I’ve been reading a bit about how some voters plan to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein as a “protest vote” and I feel I need to talk about why that term bothers me so much.
I’m not bothered because they are voting for Johnson or Stein. That is absolutely their right. If someone is voting for either candidate because they honestly believe that candidate will do the best job as President, I’m completely behind their vote. Cast that fucker and be proud!
The protest vote movement, however, is a movement born of ignorance and – I’m going to get real here – laziness.
It takes virtually no effort to vote for a third-party candidate. In fact, you don’t even have to tell anyone you’ve done so. You can walk into a voting booth, check off a candidate so you can stick it to the two major parties, and walk out knowing your vote is completely private and nobody has to know.
Congratulations, welcome to the anonymous minority. Nobody is going to spend more than five minutes thinking about what you just did.
Let’s start with the basics of the two-party system. What do the Democrats and Republicans really want? To stay in power, right? I mean that’s obvious.
So why do they want to stay in power? Is it for the super awesome hot dogs on the national mall? Most of them don’t work in DC so on the local level, what are all these operatives trying to do? What is their sinister goal?
This may come as a surprise to those who hate all politicians but the goal of both the Democratic and Republican party is to make our lives better.
Now we can sit here and argue about how well they do but listen – the reason they do all of this stuff you hate is because they really want to make this country better.
Speaking as a liberal, I understand that conservatives in the Republican party want essentially the same things I do. They want a better country for themselves and their children. There is a gigantic divide between us on how we go about making our country better but the motivation is the same.
This goal, by the way, is identical to the goal of the Libertarians and the Greens and pretty much every other party out there. So you can’t be protesting the goal because there is nothing wrong with that goal. We all want the same thing.
Now you might have a problem with the special interest money that goes into this whole process and so do I. The other parties are proud of the fact they aren’t beholden to special interests.
So if you vote third-party to protest those third-party interests, you and I at least agree that it is a problem.
Where we don’t agree is on the solution.
Because protesting the Democrats and Republicans by voting for a third-party won’t get the money out of politics. What it will do instead is see to it that some of that special interest money starts going to other parties.
And you can think your party will turn it down because they have their integrity. In the end, though, they are going to realize that the only way to fight in the heavyweight division with the Democrats and Republicans is to play the same game. And that means you need money.
Where do you think that money is going to come from?
If you want to get the “dirty” money out of politics, you have to do something different. And I’d love to say I have a solution but I don’t.
You can start, though, by identifying what money is “dirty.” Maybe it’s all money. But that creates an entirely different problem. Until you know what money is “dirty,” you are going to have a hard time figuring out which money should go away.
So maybe you are protesting the whole two-party system. And yeah, I get that.
My question to you is this: do you think the Democrats and Republicans are going to look at whatever percentage Gary Johnson gets and think “damn, those voters are protesting the shit out of our control over American politics, let’s do a better job getting the Libertarians involved so voters have more choices at the polls?”
Are they going to say “holy shit, we had shitty options for President, let’s find ourselves some better candidates?”
I mean, don’t you think they are saying that already? The Republicans had over a dozen people running for President at one point and they were all losers. That they managed to nominate the most reprehensible of the lot says that it is the guy the majority of them wanted. You think Republicans aren’t asking themselves where they can find someone more likable the next time around?
Same with the Democrats and Hillary. Even if they like her, they probably wish they had someone people liked as much as – say – Obama.
So if your protest vote is saying “hey Democrats and Republicans, find someone I, that anonymous person in Georgia who voted for Jill Stein, would support”, good for you. They already know that you wanted someone else.
If you are protesting the corrupt machine that runs the two parties, let me ask you – do you think your vote is going to convince them to fix that machine?
Hell, do you even understand that machine? Have you gotten your hands dirty greasing that machine? Did you, angry Bernie Sanders voter, go to a caucus before this year? Did you, angry Ted Cruz voter, vote in last year’s elections for city council? I mean yeah, some of you did.
But not very many.
So you are content to sit on the sidelines and bitch about what other people are doing. Then every four years you stride into the polls and cast your protest vote.
It’s fine to be angry. It’s fine to want change.
Showing up and voting as a way of protesting the system is one step removed from the least you can do.
A vote is not a message anyone understands. Because different people cast protest votes for different reasons and in the end, all anyone sees is a number. They don’t see a number and a series of reasons why that number exists. They just see a number.
And they will make assumptions about what that number means and their assumption might match your own personal reason. But it probably won’t.
So look, if you want to vote for any candidate or no candidate, do that. Do it because you have considered what they bring to the table and you believe one of them will do their best to make your life better in what you believe to be the right way.
Remembering, of course, that they only candidate that would do things 100% the way you want is you and even you would end up sitting in the oval office wanting to fix shit and discovering there is no power you possess that will fix the shit you want to fix.
But I beg of you, if you want to protest the system, you are going to have to do more than show up at the polls and vote. To really have an impact on the system, you have to interact with the system.
It is going to be frustrating as hell. It is going to be hard work. And my guess is you don’t want to do the work.
Which is fair. Just do us all a favor when you cast your protest vote.
Don’t brag. Because casting a protest vote is really easy. Actually protesting is really hard.