St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Vote for Who You Want

Politics is complicated, and U.S. politics is especially fraught with emotion, division, and straight-up hysteria. Normally I keep my nose out of it because it’s beneath my dignity to muck in with the pigs. Something about politics always leaves me wanting a shower. I broke my rule in 2016, though, because what was at stake seemed so much more dramatic than in previous elections. I read books on the candidates, I followed the news, and I registered to vote. I even sneakily put some money on the outcome of the election (and, unfortunately, won; I seem to be one of the few non-Trump-supporters who predicted that Donald Trump would win). That election didn’t quite go the way anyone thought it would, and there was a huge backlash from the left. People said a lot of things that were unfair, anti-democratic, and bordering on downright bullying, but I left it alone because people were justifiably upset at the Cheeto’s victory. What’s upsetting for me in 2020 is that I’m hearing a lot of the same tired arguments and sad attempts to bully people into voting for “the lesser of two evils” that I heard in 2016, so I want to present some overlooked facts and remind people that it’s not a bad thing to vote for a third party.

Donald Trump is the Democrats’ Fault

I’m so tired of hearing Democrats blame Donald Trump’s victory on people who voted third-party or people who abstained. This is hypocrisy of the highest order considering that it’s the Democrats who gave us Trump.

Hillary Clinton was an unpopular candidate and she knew it. She had, after all, been told as much to her face in the 2008 primaries. Now some of this ill will was unvarnished sexism, there’s no doubt about that, but there are a ton of legitimate reasons to dislike Hillary Clinton. Knowing that she had an uphill battle, even among Democratic voters, meant that one of her goals in the 2016 campaign was to hire enough numbers wonks and spin her image in just such a way as to make her well-liked enough to win. She also cheated. When it became apparent that Bernie Sanders was going to give Clinton an unexpected run for her money in the primaries, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (the chairwoman of the D.N.C.) put her finger on the scale in Clinton’s favor1. Wasserman Schultz was obliged to resign from her position when this fact became public, whereupon she promptly took up a cushy gig with the Clintons2. Right off the bat, Clinton did everything she could to make sure candidates potentially more popular than her didn’t get a shot, thus hampering the Democrats’ chances of success.

The other thing the Democrats tried to do was ensure Clinton had the softest possible opponent in the election. In their infinite wisdom, they decided Donald Trump would be the easiest candidate for her to beat. It was the stated aim of the Democrats to get Donald Trump to the forefront of the Republican nominees3:

Pied Piper Candidates

… In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more “Pied Piper” candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party. Pied Piper candidates include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Ted Cruz
  • Donald Trump
  • Ben Carson

We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to them seriously.

I’ll say it again: Donald Trump is the Democrats’ fault. Yes, there were other factors such as Russian hacks, Trump’s inexplicable ability to sell his bonkers message to his target voters, and a global groundswell of populism and dissent. But amidst all that, having the Democrats promoting Trump was a bit of an own goal, wouldn’t you say? Democrats are the first to lash out at people who abstained or voted third-party, but I’ve never yet heard them take responsibility for everything they did. Their anger at Trump and his supporters is entirely justified, but it should stay directed at them, not at the people who believed in the democratic process and voted for someone who they actually wanted to be president instead of someone they were being manipulated into choosing.

tl;dr: The lesser of two evils is still evil.

It Is Your Right and Obligation to Vote for Who You Want

The whole “lesser of two evils” nonsense is a grotesquely undemocratic idea when you consider that the whole point of a democracy is to find out what the people want and represent their interests. Obliging people to vote for you because you’ve made sure the only alternative is worse is a perversion that should never have been allowed. But are the Democrats the only alternative? No. They are not. I could almost end this section here because it really is that simple — there are other options. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party both put forward prominent candidates in the 2016 election. I’m not here to plug the philosophy of either party, just to point out that there were more than two options.

You have every right to vote for who you want to be president. You are not obliged to vote for a candidate you don’t want because you’ve been manipulated, hectored, or otherwise impelled against your own judgment. That is bullying, and it persists to this day when sour Democrats try to guilt and shame people who voted third-party. There is nothing shameful about voting for who you actually want. It is not only your constitutional right, it’s also your constitutional obligation. The system doesn’t work unless you’re voting for who you want. Everyone knows this because it’s the most elementary question about democracy — I’m just one vote, what do I matter? Well one vote doesn’t matter all that much — it’s only when we all do it together that it has any effect. It doesn’t work when you vote for someone you know you don’t want. If more people voted for who they wanted, then we might have significantly stronger third parties which could then exert more influence on the bigger ones.

You also have every right to abstain. If you truly believe that no candidate is worth your vote, then you are not obliged to choose. I would urge abstainers to evaluate all the options, however. There will never be a “perfect” candidate, but remember that there are more than two options. See if you like a third party or an independent candidate before you decide that no-one is worth your vote.

tl;dr: You are not throwing your vote away.

But What If You Are Throwing Your Vote Away?

It would be naive not to take a dose of reality. The reality is most people will never vote for a third party, and if your vote may carry more weight when voting for a Democrat, then isn’t that your obligation? For example I used to live in California, a strongly Democratic state. I could happily vote for third parties knowing my state would at least stay Democratic. But now I live in Louisiana, a deeply Republican state. If my vote for a Democrat would carry more weight here, then am I obliged to vote for Joe Biden this year? This is a legitimate question and it’s not an easy one to answer. I myself have not decided. I would like to wait for the Green and Libertarian candidates to weigh in before I decide on the best candidate, because if my vote for a Democrat can carry extra weight in a Republican state, then it’s also true that my vote for a Green or Libertarian must carry extra weight too. The only way I can vote for someone and be proud of that decision is to vote for someone I actually want to be president.

This agony of choice is a bewildering problem when you realize that it’s totally unnecessary. I grew up in Australia where federal elections use preference voting. That means you number your preferences (e.g. #1 Greens, #2 Democrats), and if your first preference gets knocked out of the running then your vote goes to your second preference, then your third, etc. You can’t throw your vote away. You can vote for who you’d like in your ideal fantasy world, but you can also have your vote default to your preferred candidate from the main two parties. It’s such as easy solution to the problem, and yet I’ve never heard it proposed for federal elections in the U.S.A. If I can borrow a few sentences from the Cheeto, “Can we look at that? I think that’s a great thing to look at. I mean you know, okay?”

tl;dr: Preference voting: get with it, America.

Goodbye and Good Luck

I’d like to end by saying that I hope we can all afford a little kindness and generosity of spirit towards each other. We have enough problems with the Cheeto, his cronies, and the white supremacists (Nazis, actual fucking Nazis). We have enough problems with that lot without making enemies out of the people who should be our allies. We’re all trying to get rid of Trump and we’re all doing it the best way we can. Show some damned solidarity instead of attacking, shaming, and alienating each other this year, and maybe we can shift this pinch-lipped golfing puffer-fish president out of office.

  1. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to Resign D.N.C. Post (Jonathan Martin and Alan Rappeport, The New York Times

  2. Wasserman Schultz to Have a New Role in Clinton Campaign (The Associated Press, Fortune

  3. [AGENDA & MEMO] Friday Strategy Call at 8:00 AM ET (The Podesta Emails, WikiLeaks