Mining for a Heart of Gold: My third party vote

by Pierre Corneille

As I’ve noted, I voted for Gary Johnson.  In large part, I drew the inspiration for my vote from Jason Kuznicki’s point that we might look at our vote as an expression of how we affiliate ourselves, as a sort of self-declaration of principles (again, my apologies if I am in some ways misconstruing his argument, but that was my takeaway).  One feature of such self-declaration, however, is the false sense of purity one might take away from it.  This feature is dangerous and probably unavoidable.  And although self-declaration seems the way to go, any disposition toward honesty requires the self-declarers to acknowledge this danger upfront.

One reason to vote for Johnson is that in theory, he would scale back or check the power of the military, and (even more theoretically and more doubtfully had he by some fluke actually won) he would scale back the power of the executive.  Affiliating with this idea is pretty easy, but dangerously so.  Yes, on paper I am disgusted with Obama’s martial rhetoric and his robust prosecution of war and targeted killing, all the while wondering whether targeted killing, to the extent it’s truly targeted, might be an improvement over bombing an entire neighborhood in the hopes that the “bad guy” will be killed amid all the innocent victims.  But in my day to day life, I don’t really think about it other than as something that is really unfortunate and that I wish weren’t happening.

I also have to entertain the suggestion that I, to quote Colonel Jessup, “can’t handle the truth.”  To point out–rightly, I might add–that America’s military adventures often don’t make us safer or that any true invasion of American soil would likely be met by effective armed resistance by the citizenry, such as was done during a policy disagreement over taxes in the late 1700s, does not negate the fact that if someone tried to storm the walls that protect me, the military would likely be first in the line of defense and that I would appreciate its doing so.  (Heck, if my life be in danger, I probably would not hesitate, if I could, to call 911, and be grateful to the very police department that has recently been proven to tolerate torture in the past.)

Similarly, although in an issue less momentous than war, I chose my side and chose it early when it came to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  I wanted and want the act to survive, and that outcome is much more likely with a President Obama than it would have been under a President Romney, or, I will add, under a President Johnson whose first name isn’t Lyndon.  I rooted for Obama this time around in a way that I really didn’t in 2008 because of the PPACA. In 2008, I wanted him to win but was distrustful of what I interpreted as, as I’ve mentioned before, the idolatry of a mere human and a might makes right mentality.

To be clear, I see something to be concerned about in some of Johnson’s positions.  One example is his position that “TSA should take a risk-based approach to airport security. Only high-risk individuals should be subjected to invasive pat-downs and full-body scans.”  He might be right on the merits, but considering who in practice might be targeted as “high-risk individuals,” that policy statement, taken by itself, might easily appeal to a constituency more inclined to find scapegoats than security threats.  Although this is perhaps a subject for another day, his immigration policy strikes me as having the (unintended) potential for draconian results.

Yet I got the happy (for me) result of an Obama victory with the self-satisfaction that comes from endorsing a candidate whose message mostly coincides with the type of approach I would like to see when it comes to defining and resolving America’s problems.  Like everyone else, I live in an imperfect world condemned to imperfection

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30 thoughts on “Mining for a Heart of Gold: My third party vote

  1. One way to choose a vote is to find the candidate whose policy positions most closely mirror one’s own, but the fact that people see things differently means that unless you are the candidate, every candidate’s policies are going to be at least a little bit different from the ones you would pursue. So any vote is at best still a small compromise on one’s principles and preferences. And if elected, that candidate will take office in a power-sharing situation: in this case, a President must interact with Congress and the resulting laws will be a product of many peoples’ influence on the creation of those laws. So there’s going to be still more compromise on principles and preferences. All by design, and at least in theory, all for the good.

    I agree that Johnson was an imperfect candidate and his — and national LP — policy positions are not without concern. From my perspective, Johnson was a much closer fit to my own preferences than either Romney or Obama and in fact was a much closer fit to my own preferences than any other candidate for President I can remember having had the opportunity to vote for. The fit was still imperfect, but any candidate would be an imperfect fit.

    Nevertheless, if Johnson articulated a constellation of policy positions that more closely aligned with your own preferences than that of any of the other available candidates, then your vote was principled. A principled vote is by definition not wasted. A principled vote is the ultimate act of true citizenship. It is useful, productive, and praiseworthy, whether one’s candidate ultimately wins or loses. I remain not only unapologetic but pleased with my decision to vote for Johnson, and you should too. My only regret is that Johnson did not poll above the 5% margin necessary for inclusion with the Democrats and Republians in the 2016 round of Presidential debates.

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    • There you go, using facts and logic to undermine my argument! :)

      But the point I was trying to make–and here I perhaps wasn’t clear enough–isn’t that my vote for Johnson wasn’t “principled.” Rather, it doesn’t exempt me from the dirtiness–or “original sinfulness”–of politics. My vote is part and parcel thereof–which is part of what you’re alluding to when you say that any candidate’s views would align at best imperfectly with my own, unless I’m the candidate (and even then, if I were the candidate, even a 3d party one, I would likely adopt certain public positions that are more postures to win votes and / or notoriety than they are my policy preferences).

      I may choose to affiliate with Johnson and (most of) his positions, but I have not thereby sorti de l’embarras.

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  2. I always find it a little strange that people confess a discomfort with idolatry regarding the presidency, and then fall back on voting for candidates who in their own sort of way are very much symbolically idolatrous for certain stances.

    At least I sort of feel like there’s a certain cult of personality around candidates like Gary Johnson or Ron Paul. Perhaps I’m mistaken. Especially when you consider that some of their policy positions are just nutty.

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    • Nob,

      I think your comment is partly what I’m getting at. But I’m also urging against the solipsistic (in the common sense of egomanic) danger inherent in the path I have chosen and the path that Jason K. (if I read his post correctly) seems to be advocating.

      This path can engender a certain idolatry of the self, as one pure and removed from the rough-and-tumble of compromised allegiances and and from the tragic fact that we must also be of the world if we are to live in it.

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    • Nob,

      I thought that was Obama’s appeal. I probably wouldn’t recognize Johnson if he walked by me in the street, he just matched my policy positions*. Hopefully not the nutty ones though.

      * 96% match according to the test that was being discussed in this forum earlier. Nobody else was above 50% match.

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  3. Ima go back to my old argument ’bout third party vote. This election showed the power of organizing. Team O simply out organizes every one else, both with numbers and with brains.

    If you wanna check drone strikes and militarism, I guess a third party vote is a something. But now, today, is a maximal leverage point in DC. A deal is getting ready to get done in DC right now over the “fiscal cliff,” and right now some serious horse trading is getting ready to get done.

    At this same moment in 2010, we lib-types were unable to get the deal we wanted on extending the Bush tax cuts, because we had been out organized in the general by the tea party types. But, by pressuring Obama, we were able to end DADT because Obama could trade our support for the end of the cuts (i.e. “sell us out”) for an end to DADT. It wasn’t the victory we wanted, but it was a victory which broadened our coalition and helped us win this go around.

    Wanna get the Satrapy States of America under control? Organize, people. Starting now.

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    • To be clear, I’m not, at least in this post, trying to make an argument about the efficacy of my vote beyond whatever personal meaning it has for me.

      I do tend to agree with those who say that in large-N elections, one’s individual vote doesn’t matter. But that’s a basket of crabs I’m ill-equipped to…err…is “eat” the word I’m looking for?

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      • And to be clear as well, I am not about to call a third party vote “wasted.” Especially one in the past, whether its two days ago, or ten years ago. I am all about leverage and outcomes right now and in the future. Past votes have exactly zero leverage.

        FWIW, I think that third party votes do matter, and in some circumstances have more leverage per vote than ones cast for establishment candidates. I just maintain that joining (or creating), and then working for, an organization that advances your political goals is a higher payoff move, by many orders of magnitude. And the very highest leverage moment for doing that, is November 7, the day AFTER the election

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  4. Living in Utah, I could vote for some third party candidates, including Johnson, and not be too concerned that I would do anything other than tick the meter negligibly, while at the same time soothing my own conscience about the fact that, like Pierre, I have been disappointed in the president’s handling of civil liberty issues.

    The libertarian AG candidate here in Utah, Andrew McCullough, got about 4.5% of the vote. I’m hoping this is promising.

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  5. Again, voting as therapy. You actually wanted Obama to win, but you don’t want to dirty your own hands, let those other poor suckers do it so you can feel pure and holier-than-thou. Actual therapists exists, guys.

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