Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Spoil(er)s of Politics

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has suggested that Michael Bloomberg could be the Ralph Nader of ‘08.

Well, of course. I don’t entirely agree with Mr. Herbert that it’s because Bloomberg is a Democrat. It will be because he’s running.

I’m not a fan of third party candidates. In fact, I think running as a third party candidate, no matter who you are, liberal or conservative, is a colossally stupid idea. I’ve had many heated debates with people on the far left about this, and I’ve been called a lot of names (“Bush Democrat” is one of the funniest. Sounds like “jumbo shrimp” to me.) No matter how well-meaning they may be, third party folks ignore a basic fact of reality:

We have a two-party system. Period.

Sucks, I know, but there it is. Until our system is changed, allowing for instant runoff elections or some other way of making third party candidates more viable, these folks will always be spoilers. Always. This lollipops-and-unicorns fantasy that some mythic candidate can ride in on his or her white horse and captivate the majority of the voting public is just hilariously delusional.

There is just too large a chunk of the American population that are “hereditary voters.” That’s not a term I made up, by the way, it’s one I heard recently from Ralph Nader, the most disingenuous candidate I’ve ever seen. Nader confessed on “Hardball” the other night that “two thirds of the voters are hereditary voters.” Great, now he tells us. But this is one issue on which he’s correct.

Nader supporters like to counter that it’s wrong to assume that all of Nader’s votes would have gone to, say, Al Gore in 2000, to pick one example. Of course, but Gore didn’t need every Nader vote. He needed (depending on which standard one uses) 154 votes in Florida. Does anyone really think that of the thousands of votes Ralph Nader received in Florida that 154 people wouldn’t have voted for Gore had Nader’s name not been on the ballot?

Or, what if Pat Buchanan’s name hadn’t been on the ballot? Or Harry Browne’s?

On Hardball Nader said of being a spoiler:
NADER:  Yes, but if we all have an equal right to run for election, then we‘re either all spoilers of one another, trying to take the votes from one another, or none of us are spoilers.

Please. It just seems incredibly dishonest to claim that the 2,912,253 votes that were officially credited as going to Al Gore in Florida somehow spoiled it for Howard Phillips, who received 1,378 votes. Come on, people.

Nor do I buy the whole argument that third party candidates “draw attention to their issues.” This is also terribly dishonest. Do American voters really remember what Ross Perot’s issues were? Does anyone even remember John Hagelin? Or, digging back deep into the memory hole, John Anderson, for whom I cast my first-ever presidential vote at the tender age of 18, before I realized what a chump I’d been as I watched Ronald Reagan sail into office?

As Bob Herbert put it, regarding Michael Bloomberg’s run as an independent:

There are myriad ways this thing could play out. But the weirdest would be if Michael Bloomberg, who sees himself as such a serious person, plunged headlong into this race with little or no chance to win, and ended up spending $500 million to $1 billion on a venture that undermined the core issues and values he claims to believe in.

Isn’t that what always happens?

Look, I get that the Democratic and Republican parties leave a whole lot of folks out of the process. I think everyone should be encouraged to run in the primary race of the party with which they most closely identify. I love hearing what Mike Gravel and Ron Paul have to say, and they certainly are making this extended presidential primary season more interesting.

But when the primaries are over, these folks are always shut out. The media and the two dominant parties see to that. And hearing Michael Bloomberg and Ralph Nader talking about wanting to run on third party tickets makes me want to tear my hair out. Their time would be better spent working toward changing our electoral system and allowing for things like instant runoff elections, so third party candidates can truly have a chance. Until our system changes--and it’s a system that benefits the two dominant parties, so it’s not likely to change without a big fight--you’re just making a lot of folks miserable.

Pick a side, people. If the Democrats are too conservative or the Republicans are too religious or whatever your view of the dominant parties may be, work your butts off to change your party. It’s the only way things are ever going to change.