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Third-Party Voting: An Act of Cowardice?

A Losing Candidate Will Never Disappoint

November 7, 2016

Picking a fight with a third-party voter is like provoking a pit bill. I consider both inadvisable. Third-party voters are passionate, courageous, and, unlike you Trump voters, unwilling to sell out their principles for the so-called lesser of two evils (and the same scenario exists on the left, as well.)

The following is not intended as an angry diatribe against third-party voters. They, in fact, are principled and are certainly not in politics for money and position. Building an alternative to the two-party status quo is  thankless and, at times, demoralizing. Those who keep plugging away merit an occasional 'Atta Boy' in lieu of the electoral success that remains elusive. I confess to an honest amount of empathy for third-party activists. In my 20's, I was chairman (briefly) of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina. I once ran for the State House as a Libertarian. I was young and totally ignorant of party-building and strategy, but was bursting with vim and vigor. "Libertarians Do It On Principle," proclaimed buttons and stickers and served as a fallback comfort message to ourselves.

Back then, third-party activists toiled alone or in small pockets of fellow travelers. Today they congregate online, congratulating each other (but mostly themselves) for their boundless courage and unwavering principle. Every meme and post attempts a sharper rationalization than the one before. "Should I ditch the guy who beats me and marry the one who just slaps me - lesser of two evils, right?" Their analogies are broad and varied and sometimes comical, and, given the state of politics, sometimes you really want to pull for them.

Yet, ultimately, their dedication is wasted on one-in-a-million longshots ("Hey, Lincoln was a third-party candidate!" Well, there's a little more to it, but they'll cling to any hope). Have you ever noticed how Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and numerous other lower-tier wannabes are always the only pure, principled candidates left worth voting for? The goal here is certainly not to promote the integrity of the average 'Demo-publican' (a common rejoinder from my Libertarian days), but if the only principled choices are guaranteed losers, except for the rare Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders, shouldn't we ask ourselves why?

Like a fantasy date with your favorite movie star, your third-party crush will never disappoint. The winners (i.e., our elected officials) will have to set an agenda of priorities, and, thus, some voters are disappointed before their guy even takes office. ("What, you're not gonna tackle highway privatization this term?") Then, at some point, every elected official, particularly a president or governor, will have to make some concession, however slight, to the other side. Even if he's just throwing crumbs, ideological purists will cry foul. "I told you he was a RINO!" The American Constitution Party's candidate, however, will never take office and disappoint. He and the rest will remain unruffled and steadfast to their tiny bands of supporters. Since they will not have to undertake the dirty work of leadership, their hands will always stay clean.

But, more personally, it is the third- party activists themselves who will never have to wear the shame of backing a failed candidate. Trump supporters (or supporters of Hillary or anyone who can win) bear the risk of having to apologize for their candidate's broken promises and failed policies. The only action that history could, potentially, force Gary Johnson to defend is tilting the election one way or the other.

Imagine never having to defend President Obama's vow that, if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. How great never having to defend President George W. Bush's second term to your liberal friends! Such is the safe haven of the third-party world. No risk involved and vanity is always allowed. While most American see their vote as a tiny yet strategic step forward (even if only for themselves), third-partiers see theirs as a show unto itself.  "See how courageous I am," they say repeatedly, lest you didn't hear it the first 147 times. Their dedication to principle does not inspire, it simply annoys the snot out of you.

Most denizens of the third-party world are not cowards - they consider themselves tireless warriors, the architects of the coming revolution that will topple the two-party system. Simply, most of these individuals, while commendable, are strategically tone-deaf, unaware that life does not typically offer us the glory of siding with the angels in an epic showdown between Mother Teresa and Hitler. We make choices everyday measurable not by moral light years, but by mere degrees. But, as any navigator knows, a few degrees can alter a course dramatically.

America may well need a viable third-party. Best advice: save the groundwork for down-ballot races, mid-term and odd-year elections. The stakes in a presidential election year are just too high, and America can't wait for an ideologically pure movement to flourish - a movement that will likely succumb to the same excesses and corruption we see today.

It takes courage to demand moral perfection.
It takes courage plus wisdom to accept that government, under human control, is flawed by nature, and the best we can hope for is to keep those excesses at a safe distance.

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Copyright ©2016

David is from Fayetteville, NC. Lifelong political activist, including two runs for state house (once as a Libertarian and then as a Republican). I have written for a number of Conservative websites. My work has been reprinted on numerous websites and in newspapers nationwide. My work has also been cited by a member of Congress. I also have written for Liberty Features, the media wing of Americans for Limited Government. Writing about politics and current events is my passion.