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Why I Voted Third Party: Obama is Not the Lesser Evil

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I've promised myself in the past not to engage in heated political debates online or even to write about politics at all. Recently, however, I have been roused from my usual state of apathetic cynicism and conviction that fretting about the outcome of political contests is futile by a frequent blogger at named Tom Cordle, who has penned a series of impassioned exercises in special pleading for reelecting President Obama. Mr. Cordle has argued that while Obama is a disappointment, Romney is a potential monster from hell, a diabolical genie who will be unleashed upon us all if we rub his magic lantern by electing him. Implicit in Cordle's beating of the drum for Obama is his assumption that there are substantial differences between the candidates, otherwise, there'd be no difference who gets elected and Cordle wouldn't be breaking a sweat alternately demonizing Romney and exhorting readers to excuse Obama's failures and reelect him. In seemingly each post, Cordle makes sure to ridicule, if not damn as irresponsible, anyone who votes for a third-party candidate.

Since this argument--let's call it the lesser evil is still good defense--is routinely put forth by supporters of candidates from both major parties during elections, and because I found Mr. Cordle's expression of it to be risible and typical of the reasoning proponents of this line employ, I have been moved to explain my rationale for voting for a third-party candidate in the current presidential election. A third-party voter is an impractical sort who searches for a saint, not a man, to elect, says Cordle. Such impractical dreamers in search of perfection, we are constantly reminded, lost Al Gore the presidency, a claim that has already been disproven. Gore's might-have-been presidential actions are grist for infinite speculation, but anyone who believes that Democratic presidents are constitutionally reluctant to initiate wars are ignorant of history, including recent history. Just look at Barack Obama, who, shortly after becoming president, committed an additional 33,000 troops to the failed occupation in Afghanistan, and who expanded the war into Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; and violated the War Powers Act by committing U. S. military forces to assist the rebels in Libya without Congressional approval. (See also Dennis Perrin's book, Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War.)

We must be practical, Cordle insists, and vote for the lesser evil, lest we become saddled with the greater evil. This rests upon the assumption that Obama is somehow less awful than Romney: that he is actually the lesser evil. Sadly, it isn't so. Romney and Obama are like two varieties of vanilla ice cream. Only the containers appear different. In foreign and domestic policy, there's minuscule cosmetic or strategic differences in how they intend to pursue their goals, but the problem is that their goals are identical. In foreign policy, both believe that the U.S. should wield aggressive military force to maintain hegemonic control over the rest of the world and crush any country that dares to disobey us.

In domestic policy, both represent the interests of the corporate plutocracy that feels entitled to amass as much wealth as they can suck up with legal impunity. Both candidates accept the premise that we are on the verge of a financial apocalypse caused by the budget deficit. Both plan to deal with the deficit by imposing cruel austerity measures, Romney with the Ryan budget; Obama by implementing the Simpson-Bowles plan. Both approaches substantially reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits to those least able to endure a decrease in their standard of living.

Choosing between these two candidates is like answering a question from a marauder armed with a shotgun who asks you whether you'd prefer him to blow off your left leg or your right leg.

I'm not looking for a perfect president or a saint. I am looking for someone who will actually attempt to honor his inaugural oath to uphold and protect the Constitution, a president who sees his primary duty in governing to "provide for the general welfare," rather than facilitate the interests of those who have everything they need but feel entitled to more at others' expense. Obama has failed miserably in carrying out those obligations. During his brief tenure in the Senate, he expanded the surveillance of Americans by voting to legalize warrantless wiretapping by the government and immunized telcoms who broke the law by doing so during the Bush administration. As president, he signed the NDAA, giving the president the power to arrest and indefinitely imprison a person without trial, negating the doctrine of habeas corpus, formerly one of the few remaining protections against a police state. Obama now routinely orders the extra-judicial assassination of others, including American citizens, based solely on his own determination of who's an enemy deserving of termination by a drone missile strike. Obama, the much-vaunted Constitutional scholar (despite never having one piece of legal writing demonstrating said scholarship published), has assumed the powers of jailor, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner and has seen to it that his successors will routinely wield these powers, which are the tools of tyrants -- clearly, he's a master multi-tasker. I am appalled. Mr. Cordle and his ilk deride those who dare criticize the president's policies from the left, calling them spoilsports on the "far left" or "hard left."

Those who argue that electing the putative lesser evil is the only good choice are the ones who are being impractical and unreasonable. Voting for someone whose record has demonstrated his contempt for the Constitution, and whose policies work to benefit not the least of us, but instead continue to defend, enrich, and coddle the best off among us, yet expecting him to act differently once he has been returned to office is delusional.

Just vote for the admittedly terrible Democrat, Cordle's argument goes, because he's a hairsbreadth less awful than the Republican, and work within the system. That's propaganda straight out of a junior high civics textbook. It is a bullcon designed to perpetuate the two-party duopoly that closes the noose around our necks ever tighter with each election.

I've heard it since I began voting 36 years ago. Millions of voters have been following that advice election after election for decades, and we are now farther than ever from creating a genuinely progressive electoral majority. Rather, it has cemented in place the two-part duopoly whereby electoral democracy has become a hollowed-out facade for the corporate plutocracy that owns and runs this country. Voting for Obama only perpetuates this awful system and reduces the likelihood of any systemic change. 

Voting for something you don't want always guarantees getting something you don't want. It's the height of illogic. The only way to change a system is to stop supporting it and start supporting alternatives. Romney and Obama are the two-faced Janus fronting for the robber barons who are creating the new gilded age we live in. Neither will change anything. Obama has demonstrated it. Romney has only announced his intentions. Both support the same status quo. In closing, I'm reminded of two quotations, both of which, ironically, were inculcated from high school history texts.

"One man with courage is a majority" -- Thomas Jefferson

"Make sure you're right, then go ahead." -- Davy Crockett
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Peter Winkler is the author of Dennis Hopper: the Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel (Barricade Books, 2011). Filmmaker Philippe Mora says, "I knew Dennis Hopper in his wild days and his sober days. Winkler's deeply researched biography is the (more...)
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