Some in Washington perceive the upcoming charade in November as the most ideological election in years. But while the heightened media obsession favors a melodramatic polarization, Americans are more interested in other aspects of government. They are more interested in simply having it work.
A rational constituent, tired of slamming one’s head against a wall for the past half-century of American politics, might consider skipping the big dance altogether. Indeed, a compelling argument can be made that our political mechanisms are so ineffective, so corrupted, and so out-of-touch that boycotting them in protest is perhaps the most appropriate way to respond. The Fat Cats in office ought to get the message when no one shows up in support, so say the protesters.
Of course the reality is that despite the fact that Congressional approval currently ranks at the lowest rate since Gallup began compiling the statistic, their reelection rate has consistently hovered over 80% (with very few exceptions, exclusively in the Senate) since the 1960s. Additionally, it is no secret that already only about half of the voting-age population casts a vote for President and far fewer weigh in on local or Congressional decisions. Indeed if contemporary history is any measure of how effective our de facto boycott has been, I would urge (non)voters to reconsider their decision to stay home from the polls.
Still though, the perceived judgement between the Randian individualism of the Republicans and the hopeless status-quo of the Democrats simply misses the point that both parties are reconciled by their ineffectiveness at actually benefiting Americans. Romney pioneered the practice of sending jobs overseas at Bain Capital while the recent addition of Paul Ryan to the campaign circus has been met with extensive commentary (the most genuine of which notes his absolutely bogus budget plan and the contrast between his voting record and his claims as a principled “fiscal conservative”). Meanwhile Obama has failed to follow through with a long list of campaign promises and has only extended G.W. Bush’s foreign policy, especially by emphasizing reckless (and illegal under international law) drone warfare. Furthermore Obama has signed the (seemingly underestimated by the national media) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allowing military detention without due process for:
(Any) person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
It is worth noting that although Obama has insisted it would not be used to indefinitely detain American citizens, an amendment to formally exclude citizens failed in the House and critics argue that the ambiguity of the law would enable future Presidents to implement it differently. Public dissidents and intellectuals known as the “Freedom 7” have already brought suit against Obama regarding the NDAA and journalists have also criticized the administrations restrictions to civil rights.
The unfortunate truth is that neither major political party is able or willing to lead this country in a manner that is acceptable to us. A complex mixture of corporate ownership, gerrymandered districts, environmental and economic disaster, competing values, political cronyism, etc. ultimately culminate in an intertwined, bureaucratic, and gridlocked mess we call the United States Government. The status quo has proven itself to fail time and again as neo-liberal economic principles continually doom the middle class, global warming wreaks havoc across the globe, and insiders predict yet another war (this time with Iran).
No, we do not need nor deserve another President from either major party to (despite the polarizing rhetoric) essentially continue the policies and path this country is taking. Unfortunately, the process of change is slow, and we will undoubtedly observe either the Democrats or Republicans back in the White House next year. But is that reason to abandon the process altogether? We have already witnessed the fact that abstaining has no positive influence on our policies and the apathetic nature often embraced by removing ourselves from public affairs certainly will not benefit anyone either.
What is needed, as Ted Glick recently pointed out here, is a Third Force. This cannot simply amount to a third party in American politics because the current system is too strong to overcome and a third party will probably split either the liberal or conservative vote (sometimes allowing the least desirable party to win the election). In the short term however, I believe voters should aggressively support third parties because enough backing will encourage the Democrats and Republicans to adopt similar principles in order to sustain bipartisan hegemony. This will obviously result (in the short term) with split-vote electoral mess, but with enough support candidates from the major parties will be pressured to accommodate toward the demands of the electorate.
While this is far from an ideal situation, it seems to be the most efficient method to reclaim our political system. Yes- the two-party system has its flaws, but if we push both parties to adopt acceptable policies the drawbacks are limited. Also, it’s a welcome alternative to the “scrap-the whole-government” approach commonly adopted by some. Most of all, it’s not that unlikely to work or difficult to enact. Did you know, for example, that Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party are already both on the ballot in enough states to theoretically collect the 270 electoral votes necessary to be elected President? If enough voters opted to support either of those parties (and more people actually voted; see the turnout figures) major parties would eventually be forced to listen.
The unlikeliness of this happening is obvious enough; I can already sense the criticisms. But what are we really advocating for if we fail? And truthfully, aren’t parties more likely to embrace appropriate policies when we actually criticize them by voting for other parties than when we continually support them and thereby sustain the perceived approval of their policies (despite the “lesser-of-two-evils” mindset that so many of us really espouse)?
This is the decision we face as we cast our ballots on November 6th (or sit on our couches in protest). Before making your decision, consider the potential we have to positively shape the politics of this country if we rationally contemplate what we are supporting and working toward with our votes.
Nicholas Lind can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org