With the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, Americans are settling on their decision for who would best take their country in the right direction and serve their interests. Most view the political system with cynicism. Most see the two dominant political parties, Democratic and Republican, as serving the interests of corporations and the financial elite, but not their own. Many feel disenfranchised. Many feel that to participate in a system that merely perpetuates the status quo without offering any hope for real change is to grant it legitimacy when it deserves none. And, if past trends are any indication, most won't vote.
Among those who will cast their ballot, most, even those who will vote along party lines, view both Barack Obama and John McCain with skepticism. They are both seen negatively, both representing the established order. But one or the other of them is viewed as the lesser evil. To keep the greater evil out of power, a vote for the lesser one becomes necessary.
This remains true even when there are alternatives to the Democratic and Republican candidates, and even when the alternative candidates are seen far more as representing American interests and far less as being corrupted. A great many voters will vote for who they see as a lesser evil rather than who they see as actually being a good candidate because they so greatly fear the possibility of the greater evil gaining power.
This voting strategy is deeply ingrained. During the 2000 election, Ralph Nader was an extraordinarily popular candidate, particularly among the left. He was seen as far more worthy than the Democratic candidate Al Gore. And yet many liberals who shared that view chastised their fellow leftists for casting their vote for Nader, particularly when it came down to the Florida election.
The reasoning is straightforward: voting for Nader meant not voting for Gore, which meant George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, had a better chance of winning. Voting for Nader helped ensure a Bush win, the argument goes, because liberals might swing their vote away from Gore, but conservatives were less likely to do so. Nader didn't have nearly as good a chance as winning as Gore, and so the strategic goal of keeping Bush from power meant voting for Gore even if Nader was the better candidate.
While this appears to be a perfectly logical argument and pragmatic voting strategy, it is rooted upon a number of fallacies. First and foremost is the deeply ingrained belief that alternative candidates don't have a chance of winning, and so to vote for one would mean "wasting" your vote.
This year, the most extraordinary candidate was, hands down, Ron Paul. He was extremely popular, and remains so after having withdrawn his candidacy. He made waves in America, and, despite being old enough to be their grandfather, spoke to a whole new generation of voters that are disillusioned with business as usual in Washington. His position on the issues make sense and Americans recognized that he represented real change. The fact that he was even in the running gave hope to many that the U.S. political system might actually be able to function as the founding fathers intended, that a restoration of the American Republic based upon the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land might be possible.
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Still, one could turn on the TV and watch news reports where people on the street are interviewed about their preference of candidates and see people saying things like, "I really like Ron Paul. I think he's the best candidate. I like his position on the issues, and he makes sense. But he doesn't have much chance of winning, so I'm probably going to vote for Barack Obama."
Therein lies another fallacy. People don't vote for who they actually like for the presidency based upon their opinion of whether or not they think it is likely that they will win. The "we have to ensure the greater evil doesn't gain power" mindset wins out over "we have to ensure the best candidate wins". But, of course, strict adherence to this electoral strategy can only result in the self-perpetuation of the same political process they they are so disillusioned with in the first place.
The truth is that the only reason a candidate like Ron Paul is "unlikely" to win an election is because people won't vote for him. And they won't vote for him because they think he's unlikely to win, which of course results in the self-fulfillment of that reality.
The American people need to recognize that an alternate reality exists, and that the way to bring it about requires merely a shift in paradigm. American voters should shift their electoral strategy from seeking to put the lesser of evils into power to seeking to elect the force for the greatest good.
There are, of course, those who already adhere to this alternative framework. If there were a few more among their numbers, alternative candidates like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader would gain more votes. They might still lose. But does voting for a losing candidate mean one's vote has been wasted? How much more wasted is a vote that goes towards the lesser evil? You've still voted for the perpetuation of evil.
Far more worthy alternative candidates might still lose, but it wouldn't mean votes were wasted. The increased percentage of the votes that went towards them would send a powerful message to Washington. It would encourage more people in the next election to do the same and vote their conscience, rather than adhering to a voting strategy that virtually guarantees nothing will ever substantially change.
Eventually, the number of votes being cast towards alternative candidates would be enough that the message from the American public could no longer be ignored. Even if still resulting in a loss for the worthiest candidate, it would remain a win for the American public, because whichever evil from whichever party did win the election would be under far greater pressure to implement real reform.
And for Americans who don't believe their voice is heard in Washington or that public pressure has any effect, simple refresher course in history could remind them that advancements in society are not made at the behest of government or the ruling class, but only by pressure from the masses reaching a tipping point. Politicians don't go out on a limb to promote radical change on their own accord. They have to be pushed out there under massive public pressure and under the fear that one's constituency might very well vote one out of power if one doesn't do precisely what they are publicly demanding.
One of the most effective means by which the American people could send a message to Washington would be by voting. There's every reason to be cynical of the political system in the U.S. But there's no reason for despair. There is hope. And there are individuals working within the system representing real hope and real change. More Americans need to take the time to stay informed and get engaged in the political process. And of those Americans who do vote each election, more need to recognize that the "lesser of evil" strategy only perpetuates the framework wherein it remains a choice between evils.
The only real voting strategy that can offer real hope for change is the one wherein Americans vote their conscience and cast their ballot for the candidate they think is truly the most worthy to be called by the title of President of the United States of America.
Until Americans realize this, then there will indeed remain little hope for the future.
Jeremy R. Hammond is the owner, editor, and principle writer for Foreign Policy Journal, a website dedicated to providing news, critical analysis, and commentary on U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the "war on terrorism" and events (more...