I am skeptical about the American two-party system, but not cynical enough (not yet) to refrain from participating in elections. There’s one coming up in six weeks, and though I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 I doubt I’ll do so again.
A most interesting Internet timewaster is this quiz at a Web site called isidewith.com, which compares your responses to a poll about your political beliefs to the platform statements of several different parties — the Democrats and the GOP, of course, but several others as well. While I won’t reveal my own results here, I will say that apparently my views coincided most strongly with those of a third-party platform, which result I view with both relief and dismay, for obvious reasons. But it did confirm my dissatisfaction with Obama’s first term.
In an essay in The Atlantic published yesterday, “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama,” Conor Friedersdorf does a good job of expressing my dissatisfaction. He lists a series of specific charges against the Obama administration (and please do read them), before concluding thusly:
The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama’s tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man’s transgressions, have done over and over again.
Most of his charges against the current administration concern the field of foreign policy, which takes a backseat to domestic issues in most elections, but as Friedersdorf suggests, this is a matter of conscience. It is in the field of foreign policy, at any rate, that American actions have the longest-term, most far-reaching effects; it is perhaps this field that reveals our attitudes towards Others most explicitly.
I had been planning to vote for a third-party candidate long before reading Friedersdorf’s article for many of the same reasons that he mentions there. It isn’t that I wish Mitt Romney in the Oval Office; I think he would be worse. But as Friedersdorf also says:
How can you vilify Romney as a heartless plutocrat unfit for the presidency, and then enthusiastically recommend a guy who held Bradley Manning in solitary and killed a 16-year-old American kid? If you’re a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes.
“If I must choose the lesser of two evils I will choose neither,” Karl Kraus said in 1906, and I can think of no better expression of the need to vote on principle or conscience rather than attempting to out-strategize the strategizers of a two-party system which excludes third- or fourth-party alternatives — there will never be a third party alternative in this country so long as nobody votes for it, for whatever reason. In any event, the Romney campaign seems to be neatly and rapidly imploding, as Jon Stewart describes here; it may be that all Obama need do to win this election is to sit back and say nothing for the next six weeks.
In 2000, Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader — and those who supported him — were accused of throwing that year’s election to George W. Bush. But it is not Nader’s fault, nor his supporters’, that nearly half of the nation’s voters hold views at polar variance to those of the progressive and mainstream left; red states will not suddenly become blue if Obama wins the election in November.
So, surprisingly, there is a real choice coming up this election day. One can pull the lever for the candidate who most closely shares one’s views of America’s obligations and responsibilities to its citizens and those of the world, and throw away one’s vote; or one can pull the lever for either Obama or Romney, and throw away one’s conscience. The choice, as they say, is yours.