I don’t like Obama.
There. I said it. I think he’ll go down in history as a mediocre president — not a bad one, just one who didn’t change a flawed system at all, who was so focused on being moderate and compromising that there was no hope of any significant change. I also think his foreign policy is bloody-handed and disastrous, and if you’re interested in church-state separation and secular government, I’m sorry, but he’s had you all fooled. He’s not a closet atheist, but quite the opposite.
But next week, I’m going to go into the voting both and punch that ballot next to Obama’s name.
I’m not happy about it.
Here’s the problem: we’ve all been played. All of the focus is on the presidential election, in a winner-take-all two party system. And the presidential election is a distraction. It’s been reduced to a numbers game, a horse race where policies don’t matter, and all you have left to do is to pick one out of two. All the work has been done before you enter the voting booth, and that work is aimed at limiting your choices. So this time around, your choice is the evangelical Christian who brags about killing terrorists while making incremental improvements to the economy, or the Mormon robot who’s going to serve as a slave to the bankers and merchants of greed who destroy the economy, or nothing. So you try to pick the lesser of two evils.
I know what people will say. You have to vote on your principles, or nothing will change. When I just look at the issues, I agree: I ought to vote for Jill Stein, whose stand on just about everything agrees with mine. (Don’t tell me about Gary Johnson — I look at his positions and see a selfish moron who’d be worse than Romney). But Jill Stein isn’t going to win, and my vote would be thrown away, and worse, Jill Stein is throwing away her time and effort in a quixotic race that has already been decided. It will be one of two. The two are fixed. Third party candidates are a snare and an illusion.
I’m not saying that we’re doomed, though, just that the presidential race is the wrong place to effect change.
The right place is everywhere else. Maybe the primary campaigns would be better: we need to get candidates in place that don’t require us to hold our noses in order to vote for them. The Republican field is always a race to find the one candidate just crazy enough to satisfy a badly deranged base, while not so obviously crazy as to alienate everyone else, so forget them. The Democrats always seem to be looking for the moderate who won’t really change the system (that would be scary) and who will inspire just enough to squeak into office…but not inspire so much that people will wake up to our problems. I suspect that both parties will fundamentally resist change.
So maybe that’s not even the best place to work on fixing the election system. Especially in this election, the power of incumbency is so great that no one was even going to look seriously at an alternative to Obama.
You know where the elections really matter, where you really have a choice? At the local level. The Green Party is stupid to throw so much effort into a presidential campaign right now — they ought to be focused on building a base. I would vote for a Green for city council or district representative in a heartbeat. And once they’ve built a deep party structure, they become serious candidates for higher office, because they will have the backing of people doing good work on the ground.
This is the same advice we give to people fighting creationism. Run for local school boards, because that’s where you can make a difference. Our opponents know that; these small offices are packed with ideologically conservative Christians who can have an effect far greater than their numbers should allow. While you’re focused on who is running for president, they’ve placed a team of cretins on local government to stymie any progressive, rational efforts towards bettering the country.
Stein has served two terms as a town meeting representative in Lexington, Massachusetts, which is a good start. But we’d have been better served if she’d then moved up to a county or district office, instead of leaping for governor (failed) or president (doomed). She ran for the house of representatives, once, and lost…I’d rather she tried for that again. And I’d rather see Green Party candidates appearing all over the place, on zoning boards and city councils and school boards, rather than gambling on presidencies and governorships where they’ll preside over an army of Democrats and Republicans who’ll feel no loyalty at all to them.
So ignore the presidential campaign. We know we’re going to be stuck with the lesser of two evils, so just get it done. But what we people need to do next, and what we can do in this election, is vote everywhere else for third party candidates who better fit your values, and most importantly, donate and campaign for those candidates. Personally, I know that in the future my political donations (they aren’t much, I’m not a wealthy guy, so I’ll be realistic) will be aimed towards parties other than the Democrats. Any Greens looking for local office? Labor? Socialists? You can have my pennies. Democrats? Not until you acquire the vision to nominate real liberals and progressives. Until you stand for something other than not-Republican.