (who perhaps hold similar principles or ideals).  Back to my football analogy, however, one already can predict this outcome in 2008.  Democrats will almost certainly win this election.  But by voting for an outcome that is basically pre-determined, one will not directly affect any changes, nor benefit in any tangible way, as in betting on a heavily favored football team.  And yet, people vote as if this were the case.

Then there is the issue of my aforementioned duopoly.  I would argue that neither party is that different from the other and we know that whatever happens, one of them will win.  This is very similar to Soviet Russia, in which only one party appeared on the ballot, and even though people voted, they had but one box to tick.  This sounds extreme at first, but consider the way that the Republicans and Democrats frame political discourse in the United States.  They have set up a binary system of debate, whereby an American is either a one or a zero, for or against, “us” or “them.”  The existence of each party therefore legitimizes the other, yin and yang.  Without “us,” “they” would take over.  This is very similar to Cold War discourse in which the United States counter-balanced the Soviet Union in terms of military power (and likewise set up a binary argument regarding political/economic systems).  The parties are aware of this arrangement and tacitly approve of the other’s existence and essentially have agreed to take turns in the driver’s seat.  This duopoly gives Americans the illusion of choice, whereas the Soviet elections were actually a transparent sham.

This illusion of choice therefore frees the parties from ever having to make major changes or include a “none of the above” option on the ballot.  It is better for the parties to have disillusioned voters stay home on election day, rather than legitimizing their disillusionment with official recognition.  Meanwhile, they have legally instituted themselves with laws making it extremely difficult for anyone else to get on a ballot.  The Nader campaign, for instance, is busily getting thousands of signatures in every state, wasting energy and resources that could otherwise be spent getting out their message, while Republicans and Democrats get all the photo-ops and news coverage (which further serves their purpose as reinforcing the legitimacy of the duopoly).

The point of voting outside the duopoly is to give voice to disillusionment.  If one would rather stay home on election day, this is truly a waste when a third option reaches the ballot.  Third options give voice to disillusionment and new ideas.  Even if the candidate doesn’t win, his or her ideas can be given significant weight with enough votes, as Ross Perot demonstrated.  When the duopoly feels threatened, it will adapt and work to re-gain its foothold, listening and possibly conceding to the demands of the disillusioned.  This is why we should vote Nader this year, because we know the duopoly will win anyway.


~ by Daniel on 25 March, 2008.

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