The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power....If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump." -- Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker Magazine, May 20, 2016In 1980, one year before Bernie Sanders was elected mayor in my college town, I voted in my first presidential election. My idealistic young self could not abide either of the two major party candidates. The incumbent, Jimmy Carter, was an ineffective, fiscal conservative and Ronald Reagan was a dangerously uninformed right wing joke. I proudly cast my vote for third-party candidate John Anderson. Reagan, of course, won handily, and my vote for Anderson was nothing more than an empty gesture. Neither my protest vote nor anyone else's had any impact on the election, on building any kind of political movement or on sending a signal to the political establishment.
By 1984, I had learned my lesson and campaigned for the remarkably uninspiring Walter Mondale. True, Ronald Reagan won again, but the take away for me was that in our current political system, one of the two major parties is going to capture the presidency and no matter how one feels about the Democratic nominee, a Republican president is going to be far more disastrous for the economy (unless you are a billionaire or large corporation), for the environment (unless you live in a self-sustained eco-system), for civil rights and human rights (unless you are a racist, xenophobic, homophobic religious bigot) and for national security and foreign affairs (unless you are an oil company CEO or an arms manufacturer).
Exhibit A remains Ralph Nader's third-party effort in 2000. This was a self-indulgent, quixotic exercise that -- like John Anderson's run -- had no discernible positive impact on the political landscape. Unlike Anderson's campaign, however, Nader's folly did usher into power a Republican: George W. Bush, one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons why Bush won that have nothing to do with Nader -- his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, ran a tepid, centrist campaign, the mainstream media bought a false right wing narrative about Gore's dishonesty and ignored Bush's less than compassionate conservatism and, of course, there were the shenanigans in Florida and the Supreme Court's "crudely partisan" decision that handed Bush the presidency. But, it cannot be denied that without Nader, the outcome in Florida would not have been an issue and Al Gore would have become the 43rd president of the United States.
Think about what the world would be like if Nader had declined to run (at least in battleground states) or his supporters realized the dangers of a Bush presidency and eschewed their protest vote. No hanging chads. Perhaps no 9/11. Perhaps no Great Recession. Certainly no Iraq War, no Guantanamo and no torture. An efficient and humane response to Katrina. Less oil drilling and more meaningful efforts to combat climate change. A liberal majority on the Supreme Court with no Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alioto. No Citizens United. Dick Cheney as a mere footnote to history. I could go on and on.
Undeterred, Ralph Nader does go on and on, continuing to be unsafe at any speed. He is unapologetic, myopic and arrogant as ever. For him, the system is corrupt, there are no lesser evils, and any compromise that might entail voting for a less-than-pure candidate is nothing short of unconditional surrender to corruption. For him, there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. For him, there apparently is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The Nader Debacle should have buried once and for all this cynical, self-defeating argument that there is no substantive difference between the two parties. But even if this inconvenient truth has not shamed us into having a more pragmatic view of presidential politics, we only need to look at the horror of Donald Trump to realize that we are not talking about voting for the lesser of two evils. There is only one evil.
Progressive-minded folks who think it is better to sit out the election or vote for a third-party candidate should consider how the next president's choices for the Supreme Court will impact our political, social, environmental and justice systems for generations. (Read This: The Fucking Supreme Court) Outraged by the corrosive effect of money on elections? A liberal Supreme Court could overturn Citizens United, while a conservative one would expand its reach
And think about how much harder it would be to make any progressive gains with conservatives in control? Thomas Geoghegan is absolutely right:
The odd thing is, if you want the Left to come back, you have to put the center-left in power. It sounds paradoxical, but it's true: Give people a little taste of equality and they will want even more. The women's movement, the civil rights movement, the huge egalitarian transformations of the 1960s came about in large part because of the much more egalitarian and prosperous country created by the New Deal and yes, the Great Society itself. Let any Republican get in and it will always go the other way.Voting for Gary Johnson by anyone who considers themselves even moderately liberal would be as nuts as he appears to be. At least Ralph Nader had a progressive platform. Johnson not only continues to have inexcusable "Aleppo moments," but he would admittedly do nothing to combat climate change, he favors privatizing everything from schools to prisons, and he has a fiscally conservative vision that requires massive across the board spending cuts that would gut poverty and other social programs, spending on infrastructure, and Wall Street regulation.
Sure, he's anti-war and pro-pot, but his libertarian principles, as Michael Tomasky points out lead him to this:
Johnson shrugs his shoulders at climate change and doesn’t think the government has any business addressing it. He supports the Citizens United decision and thinks donors should be able to spend “as much money as they want.” He backs the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which I would think most young people oppose strongly, after listening to Bernie Sanders inveigh against it for a year. Speaking of Bernie, Johnson opposes tuition-free college. He’s against a federal minimum wage—that’s right, any federal minimum wage (although sometimes his answers are so wandering and circumlocutory that it can be hard to tell). And as to guns, he told Slate in 2011: “I don't believe there should be any restrictions when it comes to firearms. None.”What would a vote for Gary Johnson symbolize?
And a vote for Jill Stein? Geoghegan points out the irony: "Should such a Green vote indirectly put the GOP in power, it is the end of the Paris Accords on Global Warming. It's not just that the United States would drop out—with the U.S. gone, other countries would, too. What would be the point of any other country complying? This would be devastating to the global—not to mention the planet."
The Onion brilliantly spoofed the "precious little voter who needs to feel inspired by a candidate," noting "how important it is for him to find a campaign that stirs genuine optimism and enthusiasm in its supporters." Far more seriously, the great Bryan Stevenson bluntly remarked on the level of privilege it takes to decide not to vote (or to throw away one's vote on a third-party candidate) because the candidates are flawed: "I don't know this world, where you get to pick the people who only work perfectly for you." As he says, "If you don't want to vote for yourself, vote for the marginalized. Vote for the people in this country who are suffering from oppression and inequality and abuse."