The upcoming U.S. Presidential election is probably the most important vote most of us have faced in our lifetimes. The two candidates–and let’s be honest and admit that there are only two viable candidates–represent vastly different future paths for our country. If you want to have your say in which path we choose, making your choice is essential.
It is tempting for some people to vote for one of the alternate candidates (which in most states means Jill Stein or Gary Johnson) as a “protest” vote, or because of a sincere belief in their message. This is everyone’s right, but I would ask those of you who choose to exercise this right to be honest with yourselves. You are essentially choosing to abstain from the process. You are choosing not to make a choice at all until there is a “perfect” choice for you.
Let’s be honest here. Neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein will ever be elected President. Period. No matter how much you want it, no matter how much you complain about the structural inequities of the two-party system, no matter how much you blame the media, and no matter how unfair you think it is, it is not going to happen. If a third party ever emerges as a significant force in American politics, it will be because its builds support from the ground up through local and state elections, and not because it insists on pushing a spoiler Presidential candidate every four years. Do I hope this eventually happens? Yes. Has it happened yet? Clearly not.
Don’t want to limit yourself to a choice between the lesser or two evils? Tough. We all do it every day. We are all faced with choices where neither option is ideal. We either choose one or we don’t choose at all. The former requires some front-loaded effort and also carries the risk of being the wrong choice. The latter requires much less front-loaded effort and in most cases is always the wrong choice. “Benign neglect” is generally not the best option for most situations, and I argue that voting for a candidate with no chance of being elected is more or less a form of benign neglect. Except that it isn’t always so benign–by not making the choice between two electable candidates, you also cause damage to the one of these two who might be the best match for you.
A few years ago when my mom developed dementia and my dad was unable to care for her, we had several choices. The two realistic ones were that we could move her to a facility where she would be cared for or that we could get him some help to care for her at home. Neither choice was particularly palatable, both for financial and emotional reasons. But they were really the only two options that would effect any sort of result. That’s not to say there were no other options. We could, for example, have prayed and “put it in God’s hands.” A lot of people choose this option, and while it makes them feel morally satisfied that they’re “making a statement” of their faith, it generally does not produce any result at all, because it is a decision not to make a realistic choice.
We realized, however, that refusing to choose one of the viable options and waiting until there was some theoretical option we liked better would make things exponentially worse and would be a danger to all parties involved. So we chose from among two options that we didn’t like. We had to. We were not happy about it. But abstaining from this difficult decision was not a luxury we had.
If you’re being honest with yourself, a vote for Stein or Johnson is at best a statement that you are not satisfied with a flawed process. Unfortunately, it is also a statement that you refuse to be a part of that flawed process by supporting whichever of the two electable candidates best matches your values. You essentially have chosen not to decide. Again, it’s your right, but I would argue that it is neither particularly courageous nor particularly principled. And it’s maybe just a little lazy because it involves making the easy choice that will have no effect rather than making the difficult choice that will have an effect one way or the other.
My perspective is, admittedly, that of someone who has made a choice between the two candidates and does not consider my choice “the lesser of two evils” in any way. Is my candidate a perfect match for me? No. Is any candidate ever a perfect match for anyone? Probably not, because that would pretty much require as many candidates as there are voters for each office. But I am happy with my choice and I know that my candidate also has a chance of actually being elected.
If you sincerely believe in you candidate, that’s great. It is your right to vote for whichever candidate you choose. But at least be honest enough to recognize and acknowledge the end result of your choice. Or lack thereof…