In John Seavey’s post from yesterday – and may I just say that everyone saying that John’s post was too lecturing or self-righteous needs to cool that crap, because believe me, had I written it, the title would have been “If You Vote For Mitt Romney, You Are Either A Tremendous Dipshit Or A Rich Bastard, And Possibly Both” – Farwell3D, in comments, writes
The problem, John, is that I cannot vote for Barack Obama with a clean conscience.
And, not to be blunt, but sentiments of this sort deserve a sad trombone noise and little else.
Voting is not a purity contest. You do not get a prize for Best Liberal by refusing to vote for Barack Obama except in your head and possibly in the head of that cute hippie you were hoping to nail over a round of pot brownies and Phish songs.1 Voting is an exercise of your franchise as a citizen, and in a first-past-the-post system that means picking from, essentially, two parties. Jill Stein is not going to be President. Gary Johnson is not going to be President. There are plenty of good explanations why third parties are futile in a first-past-the-post system so I won’t rehash them here. But your third-party vote is a waste.
(Speaking as a citizen of a country with first-past-the-post in a parliamentary setting, the big difference is that you still basically have a choice of two parties, but said parties differ on a regional basis and change from time to time. This is much less ideal than you think it is. If America had a parlimentary FPTP system it would probably have a Republican party with seats dominating the rural Midwest and South, a Democratic party dominating the coasts and Northeast, and maybe a Green party and Libertarian party with a few seats here and there, except that the Republican political strength would now be even more geographically concentrated before, which is not really a good thing – just ask Canadians about the Bloc Quebecois sometime.)
The problem with voting third-party as an American is simple: it prizes principle above result. Farwell3D’s promise to vote for Jill Stein is a good example of this: he cites Obama’s defense of the NDAA provisions as a dealbreaker. And yes, I will freely agree that Obama’s civil rights record is not good at all (to say the least). But voting for Jill Stein will not make this in any way better, and more importantly will not improve civil rights in the United States. There is zero chance of that happening. Voting for Jill Stein arguably makes it worse, because a vote for Jill Stein is, essentially, a proxy vote for Mitt Romney when the election is so close. (I don’t care if you’re in a safe Obama state – popular vote in this election is likely going to matter for rhetorical purposes at least.)
By any reasonable metric, Mitt Romney is going to be much, much worse on the issues F3D is angry at Obama about. All of them. Much worse. Here we are looking at the utilitarian argument, which is that if you withhold your vote from Obama – who is the only potential choice for President who A) can win and B) might make things less bad – you are at least declining to vote for “less bad things” and at worst proxy-voting for “more bad things.” (Which of these two is more accurate, I leave up to the philosophers. But neither is especially good.)
This, incidentally, is one of my gripes about liberalism, which is that this purity fetish is something only liberals really do. Liberals love to complain about the conservative ascendancy in America and how conservatives took everything over, but one of the reasons this happened – after conservatism got basically massacred in the 1960s – is because hard-right conservatism took a look at the system and decided it was going to work one of the parties until it bled, which is why the Party of Ike is now the party of Supply-Side Jesus and every political debate is now between reality and what some jackasses wish reality in fact was. Conservatives did this by patiently and endlessly working at the local and state levels, which is something liberals, by and large, do not do, because it’s way easier to whine about how the leader of the party doesn’t do what you want him to do rather than put yourself in a position to make him do what you want to do.2
But I digress. If the most important thing about your vote is ensuring that the American government kills the least number of people and violates the least number of civil rights – then I would argue that you have an affirmative duty to minimize the harm it can do, where you can. Voting for Jill Stein will not do this. Voting for Barack Obama will.