Voting Third Party is the Political Equivalent of Sending Thoughts and Prayers – 2020 Edition

This doesn't help anyone.
This doesn't help anyone. Photo by Tim Patterson via Flickr

Some dissatisfaction with the binary choice for president in 2020 is to be expected. On the Republican side we have the incumbent Donald Trump, an impeached golfer whose incompetence has directly led to the deaths of 80,000 Americans and counting. On the Democratic side is former Vice President Joe Biden, who is inarguably qualified for the job but also perceived (sometimes inaccurately) as a symbol of centrist politics and at best a return to the Obama-era status quo.

Many voters, including myself, wanted something else, and not getting it feels like a betrayal instead of the boring, logical outcome of democracy. In that environment, why not cast your vote instead for a third party?

Because, as I said in 2016, it’s the political equivalent of sending thoughts and prayers in a time of crisis. The act is mostly performative, self-serving, and an empty gesture that doesn’t aid anyone.

Let’s look at the two prominent alternative choices for 2020. First up is the woman everyone is talking about, Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen. Her pitch is basically anarcho-capitalism with a few progressive ideas such as removing immigration quotas and ending the War on Drugs. All that is dwarfed by her barmier positions, such as insisting that the biggest problem with our health care system is that it isn’t privatized enough and what I am pretty sure is a plan to draft literally every American citizen into a militia to defend a country with 12,000 miles of coastline while also keeping the largest military on Earth huddled around us like a spoiled child’s stuffed animal menagerie. Oh, and she apparently appears on podcasts associated with violent secessionist movements, so there’s that. The America her policies envision is not a better one. It just isn’t.

The Green Party did slightly better this year, as opposed to 2020 when they ran a tankie with a weird fondness for dictators and wacky ideas about WiFi poisoning children’s brains. Now they have Howie Hawkins, an affable but constant loser with 24 failed elections under his belt. He does at least talk the talk when it comes to positions, which are true leftists ones such as public ownership of banks and anti-trust action against social media conglomerates. Why not Hawkins?

Because Twenty. Four. Failed. Elections. If this was someone applying to be a fry cook and getting turned down two dozen times, you would assume he must not be all that handy with the burgers.

Hawkins couldn’t even win low level positions in Syracuse. In the few presidential general polls that have included him, he tops out at 2 percent. His positions, no matter how appealing to disaffected leftists annoyed that all the black people voted for Biden, are meaningless because they have no chance of ever being implemented. Donald Trump and Joe Biden could literally kill each other in a cage match and Hawkins still would not ascend.

Part of that is a basic problem in Hawkins’ philosophy and it extrapolates well to the fringes of the left and right in America. He believes that that socialists and leftists need to have their own separate party away from the Democrats. You see similar thought processes in many Libertarians who want a wedge between conservatism and religion. These are painted as the fabled “more choices” that America allegedly desperately needs.

Unfortunately, these choices are largely redundant because the two main parties cover enormous chunks of the alternative parties’ platforms. There’s little that Jorgensen wants that isn’t pushed perfectly by mainstream Republicanism. On the other side, Hawkins wants a Green New Deal and so does Biden. Hawkins wants to see the Equal Rights Amendment pass and so does Biden. Hawkins wants the minimum wage raised and so does Biden. I could go on and on, but the point is that the two-party system is not bereft of ideas. Choosing between Biden and Hawkins is like picking a cake recipe and a pile of ingredients or just a picture of a slightly larger cake that will never get made.

The alternative parties rarely offer anything new except crank proposals and empty slogans like “end war” that pretend no one in American history ever tried diplomacy first. The Republicans have occasional moderates and the Democrats have relatively far left members who can and do push policy further from the center. They’re at it right now, actually.

America does not have a parliamentary system of government where smaller parties form coalitions. We have two large parties with many factions, and because of the first-past-the-post nature of the electoral system built into the constitution that is not going away without a constitutional amendment.

By far the most successful alternative party in modern American history is the Tea Party. They used a potent combination of big money and reactionary populism to launch several candidates into high offices, including our own Senator Ted Cruz. From that position, they became so powerful a force that they often wrenched control away from the mainstream Republicans to force action further right. They brought down a Speaker of the House, and that is no easy task. Libertarians and Greens, with their bizarre insistence on not joining the game in play, have nothing comparable to such accomplishments.

Instead they get plausible deniability for the continued degradation of the country. They cosplay politics, free in the knowledge that the hard work of actually governing will fall to others and that virtually nothing they do will have an impact. They get to do the fun part of democracy (stickers, chest-beating speeches) and none of the crap bits (accomplishing policy, getting people to stop doing stupid things). Like someone who offers thoughts and prayers instead of donations and community service, they assume an unearned sense of blessing at the cost of watching others suffer. All they offer is the comforting delusion that they would do a better job if they actually ever tried to win, which is basically a Xanatos Gambit for terribly insecure people afraid of what duty would ask of them.

There is no consequentialist morality to be earned in this manner. Any unselfish person would argue that the truly moral thing to do would be to pursue the path that benefits the most and harms the least, regardless of whether or not your conscience demands purity. This is all especially true here in Texas, where for the first time in two generations the two main party candidates are dead even. Your vote will count in 2020, and that might mean pulling the lever for someone you don’t like. A non-choice is your right, but it is not the action of a good person, and no one owes you respect for doing it because it is not helping at all.

I get that this is frustrating, so I would like to end with some immortal words from American treasure, author Chuck Tingle, who as always sums up the present perfectly.

after making political post of saying presidential vote is all or nothing on many issues just got to pick one i have realized some buckaroos would be VERY BAD at playing WOULD YOU RATHER? man of chuck says: would you rather live in a pit of snakes or get pinched by void crabs for a year? some buckaroos say 'well i dont like snakes and i dont like crabs i dont want either SO THERE.' THAT IS NOT HOW GAME WORKS i am sorry that voting way is not as good on this timeline as others but its the snake pit or the void crab pincher or someone else is gonna pick for you buckaroo
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner