Why isn’t this a four-way race for President?
That’s a rhetorical question, largely. We all know the answer(s). This is a two-party race because we are in a two-party system. You can get into the science of why we are in a two-party system if you like, but, culturally, we remain in a two-party system because we operate under a set of assumed rules:
1) Any candidate or party outside of the two parties is systemically inexperienced, hopelessly sequestered or mind-blowingly extremist.
2) Voting for someone outside of the two parties marks you as a naive utopian, a deluded iconoclast or a brash extremist.
3) Voting for someone outside of the two parties is a wasted vote, and damages whichever two-party candidate you should otherwise support, thus making your third-party vote essentially a vote for your enemy; and this current election IS THE MOST IMPORTANT EVER, so you can’t do that.
4) The media talks only about the two parties and only permits party-line-toeing members of the two parties to participate in debates and major features.
5) The federal and state governments guarantee money and ballot access only to the two parties.
6) We live in a simple world where all ideologies can be charted on a straight line from left to right.
7) Politics is something for a person to be “into,” like model trains or death metal, so if you don’t feel connected to the politics of the two-party system, you’ll just decide you’re not “into” politics and become apathetic, instead of seeking out alternatives.
I think most people are aware of these rules in operation. I’m willing to bet that, no matter your ideology, rules number 2 and 3 up there are the ones that will make you vote for either Romney or Obama this November. Despite the title of this post, I’m not actually here to debate “why” the Libertarian and Green Parties have been marginalized and severely underdogged, but rather just to discuss, in brief, how unfortunate – even ridiculous – it is that they have been.
Look again at that pie chart up at the top. As discussed here, that Reason-Rupe poll (and a slightly different Gallup poll) revealed that the American electorate pretty neatly divides into fourths: liberals (roughly favoring social freedom, economic intervention), conservatives (social intervention, economic freedom), libertarians (freedom in all), and communitarians (intervention in all). A brief survey of this Wikipedia article will show you how much debate there is over how to define multiple axes of political alignment, but one thing is for certain: the single-axis, two-party conception is woefully inadequate, and almost definitely leaves as much as half of the American population not truly represented.
If every American were aware of the whole picture and felt they could vote freely, each of these parties should be drawing about a quarter of the vote:
1) Democrats (Barack Obama) – communitarians
2) Republicans (Mitt Romney) – conservatives
3) Libertarians (Gary Johnson) – libertarians
4) Greens (Jill Stein) – liberals
Let me back that up a bit. It’s obvious why the Libertarians should have the libertarian-leaning voters, and why the Republicans should have the conservative-leaning. But if you’ve paid attention, you’ll notice that Obama is not as socially progressive as Stein – or as economically interventionist. Stein’s positions balance out more with a true liberal – someone who economically feels big business is out of control, labor and the poor are under assault, and the rich are getting away with robbery; who socially feels that the drug war and massive prison system is a travesty, our civil liberties are compromised, immigration should be more free and gay marriage should be legal. Obama roughly matches with those economically interventionist positions (though not as much as Stein), but a look at his record shows he is socially misaligned with a liberal so identified.
As I’ve discussed before (in my post “Why I’m Glad Romney Is Going To Be The GOP Candidate” back in March, before Romney began to pander more to the conservative base), I personally feel the tragedy here is that as much as half of the people in our country are not represented by their own candidate of honest choice, whether because they have willfully chosen to vote against their principles under rules 2 and 3 above, or because they are not aware of that third party as a viable option because of all the rules in concert. While of course I have my own political stance, I think the best thing for this country as a whole is not for my favored candidate to win – it’s for everyone to vote honestly for a candidate who reasonably closely matches their values. I’m just as sad that conservatives, who I’m largely opposed to, don’t even have a great representative in Romney as I am sad that a true liberal or a libertarian has little chance of seeing their ideal candidate represented.
It’s ridiculous how much the two other parties have been marginalized because that means millions of people who fit them have willfully ignored them or refused to vote for them. That’s a massive, massive screwjob the two-parties are pulling, to convince fully half the country to support them against their nature and preference. Possibly more than half the country, in fact, if you consider 1) the moderates of the Gallup poll’s “mushy middle” to be a sizable, movable central force, and 2) Obama and Romney to not be that differentiated at all. (Sidenote: do yourself a favor and take the poll in that link to see where you fall. Or take one of the many other two-axis political polls out there, if you haven’t already. You may be surprised. I was.)
And it’s also, once again, a travesty that this is the case, because, as was my main point in the “Why I’m Glad Romney…” article, when you have just two out of four alignments represented, any view they agree on gets accepted as “normal” and “mainstream” and never gets debated. This means that, if it’s correct that Obama is communitarian and Romney is conservative, that any economically free viewpoint is quashed. And if that link in the paragraph above is accurate, and actually Obama and Romney are both kinda conservative, more or less, then that means any truly progressive, socially free viewpoint is discarded, as well. The libertarian American citizen loses. The truly liberal American citizen loses. The communitarian American citizen completely loses since we don’t even really have a candidate for them (have we even had one since William Jennings Bryan?). And, seeing as most conservatives seem pretty unhappy with Romney and Obama both, it seems like, really, everyone loses.
Simply increasing the viable parties to three, by somehow changing your/everyone’s minds, would give us a disproportionately massive increase in possible satisfaction for the voter and in the number of issues that would be suddenly up for real debate. Two parties = little choice. Three parties = a lot of choice. Four parties = spectacular choice.
I bring this all up because such a utopia seems tantalizingly close. (Or at least tantalizingly close to being tantalizingly close.) Both Stein and Johnson are showing fantastic numbers for third/fourth party candidates – two, three, as much as six or seven percent for either one in some states, leaps and bounds beyond the typical fraction of a percent that outside parties draw. That may be a long way from getting either close to winning the Presidency, but it does get them closer to claiming their “ideological quarter” of the pie, and certainly makes them both potential spoilers for the Big Two. It seems people are more and more recognizing how much the Blue-and-Red duo are leaving out, and the more some people jump ship for the Greens or Libertarians, the more the choice seems viable and sane.
Now I’m not going to ask you to consider voting for Stein or Johnson, because you feel the force of those rules just as much as I do, and you probably feel that either Romney or Obama would destroy the country and are compelled to vote for the other. I’m not asking you to look deeply into the positions of Johnson and Stein (or to be sure you’ve really examined Obama’s and Romney’s), or to ask whether those other two parties have candidates in your local races whom you could support. I’m not even asking you to get behind some attempt to change people’s minds by altering the language you use, like replacing “two-party system” with “four-party system,” or politely/annoyingly correcting people when they talk about “left” and “right,” or getting behind some slogan like “FOUR parties FOR choice” or “Vote From Conscience, Not From Fear.”
ALL that I am asking is two things from you: 1) I ask that you respect anyone whose views fall outside of the two-party half of the spectrum, regardless of whether they vote for that party which matches them or rather default to the big two; and 2) I ask that you be aware of the full effect of the choice we all make when we default our vote to the big two, and the ridiculous, unfortunate consequences of that choice.
Just the awareness and the respect – that’s all. Thank you for reading.
Definitely not asking you to even look at this image.