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One result of the widespread cynicism about public institutions that grew out of the Sixties era—combined with the thirty-year Republican war on government's capacity to do its job—is a large number of people who state proudly that they do not vote, or who choose to vote for minor-party candidates who have no possibility of reaching office.

Typically, their arguments include one or more of these elements:

Conspiracy theory. "Shadowy Powers really call all the shots in our world, and the elections are just a show."

Cherry-picking complaint. "My issue is X and both of the parties are lousy on that, so if I vote at all, I'm voting for Righteous McFringerton of the Thoroughly Groovy Party."

Overgeneralized false equivalence. "Both major parties are the same. They're controlled by the same people, so it doesn't matter who you vote for." On the left, the supposed puppeteers are "the rich" and "corporations"; on the right you get "special interests," which is code for racial and sexual minorities, public interest nonprofits, and unions.

Strategic fantasy. "I vote third party because we have to start somewhere, and the two mainstream parties are lost causes. One day, the Good Stuff Party will be a major force in this country."

I've been asked by several people how I would make a case to such folk that there is good reason for them to vote, and to vote for a candidate with an actual chance of winning. This diary is in response to these requests.

More below the Fulminating Tiger Turd.

To begin with we have to recognize that people who make these arguments do so because at root, they feel powerless.

They prefer to believe that they are "in the know", unlike the "sheeple" that make up most of the public, because it allows them to feel good about themselves in the context of that powerlessness. They have chosen this stance as a preferable alternative to grappling with complex issues and an electoral system in which most of us can only play a tiny role.

So please read the following responses with the caveat that rational argument cannot trump an emotional impulse. Many who express these beliefs simply aren't persuadable: they need their shelter too much to give it up.

On "they're all run by the same Powerful Interests": I don't think anyone disagrees that there are powerful interests which swing disproportionate weight in this country. But 100 years ago, it was far worse: mining and railroads and heavy industry were completely in charge. They openly bought and sold votes...and politicians.

But somehow, voters managed to do a lot of things those interests didn't want to see happen. They elected reformers who started regulating those industries. They passed child labor and workplace safety laws, and the 40-hour work week, and guaranteed insurance for our bank deposits, and legal equality for minorities, and air and water quality protections, and invented the national park. Those voters and the people they elected are the reason you don't have lead pipes delivering your drinking water or arsenic dusted on your food to deter spoilage. They're the reason we have Social Security and Medicare, which are probably keeping some of your relatives afloat right now.

Powerful interests fought against all of those things, but they lost. Just a couple of years ago, those big interests lost on issues like the health care bill and the Wall Street reform bill, even though they spent millions on lobbyists trying to stop them.

Did we get all of what we wanted? No. But what we got made things a lot better than they were previously, and those interests hated every bit of it. That is what can happen if we put people in office who feel more loyal to us than they do to those interests. And the only way to do that is to vote for them.

A lot of men and women were terrorized, jailed and murdered to get the power you're saying there's no point in using. They knew voting mattered. Getting the vote meant the difference between oppression and freedom, between hope and despair, and in many cases between  life and death for those people and their kids. The interests who tried to keep them from getting it knew it, too, because sure enough, when those who had been shut out of the election booth finally got the power to vote, things changed.

Think about it: whatever your opinion of him, Barack Obama could never have been President if African Americans had never been allowed to vote or run for office. That proves that voting matters, even when powerful interests are on the other side.

Sure, Exxon and the Koch Brothers have a lot of influence in our politics...but so do millions of ordinary people, if they gather together around what they care about, and back candidates who mostly agree with them and have a chance of winning.

I'm not saying the system can't be improved. But it could also be a lot worse. To me, the excessive power of the wealthy and powerful business interests is even more reason to work to elect people who will push back against them.

On the major parties (or the President) being wrong on My Pet Issue (usually, pot legalization):  You know, you can't expect the political system to be like a genie granting you wishes. You have to fight for what you want, and sometimes it can take a long time before you get it. In the meantime, the idea that just because your issue isn't making much progress right now means that voting isn't worth bothering with at all doesn't make much sense, does it?

That's like saying you're willing to starve to death because your favorite food isn't on the menu.

Look at it this way: there are more than 300 million people in this country. In anything even somewhat resembling a real democracy, government has to listen both to you and to people who completely disagree with you. So outcomes are going to be somewhere in the middle. Nobody gets everything they want.

But the only people who get to make those decisions are the ones who are in office. If you help elect someone in the name of an issue you care about, that official has to pay attention to it. Being a part of a winning campaign puts you in a position to make progress on the things you care about.

Incidentally, what about everyone else? If politics are making progress on your top issue progress difficult, don't you have friends or family who care just as much about other issues? Like a woman's right to choose, or the environment, or civil equality, or the cost of a college education, or taxes, or war? Why wouldn't you help elect someone who can help make the difference for them?

On "both major parties are the same." You know, back in the 1990s this was somewhat true. But now it is completely untrue. The Republican Party has become a raving gang of right-wing extremists. On any major issue you can name, there are huge differences between them and Democrats.

If they'd had a Republican President, Congress would never have ended Don't Ask Don't Tell. Republicans are trying to reinstate it right now, and permanently ban gay marriage anywhere in the country with a Constitutional amendment. Republican leaders complain that we ended the war in Iraq. They want to go back to a system that allows health insurance companies to drop your coverage if you use it. Their solution to all problems is to give more money to the rich, even though that's been proven a disaster for most Americans. Many of them want to eliminate public education, take away any meaningful help for people in their old age, make homosexuality a crime, force women to have babies against their will, even if conceived by rape, and sell off most of our national parks and public lands. They deny that climate change exists. The list goes on, and it is ugly.

There is a difference. There is a tremendous difference, and pretending there isn't doesn't make you look smart or knowledgeable.

If nothing else, think about the Supreme Court. Republicans have appointed a narrow, 1-vote majority of hard-right Court Justices which handed the White House to George W. Bush even though Al Gore won the election, which have taken away much of our right to privacy, and which approved unlimited corporate expenditure in political campaigns. They're getting ready to make important decisions on issues like abortion rights and even access to birth control. The next President will appoint at least one Justice to the Court, and maybe as many as three. That will lock in the direction of the Court—and our rights—for decades. Several of the current Court majority believe that government has every right to police what you're allowed to do in your bedroom. If for no other reason, don't you think that's a good reason to vote for the guy on the other team, who doesn't agree with that stuff?

On the fantasy of "building a national third party". At the local level, sometimes third parties can bring new ideas and shake things up. That's not a bad thing. But at the national level, history says they're a counterproductive strategy for failure.

The United States settled into a two-party system shortly after the Civil War, and the only effect third parties have had since was to split the vote and hand elections to the people the third-party advocates disagreed with most.  Ross Perot and his Reform Party split the Republican Party twice, and gave the White House to Bill Clinton. John Anderson undermined Jimmie Carter, and we got Reagan. The Green Party's Ralph Nader drew away enough voters from Al Gore in Florida to give the election to George W. Bush, thus providing us the unnecessary Iraq War, a draconian Patriot Act, a smoking crater of an economy, and a shameful reputation on the international stage, all of which wouldn't have happened if Nader hadn't been running. Heck, you can go back to Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party in 1912, which split the Republicans and handed the White House to Woodrow Wilson.

It doesn't work. It's been tried repeatedly. It's a failing strategy.

Oh, and if you think you're "making a statement"? You are, but it's not the one you think. By and large, elected officials write off those who vote for third parties as fringe extremists and cranks who can be safely ignored. Voting for a third party makes you and your issues less influential, not more.

Please: think like an adult. You don't get to have the ideal government in your mind. It isn't the political process' job to hand you your wish list on a platter. This is a complicated world full of shades of grey. It isn't about "the lesser of two evils," it's about choosing the best of the available options.

Third party candidates aren't real options. They're castles in the air. The only possible effect of chasing them is to undermine the issues you claim to care about. In other words, to make things worse.

Finally, I find that this tends to make advocates of the conspiracy theory sit up and take notice:

You're being used. The Republican Party has been encouraging cynicism about government and the political system for more than 40 years, because most of us disagree with their policies, and they can't win if we turn out and vote for Democrats. And you're playing right into their plan.

Why do you think they're pouring so much effort into trying to suppress the vote in areas that vote Democratic? Why would they bother if the outcome isn't important? C'mon: business guys don't pour millions of dollars into something that doesn't really matter.

So wise up: vote, and do it for candidates who 1) have a shot at winning; and 2) you agree with: not on everything, but on most things.

How hard is it, after all? What on Earth can it hurt?

Reposted from Green Dragon

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Comment Preferences

  •  Not gonna fight on this one. It was requested. (17+ / 0-)

    So like or don't, and happy to discuss, but if you're going to pick a fight over whether or not Nader cost Gore the election in Florida (settled, as far as I'm concerned), or the pertinence of third parties, please: take it somewhere else.

    You won't convince me, just as the arguments presented here won't convince you. Let's save ourselves a lot of aggravation.

    Have a flagon and discuss the news of the day at the sign of the Green Dragon, or hear me roar on Twitter @MarkGreenFuture

    by Dracowyrm on Wed Oct 10, 2012 at 09:38:01 PM PDT

  •  I have a friend who is voting for Gary (4+ / 0-)

    Johnson. She insists Obama is exactly the same, or worse, than Bush. I've learned there is not anything that can be said to someone who is unreasonable.

  •  Don't like it - condescending (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    per your rerquest, no argument from me

  •  I've made the points that: (8+ / 0-)

    One of these two guys is going to be elected president.  Any other vote for president shows absolute naiveté.

    If you want to grow a 3rd party, it needs to start at the local level.

    If you complain about "the lesser of two evils", you have already determined that one option is more evil.

    I think I have had absolutely no impact on them.  It seems like an ego thing.  "I stopped listening to The Pixies when they got played on MTV and I don't vote for the same people you do either."

    Your request has bad syntax or is inherently impossible to satisfy. --httpd_err400form

    by Bob Novak Douchebag of Liberty on Wed Oct 10, 2012 at 10:48:18 PM PDT

  •  My best friend falls into this category (14+ / 0-)

    She's 51, from Indiana, extremely intelligent and well-educated, widely-read, and artistically talented.  She's a lifelong social liberal and fiscal consservative, which means that for the past six elections she's voted for the Libertarian candidate.  She's always voted L as a protest vote, and freely admits that Libertarianism is a fine concept but impossible in the real world, mainly because people don't have enough personal responbsibility and accountability to put it into practice.  

    Over the past few years, her husband developed cancer (successfully operated on) and she's seen the wisdom of the ACA and government health care.  She's seen how the Rs and their mendacity and selfishness really destabilize the country.  She's seen the Christian Wacko movement rise, she's seen women's rights attacked.  She's seen the war on science, reason, and logic by the armies of blind faith.  

    We talked politics a couple of weeks ago.  She said she's going to pull the D lever for the first time in her life for the Indiana senate race, to prevent the teabag moron the Rs are running from getting in.  I asked her about the presidential race.

    "It'll be weird, voting for Obama."  She said.  

    I told her it wasn't weird.  I listed out the things she's told me she cares about.  I named the positions she's established on ideas of social justice and progress and the importance of education, science, and research.  Finally, I told her that parties shift and move, just as people do.  

    "Friend,"  I concluded,  "like it or not, you're a Democrat now."

    She agreed that she was.  Pulling the D lever will be odd for her, but pull she will.  

  •  Known as "Vicki, Who Hearts Al Gore" (7+ / 0-)

    all over the internets, and for over a decade, I can tell you...Nader cost Gore Florida.

    I happen to think Gore would have been a great president.

  •  I say absolutely nothing to those people (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Many of my friends fall into this category, and I've learned that there's no point in engaging them. They are too hardened in their opinions or privileged enough where there genuinely isn't any difference for them. You'll never, ever change their minds. Spend the time and effort you would have spent butting heads with one friend and going nowhere on showing 10 other (apathetic but well-meaning) people what's at stake and why they should start voting.

  •  For President? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dracowyrm, Nulwee, catfood

    I have friends in Utah and Massachusetts who, I suspect, will be voting for Obama and Bush, respectively.

    Mindful that we have an electoral college, the local Libertarian voice in each state can tell them "My guy has a better chance of winning our state than your guy" and only be exaggerating slightly.

    I really do not think that the Obama voters of Utah should switch, even though Obama's chances in Utah, well, are not incredibly better than Johnson's.    Therefore, I don't think the Johnson and Stein voters of Utah should switch because they suspect that their person may lose.

    Moral of the tale: Your vote counts twice!  Once for the candidate.  Once for the candidate's message.  Those Utahs for Obama (and all those other people) really are doing something.

    We can have change for the better.

    by phillies on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 01:31:07 AM PDT

  •  Wasn't sure to tip you for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the thirty-year Republican war on government's capacity to do its job
    Fulminating Tiger Turd
    Decided to tip for one and rec for the other. :)
  •  Don't say anything because I (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GoGoGoEverton, highacidity, Dracowyrm

    feel like  they are playing with my life as well as their own.  Drew lines in sand a long time ago in close elections.  People who know me know I have no patience for  people who are not serious in my serious world.   They are in fantasy.  With over 4 thousand war dead, I don't have time to play games in real life events.
    Romney will hurt vets and make more war.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 05:14:27 AM PDT

  •  If voting didn't matter, (5+ / 0-)

    why would one group be trying so hard to prevent it?

    We've been wondering how to get through the clutter and reach low-information voters. Mitt haz it.

    by Crashing Vor on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 05:34:24 AM PDT

  •  This is very important in swing states. I usually (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GoGoGoEverton, highacidity, Dracowyrm

    agree with them on certain issues (corporate interference with regulation and campaign financing, NDAA and drone policy), but disagree with their prescription. I catalog the atrocities of Bush and how a Gore presidency would have been different, if not for Ralphy boy. If they can't see any of that (and they usually don't), ask who they want to appoint the next Supreme Court justices.

    Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

    by the fan man on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 05:38:38 AM PDT

  •  You tell people who do not vote that you (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the fan man, Dracowyrm

    . . . will never listen to them complain. And then don't.

    You leave third party people alone.

    I used to be Snow White. And then I drifted. - Mae West

    by CherryTheTart on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 05:50:19 AM PDT

  •  Different question in GE vs primaries. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    highacidity, Dracowyrm

    In the primaries, I would encourage them to NOT ONLY VOTE for who they think will be the best candidate, but to work HARD to get them nominated and to get similar candidates elected in downballot races.

    In the general election, it's a completely different story. It's a binary choice. It's a winner-take-all. If Obama loses, Romney wins. It's that simple.

  •  "Did you know that the Romney Plan is to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    highacidity, Dracowyrm

    confiscate every dime of FICA taxes you've ever paid and deposit it directly into his Swiss bank account?"

    "And, oh yeah, if you parents are under 55, Romney will be confiscating every dime of FICA taxes they've ever paid, too, and YOU will be solely responsible for their golden age health care costs when Medicare has been dismantled, and most likely their daily living costs after their Social Security has been gambled away at the Wall Street Casino."

    Make them see how screwed they -- PERSONALLY -- will be if these greedy fuckers ever get the reins of power.

  •  Well this got me out (0+ / 0-)

    This is the diary that finally got me to register on here.  Unfortunately its not for a good reason.  Frankly, this is one of the most condescending things I've ever read.  

    I'm voting third party in this election, after voting for Obama in his first term.  And despite the fact that you don't think its possible, I have a VERY real, tangible ETHICAL reason for doing so.  

    You know what my "pet issue" is?  And no, it has nothing to do with being a frustrated pot head (because that's the only real reason you could disagree with Obama, right?)

    A little thing called drone strikes.  

    The fact is, the Obama administration has ramped up the use of unpiloted drone airstrikes well over their use even under Bush II.  And Obama has publicly defended their use.  But anyone who has done research on the issue knows that they are horribly inaccurate, killing as many as 50 neutral targets for every terrorist.  

    Like it or not, this is a SERIOUS ethical issue for the Obama administration that will never be publicly debated.  Right now, innocent people are being murdered in the name of the "war on terror".  It's damn near reached war crime status.  

    You say to stop with the lesser of two evils thinking and vote for the best available option?  Well, for me, that option IS Jill Stein.  I realize she doesn't have a chance of winning in this political arena, and that's a damn shame.  It disgusts me that she and other third party candidates are locked out of the debates and the political dialogue.  

    My vote isn't going to someone politically expedient, I realize that.  But when the choice is between the most awful GOP candidate in recent memory or a guy who I mostly agree with but still supports shoddy assassination techniques in the middle easy that kill innocents, MY most ETHICAL clear.  Even if they won't get elected.

    If the Kos community wants to get serious about their support for Obama, the drone strike issue needs to be discussed.  Otherwise you're just burying your heads in the sand.

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