In Defense of "Third Parties"

Truth be told, I've always been suspect of the term "Third Party." Sure, those described as such are not major parties, but the differences among them are significant, and in my experience, many have members that are just as into their Parties as Democrats and Republicans are. I know that I like to vote for people, and I believe everyone should have that option and exercise their choice accordingly. 

Voting does carry responsibility, of course. Unlike many Democrats I know, I don't begrudge Ralph Nader or those who voted for him for the 2000 election. In fact, if anything, 2000 was the education that we as the voting public more broadly needed. While all eyes were on Florida, New Hampshire also could have swung the election. Bush beat Gore but just over 7,000 votes, and just over 22,000 voters picked Nader. 

Since then, of course, there have been "vote swaps" during some years - people in deep blue states agreeing to vote for the Green if someone in a swing state votes for the Democrat. The Bush years (and his Supreme Court appointments) have taught us at least one thing - ideological purity carries a risk. It is up to the individual voter to decide whether that risk is worth it to themselves, and to historically marginalized communities that will have to live with that choice. 

There is no doubt that our two-party system is not working out particularly well for some significant swaths of our population. When combined with a news media that is more interested in entertainment than information, it's not at all surprising that meaningful discussion on the issues impacting folks is rare to find. 

When I see people say they are going to vote for a third party, particularly on the left, I decline to publicly begrudge them. In Washington, we have made it so difficult for third-parties to be part of the conversation (thanks to our "top two" primary), I can really understand the frustration. 

There is something to be said, though, about how far ideological purity must be taken. Earlier this season, for instance, Jill Stein Tweeted about an online "test" she had taken, and it showed that her positions were 91% matched with Hillary Clinton. Her Tweet was implying that that is not good enough. As a white physician with significant wealth living in Massachusetts, I can see why: a Donald Trump presidency comes with little to no risk to her directly. 

This is the rub. This is why I privately cringe. Because the reality is that there are two viable candidates for the President of the United States. One has promised to do things that will disrupt families, set up racist and Islamaphobic immigration and foreign policies, work to ban abortion (and punish women who choose abortion), and do permanent damage to our environment. Not to mention the tax policies and how they would adversely impact low and middle-wage workers, along with destroying the social safety net. Oh - and someone who is a serial sexual abuser that thinks it's perfectly fine because he's "famous." 

So when you agree with someone 91% of the time - or even 80% - I think there is a question you have to ask yourself about what's more important: your safe ideological purity, or the greater good for our nation? That is something I really don't understand. 

Working at the grassroots level to elect third party candidates makes sense. And sometimes that even means playing by the major-party game around fundraising. It also means, more generally, being involved beyond a single Party in community groups, boards and commissions, and volunteering on issue campaigns you support. 

In the interim, until there is a credible, viable third-party candidate nationally, it is important to check your personal values, and what impact will be had if someone you disagree with 91% is elected because 91% agreement wasn't enough for you. Pretending that a third-party candidate is viable for President is just that: pretending. And the damage that can happen because of a lack of grassroots Party building leading to electing people to Legislatures and Congress, but still demanding ideological purity is significant. 

Voting is about choices. And those choices often go beyond the candidates on the ballot.