I’ve been pondering the same political question for about a decade now, and since I can’t avoid political talk whatever I do these days, I may as well get it out of my system. Short version: How do we make third parties viable (and thus make candidates actually compete for votes from moderates like me) without electing a string of “Greater Evil” candidates?
Now perhaps I’m wrong about this, but taking a long-term view, I believe the best way to reform the American political system should be to make third-parties more powerful. At least in theory, if people had a choice beyond Democrat or Republican in major elections that was even semi-viable, the major parties would have to compete for these votes; they wouldn’t be able to get away with simply pandering to a slowly dwindling base of true believers, year-in and year-out, while everyone else stays home in apathy tinged with disgust. More parties, more choices, more competition, yaaaaaay USA.
The problem is, I see no way of getting there that doesn’t make everything much worse before it gets better– and “getting worse” includes the very real possibility of “ending the world as we know it.” Basically, the more moderates who choose to vote for the Naders, the Johnsons, etc. the more people like Dubya and Trump get elected; the millions of moderates who used to vote for the “lesser evil” candidates out of a sense of grim duty start directing their votes elsewhere, and Greater Evil wins the day. Arguably, this already happened in the 2000 election. Where America, and the world in general, finds itself now– with ISIS and all the other brands of apocalyptic, atavistic bullshit– is at least partially a consequence of American moderates neglecting their duty to vote for the “lesser evil.”*
Trying to think realistically, even if people start making the effort now to bolster third parties, it could take multiple elections– even decades– before we really started to make a change. There’s no guarantee that the devastating nuclear war that we’ve been doing our damndest to avoid for 70 years won’t happen while we’re trying to ride out the “bottoming out” phase of this reform process. There’s also no guarantee that when that process ends, if it ever does, that the country we have left will even be anything we want to save.
So what else can we do? Campaign finance reform is sometimes touted as a potential silver bullet, which it could be in theory, but it has it’s own Catch-22 problem: if we were in any danger of electing politicians who were legitimately interested in passing effective, powerful, paradigm-shifting reform measures, and at liberty to do so, we wouldn’t need those reforms in the first place. My personal experience is that the only politicians who talk about campaign finance reforms in good faith are local politicians who couldn’t attract big corporate donations if they wanted them; once you get above, say, the county level, any reference to campaign finance reform is a cynical rhetorical ploy and nothing more.
To speak more personally for a moment, I still don’t know what I’m going to do in November. I think Hillary is a terrible candidate, but she’s terrible in most of the same ways candidates for President are usually terrible, so she definitely counts as “lesser Evil” in my book. She will probably be bad, but I doubt she’ll be sufficiently bad that she could end Western Civilization, unless she decided to try to do that really hard. Trump to me sounds like a delusional orange man with less than a third-grade education, and I simply cannot understand how anyone can listen to him and think he’s qualified to be captain of an elementary school kickball team, let alone President. He also seems like the kind of person who would order a nuke because some world leader criticized his footwear, which makes him more likely to be a candidate who could end this whole American experiment we have going on.
But how can I vote for the Democratic Party, the party so inept that they are somehow managing to lose an election to a less articulate Oompa Loompa with delusions of grandeur? Do I vote for Gary Johnson in the interest of at least trying to bolster third parties; should I do that even if I don’t agree with a lot of his proposed policies? Do I step into the voting booth, close the curtain, and vote for no one, solely because for the sake of my conscience, that’s one minuscule step above not even dragging myself to vote at all?
Maybe I’m wrong for even thinking that third parties could be a way out; maybe the fundamental problem is that the people who are best suited to wielding political power on that scale, are the least likely to be attracted to the process of acquiring it. Maybe there really is no getting past that, and we get the leaders we deserve; they’re just getting worse because we’re getting worse, and everything else is irrelevant.
So yeah, this is what I’m thinking while pundits talk about poisoned Skittles or Pepe the frog being a secret Mossad Agent, or whatever the latest peak in stupid is. I could try to be cute and wrap up with how I’m voting for SMOD (Sweet Meteor O’ Death), but A)the idea of Earth being destroyed by a meteor absolutely scares the shit out of me and B) I’d rather just be honest and say I’m in despair right now, without any misplaced attempts at humor. When I try to think about politics, I’m in a place of complete despair.
*I’m certainly not saying that ISIS or something like it would never have existed were it not for the actions of the Bush administration; we’ll never know. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the actions of the American government in the early 2000s were a significant contributing factor to the current situation in the Middle East.