Once upon a time, a man named Eugene Debs ran for president and received 3.4 percent of the popular vote. The feat is particularly impressive given Debs ran as a member of the Socialist Party, and was in prison at the time. And you know what? He still got a higher margin than Ralph Nader, and Nader swung an election to give us that bumbling rich boy, President George W. Bush.
The third party in America is an endangered species, and for good reason. They have no idea how to hunt. In a nation of cutthroats, the weak die painfully in the streets. Politics is as cutthroat as it gets. Once, Ross Perot took almost 19 percent of the vote on a platform of unabashed insanity.
“I’ll be the underwear-on-the-outside-crazy-President you deserve,” Perot said, and he still spent millions on a campaign that produced better comedy material than policy discussions. Teddy Roosevelt did it best as a member of the Bull Moose Party in 1912, taking 27 percent and 88 electoral votes.
Third-party votes are votes wasted. Even now as I type these words, I can hear the howling madness of thousands, maybe millions, of too-cool-for-school college students with political leanings condemning my sheep-like devotion to the “broken two-party system.”
When my friends and colleagues tell me they plan to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, I heave a sigh and force myself not to flee immediately across the border into Canada.
Voting for the principled, pro-legalization, libertarian Gary Johnson? Congratulations, along with your pot you can now surrender your birth control and the U.S. Department of Education. Hope you aren’t attending Webster University on student loans, because Johnson opposes federal student loans of all kinds because “they drive up tuition.” Say goodbye to federal funding for stem cells, too. Sick kids aren’t as important as keeping the government small, right?
Don’t worry, though. The feeling of enlightened superiority will surely protect you from the 23-percent sales tax Johnson wants to replace the entire Internal Revenue Service tax code.
It doesn’t end there. You could vote for Jill Stein. Sure, she wants to slash the Pentagon budget by 50 percent, but she also wants to provide free education to every American from kindergarten through college. Apparently the Federal Reserve System has an extra $10 trillion lying around. Let’s not forget rigid opposition to all Medicare and Social Security cuts (even those considered vital to the solvency of the programs).
Sure, she’s the perfect, utopian liberal, but that’s the problem. Third-party candidates know they can’t win, so their campaigns become about making a point. Of course, free education for all is ideal, but it isn’t practical. It doesn’t even approach practical. Since she’ll never win, nobody will ever ask her about it. She gets to be an endangered species, a rare bird with a strange song that nobody ever questions killing, because you just can’t take it seriously. Like the Dodo, Stein is valuable and decent, but destined for doom.
Third partiers like to say they won’t compromise, but compromise is the key to pragmatic leadership. Never negotiating with Congress, the American voter or the Supreme Court means never being forced to make the tough call.
It is a form of surrender. The political equivalent of spending your life locked in a bomb shelter deep under the ground and then bragging you’ll “never be a victim of violence.” It’s true, but it means nothing. You’ll never be a victim of anything locked in an echo chamber of self-aggrandizing posturing. Idealism is good for community activists, poets and Amnesty International, but it has no place in the office governing 300 million people who can’t agree on pizza toppings.
So while we can occasionally force major candidates to debate real solutions, third-party wet blankets get to stand in defiance and declare to a fawning crowd, “I won’t compromise.”
Only because nobody invites you to the table, Slick. Only because you’ll never be asked to lead. But enjoy your sense of self-importance.