Anybody But Bush?
By John Hughes
American electoral politics is not so much an organized debate over the supremacy of ideologies—a national, logical quest for the best governing ideas—but a rugged skirmish between two warring camps. It’s a ruthless wrestling for power. Oftentimes, the coalition with the most money wins the election. The media, often portrayed as liberally biased, but almost always owned by very wealthy white men, plays a huge role, as does the charisma, or lack thereof, of the candidates. There are famous examples of the power of charisma: Kennedy vs. Nixon, Reagan vs. Carter, Reagan vs. Mondale, Clinton vs. Dole.
This fact, of two vast coalitions in a constant struggle of power and public relations, without tremendous regard for fairness or even truth, rankles many people. The rankled people, when they feel that they don’t fit under the electable umbrella of either coalition, become disenfranchised. When they discover that there are millions of other disenchanted citizens, they form a coalition of the rankled: a third party movement.
Third parties: a voice for our righteous indignation.
In the Presidential election of 2000, the candidacy of legendary consumer rights crusader Ralph Nader, as the nominee of the Green Party, garnered four percent of the vote, but considerably more than that in media attention. George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in one of the thinnest electoral victories in history, and Nader’s winning of 2.8 million potential Gore supporters converged with the voting poll and juridical farces in Florida to deliver the presidency to Bush.
But what drives people to support Ralph Nader or David Cook or, for that matter, Ross Perot or Jesse Jackson or John Anderson, or 1948’s Henry Wallace?
The answer lies in understanding what drives third party movements. Third parties share the desire to be heard, for acknowledgement of ideas not necessarily prioritized by the two mainstream parties. Some of the best, if least powerful, desire that the process be a debate over ideas, rather than a cage match for political domination.
There’s a time for independence, and a time for…
Even to the most casual and jaded observer it’s evident that altruism, the genuine desire for the highest good for the greatest number of people, has taken a back seat to power politics. Third party movements are an attempt to cleanse the temple, overthrow the tables and bring altruism and egalitarianism to prominence in our national conversation.
In Wisconsin, third party politics plays a major role in electing public officials. Lest we forget, Ralph Nader won 94,070 votes in Wisconsin in 2000. Al Gore barely won the state, holding off Bush by just 5,708 votes. And in the 2002 gubernatorial race, Libertarian candidate Ed Thompson collected nearly 185,000 votes, mostly from disenfranchised Republicans, which helped Democrat Jim Doyle win the state by 75,000 votes and sever the four-term Republican hold on the governor’s mansion.
But this election, as we sit perched in one of the key battleground states, the election may literally be decided by “11 guys from Wisconsin.” And in growing numbers, third party voters are siding with the thieves and merchants who hope to have their stalls line the streets of Capitol Hill come January. Unhappy with nearly everything about the Bush administration, they are enlisting in John Kerry’s camp.
Something’s gotta give.
The arrival of the Green Party on the political scene in America was viewed as a hopeful development by many who felt disenfranchised by the impersonal realities of American politics. Many Democrats, on the other hand, will never forgive Nader for siphoning off votes from Gore, and this election year some are working feverishly to keep him off the ballot in their states.
But they may be wasting their energy. The Bush administration has been so hostile to the values of those who found even the Democrats “in the pockets of corporations” (the Greens being but one group) that the rallying cry among a growing number of independent voters has become “Anybody but Bush.”
“I love America,” states 61-year old Army veteran John Berard simply. “It’s the greatest country on earth, and I’ve lived all over the world. What I hate is what’s happening here. We didn’t sign the Global Warming Accord, we didn’t sign the Nuclear Proliferation Pact, we’ve dropped out of the world community. It’s time the people wake up.”
Twenty-three year-old Matt Krystowiak shares similarly strong feelings. “I think that if [Bush] isn’t funding terrorism, then by his foreign policy he’s spawning it. He’s generating anti-American sentiment around the world.” He considers himself a Socialist, but is canvassing for Kerry with the League of Conservation Voters. While he doesn’t love everything about John Kerry, he does appreciate his record on the environment. Krystowiak voted for John Edwards in the primary.
Siding with Big Blue.
Ken Garner never votes a straight ticket, but says he “often supports third party candidates.” In the 2000 election he voted for Ralph Nader because he wanted his vote to count. He had no illusions of a Nader White House, but just 5 percent of the popular vote would have guaranteed federal funding for the Green Party in the current election; the successful creation of a three party system. That didn’t happen. So this time he’s going with the Democrats, also because he again wants his vote to count, but differently from before. And frankly, he’s not thrilled with his options.
“I’m still pissed off at Kerry about his Iraq policies and his Senate votes, but I’m worried about the Supreme Court, down the line” he explains. “And if we’re really going to get a coalition going to bring peace to Iraq, it’ll never happen with Bush, but possibly it could with Kerry. So as much as I think that we’re never going to solve our political problems with the current two-party system, this time I guess I’m voting for Kerry.”
Another self-proclaimed “liberal independent” is Milwaukeean Daniel Weber-Schulz, who voted Green in 2000, but is voting for John Kerry this time around. He explains, “In 2000, my idealism was still in place. I voted for the candidate I was most in line with. But, at some point, idealism gives way to reality, and the reality is our country can’t take another four years of George Bush. The only thing Bush hasn’t cut spending on is going to war. He gutted the Department of Education but raised the standards we have to work by. He alienated our country from the rest of the world, and thinks that’s a good thing. His environmental policies are ridiculous.”
And John Kerry may get an additional boost from an unlikely source: conservative Republicans. Many are fed-up with the soaring budget deficit, the war in Iraq and an enlarging government. Some will swing over to the Libertarian, Constitution or Independence Parties, effectively taking away votes from the GOP. This may tip the scales in Kerry’s favor: a recent Zogby Poll found that almost 20 percent of Republicans still have not committed their vote to Bush.
Victory by defeat.
In the 2004 Presidential election, the Greens and their supporters like Weber-Schulz are committed to defeating President Bush and his coalition, for practical goals. They don’t see a viable luxury in being a fly in the ointment of the Democratic coalition. Even Michael Moore, who campaigned for Ralph Nader in 2000, has said in regards to the current election, “There are times to vote to make a statement, there are times to vote for the underdog and there are times to vote to save the country from catastrophe.” Subtle? Not so much, but his words do frame the thoughts of many independents quite succinctly.
The business of helping one coalition wrestle power from the incumbent one, in order to lift a preferable government into power, is deadly serious, and focuses the attention admirably. So, they’re not making as serious a bid as they did in 2000. Ideally, they’ll have that chance again in 2008.
Weber-Schulz shares his closing thoughts. “When your candidate is only getting one or two percent of the vote, and you know that’s not going to change, but your vote could make a difference between the two electable candidates, you have to do everything you can to prevent the negative candidate from prevailing.”
John Berard puts it more bluntly. “I’d rather see Satan himself on the throne of the presidency than George W. Bush.”
Be careful what you ask for