Hillary Clinton supporters have a point.
I am normally an advocate for the third party vote. I have voted third party in each of the last two presidential elections—Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2008 and some socialist candidate whose name I don’t even remember in 2012. I voted for those candidates not because I thought they could actually win, but to express my dismay with a stupid electoral system and a much too moderate Democratic party. Of course, in both those elections, I desperately rooted for Barack Obama, but I also felt good about holding strong to my ideological convictions and using my ballot to cast a vote of dissent.
But this election is different. Donald Trump is a certain kind of scary that is forcing liberal third party voters like myself to rethink whether or not this election is one where we want to risk taking an ideological stand.
Clinton supporters are right to try to convince us that it’s not—that for this election we should swallow our political pride and vote for the only major party candidate that is not named Donald Trump. This is a conversation that we should be having, and I am glad that we are having it. But what sends me flying into a homicidal rage is the way that Clinton supporters have chosen to engage us in this conversation.
Contrary to what the author of this article might tell you, not all third party voters are “human tire fires.” I’ve been frustrated with a lot of the Bernie Bro’s too, especially the jeering jackwagons at the DNC, but what Clinton supporters need to realize is that many of us have very rationale reasons for voting third party that have nothing to do with a personal vendetta against Hillary and everything to do with our ideological convictions about what is best for our country. Some of us are willing to abandon those ideological convictions for this election in order to prevent a Trump presidency. That’s a big concession to make. But if Clinton supporters want to be successful in convincing us to make that leap, they must concede something too:
A vote for Hillary Clinton is a major compromise.
This is obviously not the case for diehard Hillary fans who have been behind her since day one, but it is most certainly the case for any potential Hillary voters who, under an election system that doesn’t totally suck, would be voting for a more progressive candidate. Hillary Clinton may very well be a progressive human being, but as a politician she is a calculating pragmatist. Her current political platform features a lot of positions that fit the progressive mold, but I don’t think that she would have taken those positions publicly if the polls hadn’t deemed it politically advantageous to do so. And while a grueling primary with Bernie looked to have moved Hillary considerably to the left, her VP nomination suggests that her general election dash back to the political center is already underway.
This is what makes settling for Hillary such a hard pill to swallow for so many third party voters. A vote for Hillary is a vote that lends implicit support to politics as usual in America’s two-party system, a system that we all fucking despise.
Clinton supporters would of course argue that the consequences of a Trump presidency would be far worse. I tend to agree with them. A Trump presidency could do immense damage to our country, and that is something that I desperately want to avoid. But I also think that another rubber stamp for our two-party system could do some immense damage as well, and that’s in addition to the immense damage that this system has already done.
If you look at the last twenty years, which do you think has done more collective damage to our country: Republican politicians or the two-party system? I have no doubts that your average Clinton supporter could go breathless listing all the harmful legislation that Republicans have enacted during that time, but they also need to remember that probably every one of those pieces of legislation had significant Democratic support. The ‘94 crime bill, DOMA, the Iraq invasion, and the expansion of drone warfare are just a few examples of initiatives that were either supported or spearheaded by prominent Democrats, Hillary Clinton being one of them.
Furthermore, when you look at what scares people about Trump—his capricious hawkish tendencies, his hate speech towards women and minorities—none of it is exactly new. Trump has definitely raised the bar to an apocalyptic level, and that’s an important distinction to make, but invading other countries and assaulting civil liberties is a long-standing tradition in American two-party politics. Of course modern Democrats have a far better record in each of these areas than their Republican counterparts, but conservative or liberal, if you really want to reduce military spending and protect civil liberties, you should not be voting for Republicans or Democrats—you should be voting for Libertarians or Socialists.
To do otherwise is to surrender to the status quo. It is a concession to the powers that be to leave their system in place by settling for a candidate that they have deemed appropriate. But if there’s one thing that I know about the status quo, it’s that if the status quo ain’t challenged, the status quo ain’t changing.
To be sure, there are many other, more effective ways to challenge the status quo than the presidential ballot. Revolutionary change almost always starts at the ground level, not at the top. But in a democracy, the vote is one of our most treasured change-making tools, and I’m not sure that I want to waste mine on a candidate that could not be more representative of all that I hate about the American political system.
I don’t want this write-up to sound like a self-absorbed defense of my right to express my opinion. I realize that my vote has consequences that affect people other than me. I also realize that in the case of a Trump presidency, white guys like myself would probably be more immune from the consequences than would women and people of color. But I’m still not convinced that settling for the proverbial “lesser-of-two-evils” is always the best decision. Trump may be a special case, but rank-and-file Democrats have been shaming third party voters into voting (D) for as long as I can remember, and as a result, the two-party system remains without so much as a whisper of reform.
I hope that Hillary Clinton is our next president, but if the election were tomorrow, I would not vote for her. That’s because I live in Minnesota, and there’s no chance that my state will be voting for Trump under the rules of the electoral college. Minnesota has been blue since 1972—the longest running streak in the nation. No matter who I ultimately vote for, in my state, Hillary Clinton will be winning a plurality. This means that I can have my political cake and eat it too—I can cast a consequence-free vote of dissent against the two party system and still be sure that the Democrat comes out on top. However, if I lived in Virginia, Ohio, or even next door in Wisconsin, I would admittedly have to rethink this strategy.
I look forward to continuing this conversation as the election progresses. Believe it or not, my militancy on this issue has actually softened considerably over the last few months thanks to some well-written articles and eloquent friends. If that trend continues, I may very well find myself casting a Clinton ballot this fall. I just hope that as Clinton supporters continue to try to persuade us to vote for their candidate, they can refrain from scolding lectures and instead engage us in real conversations. I hope that they can admit that Hillary Clinton is a candidate with some major flaws, and that liberal third party voters are justified in their skepticism towards her and the Democratic Party in general. I hope that they can acknowledge that those who choose to challenge the status quo in this country serve a very important role, as do those who choose to compromise with it.
We need people that work within the system—people that make certain concessions and pragmatic decisions in order to get the best results possible, even if those results leave a lot to be desired. We also need people that work against the system—people who hurl rocks from the outside and make the people on the inside a little less comfortable. I’m not sure which group I will be a part of this coming November, but rest assured that whatever decision I make, I will make because I truly believe that it’s the best course of action to take for the good of my country. I hope that Clinton supporters can respect that.
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