parties by the allegiants of the major parties:
"They're political locusts, noisy and bothersome as they emerge like
clockwork from their hidey holes. We're talking "third partiers," and
they find presidential elections irresistible, so brace yourself,
America. You are about to be swarmed by those much holier than thou.
"Their four-year life cycle means third partiers disappear between
elections, but, as usual, they are now climbing onto their soapboxes to
declare that neither major-party candidate is acceptable to their
refined tastes. They alone are looking for the last, best leader of the
"The rest of us, on the other hand, are zombies being hoodwinked by
Democrats and Republicans, so third partiers are here to save us from
our stupid selves. You know, like better angels and public-television
The author of the above, Michael Goodwin, is generally sensible on
specific matters of public policy, but in the cited column he reveals
that he suffers from a rather common political malady: he fails to
understand that there are reasons to cast a ballot OTHER than to elect a
particular candidate. Indeed, in his very next paragraph, he reveals the
cause of his infection:
"The noisy demand for other choices is a post-primary ritual, and the
most predictable part is that the pols the elitists find acceptable all
share one thing: They are unelectable. What a coincidence!"
(Elitists, eh? That's ironic, embedded as it is in the midst of a
contemptuous dismissal of those who don't share Goodwin's parimutuel
view of elections. But perhaps I should stay on point.)
Note the critical word: UNELECTABLE. Goodwin's entire tirade rests on
that word. In his view, if a candidate is "unelectable," then there's no
reason to vote for him.
True, third-party candidates seldom win elections. It happens, now and
then, but only once has a third party elected a president. Of course,
that president -- Abraham Lincoln -- was somewhat consequential, but no
matter. The usual venue for a third-party victory is in a local election
for a town or county functionary.
But third-party candidacies can sway an election's results. Indeed,
Goodwin makes mention of Ross Perot's candidacy in 1992, which is
credited with having given the White House to Bill Clinton. In 2000,
Democrats blamed Pat Buchanan's presidential candidacy for costing Al
Gore the state of Florida, and therefore the election. In 2008, Norm
Coleman lost his United States Senate seat to comedian Al Franken by a
margin smaller than the number of votes cast for Libertarian candidate
Charles Aldrich. Similar cases abound.
I contend that each such event is a moment for introspection and
correction by the candidate who feels he "ought to" have won. Why did
those precious votes go to an "unelectable" candidate? Why didn't those
voters realize that they were "throwing away" their ballots by casting
them thus? Why didn't they "do the right thing" and vote for the
electable lesser of two evils, as good Americans are supposed to do?
The questions practically answer themselves. Those third-party voters
were expressing an opinion that, if heeded, might have given the
defeated candidate the office he sought. That opinion: "You're not good
enough for us."
George H. W. Bush didn't lose the White House because votes that were
properly his were somehow misdirected to Ross Perot; he lost it because
he'd broken virtually every promise he'd made while campaigning for the
presidency in 1988. Conservative voters who felt an obligation to vote,
but whose consciences forbade them to vote for a president who'd
betrayed his trust, expressed their convictions with third-party votes:
for Perot; for Libertarian candidate Andre Marrou, for Constitution
Party candidate Howard Phillips, and others who received lesser totals.
Third parties are one of the few vehicles disgusted voters can use to
express that disgust. Indeed, the closer to one another the Republican
and the Democrat candidate become in policy prescriptions and overall
philosophy of governance, the more Americans will choose neither, and
will make it plain with a third-party ballot. The extreme effort the
major parties have exerted to prevent third parties from receiving
visibility that could confer "legitimacy" on them speaks volumes to this
effect. If they could do so, the kingmakers of the major parties would
contrive to deny ballot access to anyone but their own candidates. An
impermeable duopoly of the electoral process would suit them far better
than our current, wide-open scheme.
There are occasions when the stakes are so extraordinarily high that a
third-party ballot is unwise -- when the lesser of the two major-party
evils must be installed in office, because the alternative is bringing
disaster down upon the nation. The elections of 2012 strike me as such
an occasion, for which reason I'll hold my nose and vote straight-ticket
Republican this coming November. But under other circumstances, I'd
disdain to vote for managerial-statist Republican Mitt Romney for
president; I'd direct my ballot to a candidate whose principles more
closely accord with my own.
Voting, by which we express our willingness to confer power on a
candidate, is always a matter of conscience. No columnist has the
authority to override that still small voice. Don't allow them to sway
you from the course your conscience directs.