Analysis by Reporting San Diego
August 22, 2016 (San Diego) So you have told your friends, you really do not want to vote for either Secretary Hillary Clinton or Donald J Trump. Whatever your reasons, I know you have been told by your friends a few things. Some of them are the following:
If you vote for Jill Stein that is a vote for Trump. No, it is not, it is a vote for Jill Stein. If you vote for Gary Johnson, you might as well vote for Trump, nope, you are voting for Gary Johnson. This, by the way, also happens with Republicans. You voting their party means you are voting for Hillary Clinton. Worst, it is a wasted vote.
Some of the evidence people bring is Florida, and Ralph Nader. Let’s ignore for the moment the role of the United Staes Supreme Court on this one. Those who argue that Nader cost Al Gore the Election ignore the 200,000 Conservative Democrats, who usually vote Democratic but chose instead to vote for George W Bush. They ignore that many of the people who voted for Ralph Nader have a history of voting third parties and their vote was not Gore’s to begin with but Nader’s. Their other choice would have been to stay home. Mathematically that would have been a non vote for Gore as well, leading to the same result. They are also ignoring the systematic caging of minority voters by the Secretary of State uncovered by Greg Palast. Or the fact that minority voters had their rights taken away for crimes to be committed ten to fifteen years into the future. I suppose the unit of pre-crime was alive and well in Florida. If those people were allowed to vote as they should, it would have made this a solid democratic victory, but let’s blame the Nader voters and ignore what actually ails democracy.
Then there is the 1992 election when Ross Perot actually had a more direct effect since he did well, for an independent run. Former President George Bush is positive that Perot did cost him the election. (Mind you, the same Democrats that will scold the Nader voters over Florida are perfectly fine with the 1992 result, so there is this hypocrisy involved.)
So before you decide, “yeah I am going to vote third party”… for whatever reasons you have, let’s get some unsavory facts out of the way. The political system does default to two major parties in the United States, this is baked into the cake with the winner take all in the Constitution. So if you are going to pull the lever for Jill Stein, let me disabuse you of this notion right now. She is not going to win. The way things are polling right now, the best you, and I and anybody else can hope for is to get out of the 3 percent doldrums where the Greens have been stuck for decades. What you are doing is engaging in a strategic vote.
What about the Libertarians? They might do better. There are a couple small states, one physically, the other in population, where he has an outside chance of actually winning the electoral college delegates. This alone would be a small political earthquake. For the record, that is not California. This state will default to Hillary Clinton, when all is said and done.
So Why Bother?
Now that is an excellent question. Why bother indeed? And for some of my readers the better choice will be to sit this election out. Others will decide to hold their noses when all is said and done. But then there is the US History that is usually not taught outside of very high college levels. While many political scientists will tell you that voting third party, does not matter what party, is nothing more or less than a protest vote, they ignore a few things. One of them is the role of third parties in our history.
Let’s take you back to 1872. Both Democrats and Republicans were giving anything that the industrialists of the era wanted. You want right of way for your new train? So it is going to go through small farmer’s land? Ok, that small farmer better move, you got your rights. So you want to change your small farmer crazy amounts to get that wheat to market in the East, we are not watching, Go for it. It was purely market driven, and if it sounds familiar to neoliberal politicians it is because it is.
It is in that environment a small movement started to take form. It was the Granger movement. Now the Grangers, who opened halls all across Minnesota for example, did not organize as a political party .And if that sounds familiar, it is because it is. You could say that Occupy gave some structure to the complaints of the 99 percent, which are not that different from the Grangers. Now in time the Grangers did run for office, and they ran for office at all levels. At one point they were the largest faction in the US House, outside of the two parties. One of the things they ran on was on anti trust legislation. This was meant to break the monopolies, and regulate the train operators and make them more affordable.
So what happened to the Granger movement? I mean, it is not like we have the Granger Party of the United States nowadays. The Democrats absorbed them, and their legislative ideas became a core principle of the Progressive era. A third party had influence beyond their size or power. Teddy Roosevelt did not advocate that legislation out of thin air, because he was T.R. There was a real demand for it, and people had been advocating for it for decades. A remnant of that era does remain. Some Democratic Halls across the Midwest, but especially in Minnesota, are still called Granger Halls.
Then there is another even more dramatic example. 1932, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. We have had socialist parties in the United States for a long time, and in this case the Socialist Party that existed in 1932 did very well in the general election votes. What is very well? They garnered about 5 percent of the national vote during that general election.
Realize the conditions in the United States were very close to a major insurrection. The battle of Blair Mountain happened earlier in the century. This battle was between coal miners and management, and involved some real firepower. It was also the largest battle fought after the civil war. It involved 13,000 miners and federal troops.
This battle was fought over the rights for labor to organize, and in the end 50 people did die. It was an internal insurrection. The conditions in 1932 were not that far apart from those in Kentucky when that battle happened. There was discontent in the land and a fear of an actual revolution. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took over, he was faced with a powder keg. Nor did he run on things like social security, or union rights. Those were Socialist ideas, from those Socialists, who polled at about 5 percent.
What is a party to do? Well, exactly what they had done in the past, and what they will do in the future, like with civil rights. FDR borrowed liberally from the socialists. When the GOP accused him of imposing socialist ideas with Social Security and the National Labor Relations Board, as well as the Wagner Act, they were kind of on point. He was in fact borrowing heavily from socialists and using their policies. In fact, John Maynard Keynes, and his concept of using public funded labor programs to get people back to work, were not mainstream. The economic ideology of the era is not that different from our current era, with the dominance of the market.
Voting for a third party is not about winning the election, but sending a message. That message will only be received if enough people do it, and if there is also work done to elect people at lower levels of government. So if you know of a Berniecrat running, vote for them. Yes, think of the Grangers.
On Policy Drift
This is another concept that is rarely spoken outside of very specialized audiences. So let’s dispense with another fantasy that many who are new, and even not new to politics have. If we get the person we hate out of office (2008 is a perfect example), then everything will get better. No, not really. There are forces in place that resist meaningful change, and they have gotten more entrenched over the last 8 years.
Why is it that President Barack Obama could not turn around and deal with free trade the way candidate Obama spoke off? Simply put, he is the captain of a Nimitz Class carrier, going at flank speed. Slowing down, let alone turning that ship of state around is very difficult and requires a lot of energy. This is even more obvious with foreign policy. We are an empire and act like one. So it matters little who we put in office, expect to be severely disappointed as they break campaign promise after campaign promise. But these third party votes and working at lower levels will help to actually start to slow down that carrier.
We are not in 1932, and that is a good thing. So even if between the Libertarians and the Greens we hit 10 percent of the popular vote, I expect that message to be slowly received. 10 percent between the two, the way polls are going right now, are not that outside the realm of possibility either. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders getting that close to actually winning is not being received well. The Democratic Party wishes to close all primaries, or at least former DNC Chair, Debbie Wassermann Shultz hinted at it. The DLC email hack revealed how far the party was willing to go to protect itself as well. That is the auto immune system of the party engaging. A slowdown of the policy would mean that a party faction, the neoliberal wing of the party, will start to lose power internally. None concedes power voluntarily. It has never happened before in history and it will not start now.
So if you decide to vote for a third party candidate you are doing that either out of frustration with the current system. I admit more than a few are. Or you are playing a very long strategic game. For some voters it is both. Suffice it to say, you are not wasting your vote, nor are you voting for the other guy or gal.
Politics is not for the faint of heart, but it is, short of actual revolution of war, the best way to get change. Carl Von Clausewitz called war the continuation of politics by other means in his classic book “On War.” We are entering a period where we will need to be extremely well informed of how the system actually functions, how it defends itself, and how it resist change. What we saw this summer is just a preview of coming attractions. Yes, our political system is corrupt and yes both major parties do steal elections. So what is new? Political machines have been doing this throughout the history of the country.
Climate Change is going to force change though; we are just seeing the leading edges of those changes. The floods in Louisiana and the fires in California are events that are not totally outside politics. Nothing is, to be honest, since all involves winners and losers. But we need to figure out how to change the course of that carrier. Even a two degree course change will take a concerted effort.