Home > Politics > On Gary Johnson, Third Parties, and 5%

On Gary Johnson, Third Parties, and 5%

Today, I officially cast my 2012 ballot by participating in early voting. Upon completion of my ballot, I shared on facebook who I voted for which opened up conversation and allowed me to explain my views. One issue that was raised repeatedly (particularly by my friends in the Army) was the fact that I didn’t vote for Gary Johnson. It could be considered strange that my lack of a vote for a distantly-polling Libertarian candidate raised any eyebrows at all. However, one specific request made sense to me. I was asked to explain how a vote for Obama helps America more than empowering third parties. This is going to require some background information.

First of all, why would a vote for Gary Johnson “empower” third parties? The answer is a bit mixed. It would not at all empower third parties. It would empower one, single party: the Libertarian Party. This empowerment is addressed in Gary Johnson’s latest ad campaign, “Be the Five Percent,” which explains that by acquiring 5% of the popular vote this election cycle, the Libertarian party will receive federal funds and greater access to the presidential ballots in 2016. This fact was difficult to verify, but I finally found a source that seems to confirm it, to some extent. So it is true that if Gary Johnson receives 5% of the vote, the two-party system will be dealt a blow of sorts.

I am a frequent, open critic of the current state of the two-party system. I hate the partisanship. I hate the incentive structure that is created through this system–one which rewards more extreme candidates. I hate that the plurality of Americans are not represented by either party and thus have no role in the federal legislative process. I have taken some minimal steps toward a future of actively fighting against the two-party system, weakening its power grip. To many, this implies that I would be in favor a third party or third-party candidates. I am not.

Another party would not solve the problem of the unrepresented moderate. Here is a great article about what it means to be moderate by (moderate) conservative David Brooks. The gist of it is that moderates base their political vision on facts and data–observable from history–to make decisions. As the article explains:

For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation. For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.

The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right. Situations matter most. Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis sets in then deregulation might be in order.

(emphasis added)

Meeting the threshold to put the Libertarian Party on the ballot, then, does nothing toward meeting my goal to see unaffiliated, non-partisans in decision-making roles. In fact, I am of the opinion that the libertarian ideology is among the least flexible, least situational of any I know. Libertarians, as a general rule will answer to cut, to legalize, and to privatize. Their expanded role in our political process would simply mean that there is yet another rigid ideology pushing platitudes and making compromise difficult. Rigidity is the enemy.

Rather than cast a “protest vote,” in the presidential election, I will vote for a candidate who can win within the current system. One I believe in, at that. If you want to end the vice grip of power that the two major political parties hold, I would recommend doing so far outside of the context of a presidential ballot. Take measures to actually reform the current electoral system. Start with your state, as state electoral policy determines primary election formats, procedures required to get on the ballot, and other important electoral issues.

You should also consider any qualified, intelligent non-partisan candidate for a congressional seat if (s)he does not have any views with which you vehemently oppose. I voted for an unaffiliated candidate for the Senate, although in heavily Democratic Maryland, he stands little chance.

But the key here is to start locally, where one vote counts more than it does nationally. Local officials are responsible for creating the state-by-state systems that are rigged toward the parties. Small congressional districts are more-easily moved than nationwide electorates. If there is less partisanship at the state level, and less partisanship in congress, things will move in the right direction. Government reform, cooperation, and non-partisanship need to be prioritized in voting blocs which can be realistically achieved before tackling the largest voting bloc there is. Focusing on a presidential ballot to enact change just isn’t going to get it done.

  1. maxgross4president
    October 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I agree with your supposition that local elections are a better channel for changing the party system. BUT…

    In order to accomplish positive change in the democracy, establishing a system where there are more than two options is critical. If one side takes one position, the other defaults to its opposite. That is one of the most significant blocks national progress. We have a system where politicians have split loyalties to: their constituency, campaign financiers, party officials, and lobbyists. When the people are just 1/4th of the driving force behind any given decision, there is a problem.

    So what does another party do to this? You are right if you say nothing. But I would contend that this only does nothing at first. Even if all I’m doing is empowered a voice who I don’t necessarily agree with, it opens to the door for others to be empowered in the same fashion.

    When you say it only empowers the Libertarian party…well let me put this another way. Let’s say that only white males are allowed a vote. If I suggest allowing ALL males a vote, would you disagree with me because I’m not including women?

    That’s not a great parallel, but the point is the nature of legislation and all political change is incremental, and we need to take what we can get a little at a time. That’s what the history of democracy has shown us. Should we be satisfied with that? Never, but that’s what you get for operating within the confines of the existing system.

    Rigidity is the enemy, and I think the two party system is at fault. I think a third option, ANY third option presents a threat to the ability of the two-party-crats to default to any position.

    I think you’d be surprised at how much you disagree with Obama if there are a few more realistic options on the table. None of those options are named Gary Johnson, to be sure, but I’m still going to vote for the third option because it empowers an alternative, which will open to door for more alternatives.

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