When confronted with the possibility of a serious third party or Independent challenge to the two-party system, the partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties can be found to rely on a handful of well-rehearsed talking points aimed at disarming any and all opposition to the status quo.
Given the contempt with which the American public views the Democratic and Republican parties, and the consistent demand for political alternatives across numerous polls and surveys in recent years, we can be almost certain that there will be third party and Independent alternatives on the 2012 ballot, for everything from the presidency to the proverbial dog catcher. We can thus safely expect that supporters of the Republican-Democrat political establishment will be ready with their stock arguments in hand. Let’s consider two of the most common talking points we’re likely to hear over the course of the next year.
The spoiler argument is probably the most common argument against casting a ballot for a third party or Independent candidate. You’ve heard it on countless occasions. Third party and Independent candidates are election spoilers, the argument goes, because they split the vote, and aid in the election of the perceived ‘greater evil’ between the two major parties. Therefore we must settle for the ‘lesser evil’. Instead of voting for the candidate we like most, or who most closely approximates the positions that we ourselves hold, the very candidate who represents us best, we are told we must rather cast our ballots for the Republican or Democratic candidate with whom we are less disgusted. It is ironic that this is among the most common arguments put forward against voting for third party and Independent candidates by Republicans and Democrats, since it admits outright that neither Republicans nor Democrats are truly worth voting for, and it also implies that both are essentially worth voting against.
Commonplace among partisans of the political status quo is what we might call the historical argument. In this case, the would-be political prognosticator looks back though the annals of our electoral history and argues that because third party and Independent candidates have failed in the past, they will fail in the future. The claim that future elections have essentially been decided, in advance, in favor of Republicans and Democrats, because Democrats and Republicans have dominated elections in the past would seem to be an affront to the very idea of human freedom. It was none other than Enlightenment philosopher David Hume who wrote: “That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation that it will rise.”
It is noteworthy that purveyors of the historical argument against third party and Independent political advocacy are often careful to avoid turning their gaze toward the history of the traditional vote in favor of the candidates representing the Republican and Democratic parties. If we recognize that Democrats and Republicans fail to provide us with adequate representation in government, as large majorities of Americans consistently attest, then we may conclude that continuing to vote for Democrats and Republicans will continue to result in inadequate government.
In effect, the spoiler and historical arguments against a free vote for an Independent or third party candidate are arguments in favor of the failed political system we are confronted with at all levels of government. There are, of course, numerous other hackneyed claims against Independent and third party politics put forward by the partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties. Supply your own examples in the comments section, and we’ll consider them in turn in future columns.