Let's be frank. I don't like Obama all that much.
Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike the man personally. I never met him. He seems like a good guy - a great family man with an upbeat and positive personality. He's also quite a tasty crumpet whom I would not kick out of bed for eating crackers.
Politically, I was always pretty lukewarm about him. I did not support him in the primaries. My choices for President were true liberals like Dennis Kucinich or a pre-scandal John Edwards (while we're at it, I'd love to see Howard Dean jump back in the race and if Russ Feingold ever runs for President, I will back him all the way). When the primaries hit NY and it was down to Obama or Senator Clinton, it was Clinton who had my vote. Yes, he has had some impressive accomplishments in the past four years, but aside from a few social policies, he's not a true liberal. This treehugger shivered with disgust at the schmenke-off between Obama and Romney over who was drilling for more oil ("My oilwell is bigger than your oilwell!"). He is also just as buffeted by corporate interests as GW Bush was.
So why vote for him?
To start off, I support underdogs. The fact that he has been so heavily pilloried by the Republicans just makes me want to anger them by voting for him. They deserve to lose just for being so obnoxious, mean, derogatory, racist, and slandering. Republicans are just so hateful I want Obama to win just to piss them off. (Just kidding - sort of.)
I think we would be far worse off with a Republican President of course, but there are plenty of Americans out there who would remind me that there are other options. I shouldn't have to pick the lesser of two evils.
Every time I go to the ballot I see a dizzying array of political parties to choose from: Democratic, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Right to Life, Working Families, Green - the list goes on. Some of them put up the same candidate and some are candidates I have never heard of (which I know is the corporate media's fault, blah blah blah). If Obama and Romney can't make me happy, why not choose someone else?
Let's take a look at the reasons why I don't choose outside the major parties.
First, there are too many parties out there that are single-issue. Right to Life? Green? What if one of those candidates won? Do they understand that governing takes more than just dedication to a single issue? Do they realize that being a member of the government means that you have to serve all of your constituents and not just the ones that agree with you on a certain issue? I don't like single-issue voters, so I sure am not going to vote for a single-issue candidate.
Remember the gubernatorial candidacy of Howard Stern several years ago? His goal, if elected, was to push through exactly three pieces of legislation before stepping down and letting his lieutenant governor take over. Was he planning to devote all of his time and energy to three pieces of legislation and let everything else languish while he did this? Would someone else be doing the work he should be doing? Does that mean my tax dollars would effectively be paying for two governors? I would not want to waste my vote on a three-issue candidate even if he wasn't planning to stay in office. What if it took four or more years to accomplish the legislation he was after?
The other major reason why I don't want to vote third part is simple math. The more candidates you introduce into a race, the less likely you are to have your government elected by a majority. All you need is just one more candidate in the race and the next thing you know, someone could be elected with just 34% of the vote. Should this nation be served by someone whom nearly 70% of the country didn't want?
I'm not all that happy with third party candidates either. Back in 2000 I was not going to support Ralph Nader. Do I like Ralph Nader? Yes. Do I think he supports the right causes? Certainly. Do I think he's qualified to be President? Not at all! He is very good at what he does. Being a consumer advocate means taking a hard line and fighting for one side. Being a politician requires an ability to compromise and make deals. Being President also requires extensive knowledge of foreign policy, economics, and constitutional law. Ralph Nader was eminently unqualified for the office.
What I found ridiculous about the whole candidacy was that people were voting for him not because of his qualifications, but because he was third party. They were voting for him to make some kind of statement. Many Nader voters were self-professed libertarians. That makes me laugh hysterically. There is nothing libertarian about Ralph Nader. He has dedicated his life to regulations and rules. In the libertarian rule it's all about free markets and caveat emptor. Safety and quality is not the government's concern. He was also running on the Green Party ticket. A true libertarian isn't going to support environmental regulations either.
So it continues today that many third-party voters are self-professed libertarians. That term is a morass of beliefs as it is. Most people who declare themselves libertarian are usually very liberal or very conservative with their beliefs, but have one or two positions that lie outside the norm (hence my joke that libertarians are just "Republicans who want to do drugs"). To declare yourself libertarian sounds nicely anti-establishment. If you're calling yourself conservative, you run the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, religious nutjob. If you're calling yourself liberal, you run the risk of being perceived as a hippie on welfare. Besides, not all of your beliefs fall in with the liberal or conservative party line (do anyone's?) so it's better to say you're something else, right?
Who are the third-party candidates these people gravitate to? There are the likes of Ron Paul (who seems to turn up like a bad penny whether Republicans want him or not) and Gary Johnson. On the surface their positions can seem quite reasonable. They want to end foreign military intervention (Yay! I can get behind that). They want to legalize all drugs (I'm pretty skeptical on that). They want want complete corporate deregulation (I can't get behind that at all). Libertarian darling Ron Paul seems to support the idea that liberty (as he defines it) is a privilege of white, male property owners. It makes sense that so many of his supporters are young, white, straight men - they have little to lose under such a government.
Economic libertarianism looks great on paper, but has about as little proof of effectiveness as bloodletting for a disease cure. Supporters of third-party candidates look at Atlas Shrugged as some kind of historical fact, yet are willfully ignorant of the real history of the Gilded Age and the Great Depression and how America fared under totally unregulated markets. I would bet that most of us reading this right now would not be living our comfortable, middle-class lives if we lived in the 19th century. History has shown us again and again that government spending and programs have been vital to the development of the middle class (e.g. public education, minimum wage, the GI Bill.) I have no desire to vote for someone who wants to take this country further into economic disparity.
I do digress a bit much. I suppose I should have just summed it up that third parties really aren't that much better than what we have now. They may have points I agree with, but then again, so do the existing parties.
Let's get back on point with the political parties that do exist? Should this country only have two political parties? If I don't feel the Democratic candidates (or recently offered third parties) properly represent me, then why don't I find one that does? What if this new party were capable of gaining power?
There are over 30 countries around the world that use runoff elections. This allows multiple parties to be voted on, gradually eliminating the outliers, and finally narrowing the field to two candidates. I like this idea. This would allow multiple voices to be heard and yet still make the ultimate decision be between two candidates, thus allowing a majority election. I could get behind a system like that.
Then I realized that we already do have such a system. It's called primaries. We start with a large field of candidates, people vote for their favorites, and the last person standing makes it to the final round. It's not a bad system when you think about it.
The problem is we run up against the issue that too many Americans have such contempt for political parties, that they claim independence and make themselves ineligible for the primaries. Then we're all back to Square 1, complaining about the lesser of two evils.
Political parties are what they are because of the people who are willing to get involved with them. Those that don't claim party independence, those that sit out part of the election process, hand over the political parties to those who do participate. Are political parties stagnant? Will they always be what they are now?
Let's think about this for a minute. The Republican Party today isn't the party of Lincoln. It's not the party of Teddy Roosevelt. It's not even the party of Eisenhower. Just like today's Democratic Party is no longer the party of white southern racists. The direction a political party takes has a lot to do with who gets involved. These things can be changed from within. It means Americans have to put aside their prejudices and be willing to do so.
I have one final reason why I won't vote third party. The Supreme Court is at stake here. Three justices are likely to retire in the next four years. If you know your third party candidate doesn't stand a chance of winning, are you willing to take the risk that three new justices could potentially take the country in a whole new direction? I'm certainly not. I'll take the risk and cast my vote for the candidate who may not always make me happy, but will at least do this much for the country's future.
That doesn't mean I wouldn't be against other political parties someday coming to power in this country. I just want to know that in the end, there are still just two candidates on the ballot and we still have the rule of majority. I do not want to be served on behalf of the 34%.