Pick a side

A couple of days ago I had a long conversation with a friend about Barack Obama and the Presidential election. I’ve put the weight of my endorsement and this blog behind Obama. As with any of the Democrats, I agree with his stance on most policies. The friend believes that no matter what their beliefs are, the candidates will always beholden to special interests; and to be sure, the candidates do get a lot of money from special interests. But this is always been the case.

Winning an election takes money and if you have the desire to change things, and if you think you have the ability to do so, then you’ll have to take money from someone to have the chance. I’d like to believe that someone will have the will to not just give the White House away. This may not be the case. Regardless of all the best intentions, yes Obama, or Hillary or whoever may not be effective as a President – but I am going to pick a side. Whoever wins, will have to compromise. They’ll break promises and side with the enemy on some issues, but I won’t give up. Part of our responsibility as citizens, is to take part in the process. We may not like the choices, we may not believe that they have our best interest in mind, but allowing these thoughts to remove us from the process, is the worst thing that can happen.

Another thing that bothers me is refusing to chose a side. It’s not that I don’t believe in being independent, it’s just that in this country, the President will either be a Democrat or a Republican – it won’t be a Libertarian, Green Party, or independent candidate. I don’t care how much money Michael Bloomberg has or how good for the environment Ralph Nader is, they won’t win, and voting for anyone other than one of the two major party candidates is throwing your vote away. If everyone that voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, had instead supported a candidate that had a chance of winning, George Bush would never have been President.

One of the things that defines people that want better, is their divorcing themselves from the system. Liberals and independents can be apathetic – wanting a better political system, better candidates, and better representatives to the point where they refuse to get involved. All the while, the ultra-conservative are insanely committed and have succeeded in moving this country to the right in the vacuum caused by the absence of liberals.

Are you pro-choice? Are you for or against gun rights? Do you want the country out of Iraq? Either party is defined by it’s extremes – who do you hate the least:   Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh?   Decide – and then chose a candidate. And then support that candidate, then tell all your friends, and pay attention to the news, and finally go out and vote.

To paraphrase a great movie: The greatest trick the government has ever pulled, was convincing their citizens that their votes don’t matter.

  • grace

    I’m not sure how not registering as a Republican or a Democrat is a) not choosing a side, and b) is equal to apathy.

    (As a side note, there has been extensive research and data compiled to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the votes that went to Nader in 2000 would not have changed the election. The majority of those votes came from voters that either never vote for one of the two big parties, came from people who otherwise would not have voted at all, or were cast in a state where one of the candidates had a solid lead and made no difference. I know that throws a wet blanket on the Al Gore pity party, but it’s a hard fact. I hate W as much as the next person, but the truth is Gore ran a weak campaign. He also chose a real stinker as a running mate. Democrats like to rewrite history because Gore is so shiny and fabulous these days.)

    Personally, I am a registered Independent not because I belong to a party called “Independent,” but because I do not want any candidate to take my vote for granted. I am open to voting for either party, but they have to earn it. And New Hampshire has a rate of registered Independents that’s nearly HALF of registered voters. New Hampshire is also one of the most politically aware and active states in the union, so saying that not choosing one of the two major parties shows apathy makes no sense.

    I see far more apathy amongst party line voters. The proof is right there in the voting booth. Take a look next time. There is actually a button that lets you simply choose ALL Dems or ALL Reps! That, to me, is insane. Talk about apathy!

  • http://www.thewebpen.net/blog Howard

    And the lobbyist issue is why I’m currently (yes, ever changing views) toward Edwards. I don’t think he is as strong as a leader as the other two candidates, but that little bit of integrity of never taking money from PAC or from lobbyists goes a long way with me simply because of all the mistrust in the government.

    Honestly, I’d be happy with any of the three with Obama being a close second, but I would love to see someone in office who tries to not be part of the machine.

  • Spencer

    I’m not saying registering independent is equal to apathy. I think not voting for one of the major candidates in the general election is in part due to apathy. My reasoning is there are two main reasons for voting for someone you know won’t win – protest or thinking your vote doesn’t matter. I think that the apathetic can be found in any party, I specifically said that the apathetic I have issue with are the ones that want better, but don’t vote and aren’t involved in the process. If Pennsylvania had an open primary system, I would probably register independent.

    As to the Gore issue, my comment said “If everyone that voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, had instead supported a candidate that had a chance of winning, George Bush would never have been President.” My comment assumes that all those people would have voted, and if they all did, I think the results would have been different. Of course not all of them would have voted, but my comment is kind of fantasy. I also don’t think people are pitying Gore as much as they are dissatisfied with W. I know Republicans that regret voting for Bush instead of McCain – it all has to do with the moron that’s currently in office.

    Howard – honestly I would like any of the top three dems and could live with McCain or Guliani as President. I just don’t want the country to get hoodwinked again.

  • Darryl

    Good post.

    I think a lot of people are apathetic about voting because they don’t really understand our system of government. Everyone gets so hung up on the idea of “democracy” and lose sight of the fact that the U.S. is actually a representative republic. I always hear people complaining about the electoral college and how “my vote doesn’t count”, when in reality your vote does count. For our system to be truly effective it requires citizens to get involved at the state and local level. I think people are even more apathetic and uninformed at the local level than they are at the national level. Just my two cents.

    BTW: I really do think the time is fast approaching when there will be a viable third party in this country. In the meantime I think the country is greatly in need of a “Centrist Revolution” of sorts. It seems like all we ever hear about are the extremes whether they be right or left. As you pointed out about evangelicals, they are very organized and mobilize their ranks when it comes time to take action. Imagine what would happen if everyone who falls in the middle (which is most everyone I know) decided it was time to take the country back.

  • Julie

    Man, you’re tough. So tough that I think I’ll use you as my write-in candidate.

  • Spencer

    Julie – I’ll have to stop smoking crack and cranking out porn vids if I’m going to seriously run for President.

  • http://abbondanza.blogspot.com/ kristen

    I’m another registered Independent. Neither of the parties completely appeals to me, and as much as I hate being left out of the primaries in this area, I don’t want to be pigeon-holed either. People who just vote their assigned ticket without considering the individuals and policies involved separately scare me.

    I think one source of voter apathy in a presidential year is the bleak primary situation. Between closed primaries and our archaic system that allows a lot of tiny states to hold sway over the eventual candidates, a lot of the country has no say whatsoever in who the candidates end up being. The Electoral College does make people feel like their vote is pointless. Gore won the popular vote, after all, and look what happened there. Partisan politics turns off a lot of people too. And then there is the fundraising behemoth which makes anything beyond a two-party race seem impossible. While I don’t agree with people not participating, I see plenty of factors making it happen. Perhaps it is on purpose as the last line of Spencer’s post implies. Politicians of both stripes united to make sure that only one of their own gets power and their tango continues.

    You’re right, Darryl. The way to make your voice more effective begins at the local level. After all, those local ward leaders and state senators and district guys not only have a huge impact on your daily life, but their power translates upward for the larger elections. They become the local power base for candidates. They are the delegates when the EC comes together. If more people paid attention to that fact, beyond the hardcore political junkies, we would have a more “representative” representative government.

    We could all stand to be better informed about the world around us and our own cities. Yes, there’s a major problem with the current listless, celebrity-obsessed, dumbed down fourth estate. But the media won’t get better at doing their jobs unless we demand it. I don’t see a lot of people lining up for news more complex than whatever Katie Couric’s tanorexic legs want to convey any time soon. What we are seeing now is the result of years of divisive soundbyte and pundit culture catching up with us. I hope the country can snap out of it. The stakes are getting way too high to ignore it anymore.

  • grace

    Heh. Heh. She said “tanorexic.”

    The stakes are SO high; you’re so right, Kristen. I naturally have a fatalistic personality (thanks, mom) so my opinion doesn’t mean much, but I feel like if we don’t get this election right it will send the country irrevocably down the long slide toward The End.

    On a side note, does it scare anyone else that Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution, and that he thinks the earth is 6000 years old? As my friend Donika said, “Where’s the outrage??”

  • Spencer

    I SO agree with you Grace – we can’t afford to fuck this one up. But do you trust the American public not to? Ugh. I mean, I would like to believe someone like Huckabee wouldn’t be given the time of day, but he won a state.

    I think this election is the fork in the road. We get a chance to go the right way or send our country barreling down the road to the same fate that has fallen on every other empire that has ever existed.

  • Darryl

    Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution and thinks the world is only 6,000 years old. Yet he has managed to become a REAL contender for the most powerful office in the world. Maybe evolution isn’t real?

    Unfortunately Spencer I think it’s the fate of all great societies to eventually crumble. The shame is we seem to be declining at a much faster rate than those came before us. I can guarantee that we’re going to fuck this one up. What better way to hurry along the rapture?

  • radiocynic

    I too am a registered independent, not because of belonging to an alternate party, but rather just because I believe in the possibility of good and bad candidates regardless of their affiliation. Even though I’m way on the liberal side of moderate, I have voted for some Republicans, mainly incumbents in local races where I thought maintaining status quo would be a good thing. (Though knowing how much that phrase does NOT apply to our current national situations made me uncomfortable just to type it!)

    But I agree with Spencer that the “3rd party” folks (as exemplified by the Nader camp in ’00) need to look at the big picture. If Gore had been so far ahead that there was no question as to outcome, a vote for Nader might have been a good protest statement. But since the reality of the last two elections was that it would indeed be close enough for those votes to perhaps sway the election away from Bush made it silly to have voted for third-party candidates.

    Here’s my take on Huckabee. It’s not just the whacko religious right who actually do agree with him, but a lot of people who (speaking of apathy) just don’t know the facts. For example, I’ve been busier than usual for the past few months, so really just got down to determining candidates’ specific stands on issues a few weeks ago. Just prior to that, I saw Huckabee on The Tonight Show. While I was already wary because of his general right-wing-dom and religious background, I really didn’t yet know at the time just how whacked his stands on issues were — I just saw a relatively likeable and intelligent guy who spoke well (aka not-like-W), had a somewhat self-depreciating sense of humor, and sat in with the band on bass and guitar (a la Bill Clinton’s sax gigs.) I wasn’t going to rush out and support him, but I thought he was generally likeable, (and not a W-type dumbhead.) Actually learning about his stands on issues solidified my negative perception, of course… but here’s what’s dangerous in this country — how many voters are never going to even bother learning about issues, but just vote on the basis of likability and charisma? I fear it’s a lot, on both ends of the political spectrum.

    That still doesn’t explain how the current president got elected, though, does it? Topic for another day.

  • Pingback: arubberdoor | Barack Obama and faith in change

  • http://grahamshevlin.com/current Graham Shevlin

    “My reasoning is there are two main reasons for voting for someone you know won’t win – protest or thinking your vote doesn’t matter.”

    Here is about as a good an example of a false dichotomy as you are ever likely to see.
    It appears to almost totally ignore the possibility that independent-minded people vote for a candidate because they think that they are the best candidate. I voted for third party candidates in all of the UK general elections when i lived there because i believed that They Were The Best Candidates.
    As an FYI, in the UK I have lost count of the number of times I heard the “wasted vote” argument. It was fallacious then and it is fallacious now. A wasted vote is when you do not vote.
    One final comment about the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000. This is truly anecdotal, but I personally know of three people who voted for Nader, because they could not vote for Al Gore, on the basis that he and the Democrats were indistinguishable from the Republican Party. Whether or not those types of voters were responsible for the loss by Al Gore I will leave it up to the mathematicians to argue over. However, it is my personal belief that failure to differentiate themselves from the GOP cost the Democratic Party votes in 2000.

  • Spencer

    I guess it depends on what you call “best”. I consider a factor in defining the best candidate their ability to win – electability they call it. There are all sorts of people who aren’t running that might be good candidates – why not start writing them in?

    I’m not calling for people to vote against their beliefs or conscience – but I am saying your vote needs to make a difference – and voting for someone you know can’t win – well, I think it’s slightly above staying at home.

  • http://grahamshevlin.com/current Graham Shevlin

    Voting for a candidate based on some analysis of “electability” IMHO has the main result of perpetuating a two-party system, which, based on my analysis of the US political scene in the last 30+ years, results in the institutionalisation of false dichotomy across the entire political process. I see that as a very powerful reason for NOT including any analysis of electability.
    Sometimes you have to make decisions in life that are not simple binary ones. Right now, everywhere I look in the political process, I see analysis based mostly on binary thinking, and if that doesn’t work, well dammit, we’ll manufacture a false dichtotomy and put our opponents on the wrong side of it.
    It is (I believe) a truism that many of the most interesting ideas in the political process originate with candidates who are generally regarded as “not electable”. No surprise there. I can reward out-of-the-box thinking and I will do so, considerations of electability be damned. And yes, I wouldl consider a write-in candidate. I would also be delighted if “none of the above” was an option on ballot papers, although at this point I have to stop writing since the sky is suddenly dark with the flying pigs…

  • Spencer

    I understand your argument – I just disagree. It’s an argument between the system we want and the system we have. Do I wish we had a 3 or 4 party system where candidates outside the republicans and democrats had a chance at running things? Yes I do – I think that would go a long way towards reducing the influence of lobbyists in our government. (For the record I also wish we had a national primary and a general election – and a raw vote for the President, no the electoral college, but I digress). But our system is effectively a two party system – so if my choice is between John Kerry, George Bush, and some unnamed but amazing green party candidate, I in all good conscience would vote for Kerry. Yes I don’t love Kerry, but the worse thing would be if Bush won – and that Green candidate, amazing as he or she is – has no shot at winning. So I vote against George Bush.

    If we want to not a choice of the best of two evils – then what we really need is we all need to get more involved at the state and local level – changing the tenor and platform of our representatives, ultimately (hopefully) leading to candidates that better reflect the will of the people. This time I think both parties got it right. Both parties have a number of candidates that are better choices than what we had over the past two elections.

  • grace

    I’m glad Graham chimed in. Because I agree that the two parties, along with big corporate American money, have created a lose-lose system for the American public. And I find the idea that I “should” vote for a realistic winner goes against all of my ridiculous can-do American optimism. There will never be change if the people maintain the attitude that change cannot happen. I truly believe that many of the people that voted for Nader had honest optimism about the changes that were possible if he won. He was the little engine that could, or David, or Rudy… ha. In any case, they weren’t being foolish, and they certainly weren’t on some political death wish (“Hey, let’s throw my vote away!”). Major social change starts small. You just have to look at the beginnings of this country for some great examples of why belief in the impossible for the betterment of the people is a worthwhile exercise.

    I actually believe that throwing up your hands and voting for one of two parties is more apathetic than taking a risk and pushing hard for something that seems impossible. No one could’ve predicted that we could sink so low as to elect George W. Bush, but I hope that only fuels all those big thinkers out there, and that a new, viable third party candidate is out there somewhere.

    It’s a question of principles vs. complacence. A democracy eventually fails under the latter.

  • Spencer

    Talk about a false dichotomy – so I can’t be a principled democrat voter? Couldn’t it be that I believe that there can be change through the current system? And just what’s wrong with attempting to get one of the two ruling parties to move closer to your ideals by becoming more involved in them?

    (Also in line with the American penchant for pointing the finger at anyone but ourselves – it’s not just the two parties and big corporate America at fault – it’s us! We as a people are disinterested, uninformed, and let the two parties and corporate America run amok for decades in order to reach this point.)

    God bless anyone who is working on building a viable 3rd party. If and when there is one, I’ll consider their candidates. But it will take much, MUCH more than voting for Ralph Nader to bring it about.