Bear with me.
First let me be clear that I’m not a Romney fan — that’s not what my angle is here.
My angle is on the two-party system we have now, and the deleterious effects it’s been having on this country.
It’s very simple (I’ll go into more detail in a moment): with only two parties, and everyone essentially required to vote for one or the other, any issue on which the parties are the same ends up being almost completely uncontested, and nothing they agree on changes. I believe Obama and Romney are very similar, and typical of the major political parties; thus I hope that in a campaign between the two of them people will be free to pay attention to so-called “third-party” issues and those issues could get more serious mainstream attention, hopefully leading to real change.
Allow me to elaborate.
In this country, with the system the way it is, we are almost all essentially required to vote for one or the other party based solely upon our stance on a couple social issues. Namely: reproductive rights, gay rights, religious rights, health rights. That’s about it, although there plenty of other stances which the parties claim as their own. But those barely matter: if you’re a liberal who believes in the right to abortion, goodness help you if you are economically aligned with the Republicans; and the same with vice versa, if you’re a no-abortion-rights voter who is otherwise aligned with the Democrats. And what’s worse, as far as I’m concerned, is that you’ve got no accepted voting path if you are on either side of one of these debates but don’t favor either party otherwise.
This is how it works. The two parties toss back and forth these couple (very important) political footballs. The pitch of moral outrage on both sides is so high that to do anything but vote for the candidate who nominally supports your side of the cause is moral suicide. If you’re a pro-gay rights liberal, for instance, but vote for the Green Party because you don’t like the Democrats’ position on war or are unimpressed with their commitment to the environment (and you may personally feel that global warming is a graver cause than gay rights when forced to choose) you may be pilloried as, at best, naïve and, at worst, homophobic for not comprehending the gravity of the issue (even if you’re LGBTQ yourself). Same goes for a conservative who votes, say, for the Libertarians; you’ll likely be crucified as a “supporter of the gay agenda” for not going whole-hog to the Republicans.
Note that it doesn’t matter which side you’re on — this is bad for everybody. Please note also that I’m just referencing the gay rights debate as an example.
I hate with a fiery passion — utterly loathe — this pervasive idea that the other guy is so COMPLETELY EVIL that to merely give him a slightly better chance of winning by voting for a third party is an evil act. In my personal mission to understand what people everywhere actually think, I prefer to read blogs from all sides of the political sphere (uh, spheres have sides, right?). It’s clear to me that the Republican blogosphere holds Obama to be an antichrist who will doom this country if given another 4 years (or who has “destroyed” it already); and so he MUST be voted out of office, even if his eventual Republican opponent is not one the blogger really likes at all. The way the Democratic blogs have been reacting to the crop of GOP candidates, a similar attitude comes from the left; so you better vote for Obama if you have a conscience. This kind of rhetoric is both poisonous and chilling to (lowercase) democratic choice.
The person we elect President (and the persons we elect to the Congress) are responsible for decisions affecting many, many issues. Each and every one of us who is engaged at least a little bit in society has opinions on many of these issues. But most of our opinions don’t seem to matter; all the opinions are bundled up in two neat prix fixe menus, two separate and completely divided packages. Anyone with a total set of beliefs that mix the stances of the Democrats and Republicans — which is extremely likely, given how strict each party line is — is forced to compromise, and the culture war has already decided which couple issues are the deciding ones. These two packages are both labeled “Gay marriage, legal abortion, universal health care?” — but one is stamped with “Yes!” and the other “No!” Make your choice, and I hope you like what’s inside.
This is, at the very least, 2 packages too few. From here,
But I truly don’t believe that the parties are all that different once in federal office. (At the state level is another matter.) They play political football, as mentioned, at the federal level with those couple of issues, and they do whatever they can to appear contrary and obstructionist towards the other side in order to bolster their own side, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, in actual policy history, they’re more closely identical than any party member would ever admit. To wit:
2) Both parties are completely in bed with corporations and big money — officials of both parties sell their votes, engage in pork and earmarking, pass through the revolving door into lobbying firms, all the while hypocritically attacking the other party for doing the same. Both parties support corporate welfare and subsidies, they just differ in which industries they favor and how, and the Democrats give more lip service to worker’s rights.
3) Both parties are pro-war and pro-military-industrial expansion; again, the Democrats give more lip service to the peace movement.
4) Both parties are anti-immigration and anti-immigrant on the whole, although they both give lip service slightly more to one or the other side.
5) Both parties are authoritarian. Authoritarian to the extreme. (Most of the other similarities come down to this.) Both stand behind or ignore police abuse, both support the massive prison system (which is likely to imprison one third of young black males in the course of their lifetime, amongst many, many other troubling statistics), both support the drug war.
6) Both parties have either idly allowed or actively pursued greater abuses of human rights on the part of the government. Military torture, extraordinary rendition, outsourcing of security, suspension of constitutional rights, subversion of warrants and oversight, deep secrecy, and now even assassination of Americans without trial. No one with as much power as the two parties hold gives up that power willingly, especially when they seem to genuinely believe they are using it “right.”
Again, bear in mind I’m mainly talking at the federal level here, not at the state level, nor about actual individual citizens who identify as Republicans or Democrats. Also, when looking at charts and things, try and remember who was in Congress is as important as the White House — 2007 through 2009 was Republican President, Democratic Congress.
These are the most prominent and terrifying examples to my mind, although you can argue all day about how much the parties really differ on essential questions of education, foreign policy, etc. But whichever issues you think they disagree on, you have to recognize that, because those issues are batted around a lot, they are changeable and subject to review, media attention and challenge.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe very strongly in reproductive rights, gay rights, etc., and I don’t believe any of those “football” issues are unimportant. I just have two problems. One, I utterly hate the idea that any individual person can’t judge for themself which issues they deem the most important in any given election, in particular giving consideration to how much they think each candidate for whichever office can actually alter the issue [for example I personally don’t believe the fight for gay rights is going to be decided as much at the federal level, so that issue will influence my voting more in a state race than in a national one].
Two, it scares me that any issue which, as the ones I listed above, is essentially agreed upon by the two parties gets left out of the debate. Everyone MUST vote, by the national moral imperative imposed on the election, for one or the other party based only on the issues they differ in; thus any issue they agree on is moot, and disagreement with their shared position is portrayed as superfluous, radical or fringe. Well that’s where I split off. I don’t think unhindered assassination of American citizens is something I can just accept as a necessary consequence of supporting one side of the gay marriage debate. And that’s not even getting into those other 5 issues (don’t get me started on the consequences of the drug war).
now with context instead of a pun
So what does all this have to do with being glad for Romney’s probable nomination?
I believe that Romney and Obama are very similar. (Romneycare?) I think Romney tries to play up his conservative side to win the nomination, but he is basically a corporate-style authoritarian moderate. There are differences between them, of course, but I feel like the only two reasons Romney is a Republican at all and not a Democrat are 1) he’s religious and 2) he’s a businessman, and, in this country, Those Kinds of People Are Republicans. Period.
I believe that a lot of people in this country, on both “sides,” have been getting increasingly fed up with runaway government, abuses of power, and expanding authoritarianism. I suspect that, if the two Presidential candidates are as similar as Obama and Romney, there will be an opening for either Ron Paul (who I dislike, personally, but who is notably committed to decreasing government) or a third party candidate (like Gary Johnson, who I personally think of as “Ron Paul minus the crazy”) to influence the national debate.
No, I’m not insane, and I don’t think a third party will win. If the economy is good, Obama wins, if it’s poor, the Republican wins, that’s the way it is. But the debate is what counts to me. I want for “libertarian” ideals to become accepted in the mainstream, as people realize that while these two candidates are super similar in a lot of ways, this other guy is talking a lot of sense. I want for these ideals (no killing Americans without trial, no ridiculous drug war, no corporate welfare) to not be seen as “libertarian” anymore, because to most people “libertarian” means either Ron Paul Zombie or backwoods survivalist nutso or some other bad stereotype. I want for not-killing-Americans-without-trial ideals, and not-imprisoning-Americans-willy-nilly ideals, and not-socializing-risk-while-privatizing-profits ideals to be seen once again as basic, moral, American, and realistic. I don’t want to live in a country where torture, abuse and tyranny are accepted norms while we fight over (important) matters like reproductive and marriage rights — I want all of the rights issues to be on the table.
This is barely possible in a two-party system. A two-party system will inevitably marginalize any view that the two parties agree on, as well as any person’s complete set of views if that set does not align perfectly within either party’s boundaries. If we had a preferential voting system on the other hand… but that’s another essay. We’re stuck with this for the time being.
Now, I may be wrong about a lot of things. Romney may not be getting the nomination; there may be a brokered convention or who knows what. And I don’t know if he’d bolster his conservative cred with his choice of VP, thus creating greater differences between the two campaigns (see: McCain and Palin). But I do know that if Santorum, for instance, is the nominee (or Romney’s VP), then the national debate will be framed around these football issues, and the Massive Government Steamroller will continue to roll on unquestioned. I personally feel the best chance these issues have to come to the forefront is if the two candidates are too much the same. I hope that the Republicans who loathe Obama will also see Romney as a liberal-in-conservative’s-clothing, and pay attention to “libertarian” issues; I hope that Democrats who have been put off by Obama’s failure to live up to some of his promises will find Romney to be so unchallenging that they’ll consider paying attention to these other issues. Hope hope hope. Change change change?
To conclude, I again note that you may disagree with me about a lot of these points. You may genuinely feel that, actually, the federal Democrats or Republicans are very different on one or more of those 6 major issues I listed. You may genuinely feel that Romney is a far cry from Obama, or vice versa. You may genuinely feel that those 6 major issues are fine the way they are. You may even genuinely feel that the best way for those issues to have a chance is if the Republican candidate is more extreme, because you see Obama as far-left and suspect that if he faces far-right Santorum, then that leaves space for a true moderate (and government-abuse-reducing) candidate to pop in. I just want to be clear that my argument here is based on certain assumptions, so if you disagree, make sure you know which assumption(s) you disagree with me on.
Thoughts? Feelings? Virtual pies for my face? Am I hopelessly chauvinistic for thinking even an inch of ground on reproduction or gay rights can be allowed? Am I to be shunnnnnnnnned for sympathizing with “libertarian” ideals? Please comment below or on Twitter or Facebook. I know I’m just one random guy in some anonymous nook of the blogosphere with like a dozen readers who may or may not even read through to the end of each post, but silence is deafening. Give me an “I don’t know if I agree, but that’s an interesting point of view there, Brett” if nothing else. Thank you.