Ever since I was earning my bachelor's in political science, I've heard that we -- as Americans -- have an almost sacred duty to vote.
It has been suggested, time and time again, that those who don't vote ought not complain. All of the hubbub over voting is simply obnoxious and designed to shame people into going out and taking part in the democratic process whether they like the candidates involved or not.
Lately, however, I've been wondering -- if someone hates both of the major party choices for president or whatever else, what's wrong with saying "the hell with it" and sitting home on election day? All we've managed to do with all this "it's your patriotic duty to vote" nonsense is potentially extend the longevity of the Democrats and Republicans.
How? A component to this "sacred duty to vote stuff" is the suggestion that voting for a third-party is, in effect, worthless. Casting a vote for the Libertarians, the Green Party or anything else is discouraged -- candidates from those parties won't win a thing, so why bother?
The message the average citizen is beaten over the head with, then, is that everyone should go out and vote (even if you have to hold your nose while doing it because you hate both major party candidates involved) and that only a fool would waste a vote on a third party. These two messages, taken together, appear to undermine Thomas Jefferson's ideal of our American democracy -- that institutionalized revolutions are essential to the health of the Republic.
Jefferson, see, was adamantly opposed to the status quo. However, suggestions that we've all got to run out and vote and that supporting anyone but major party candidates is worthless does nothing but preserve the status quo.
Now, I'm a firm believer in exercising the right to vote and have always had an interest in Politics. I saw Ronald Reagan speak in St. Louis in 1980 and Little Rock in 1984. I saw Mike Dukakis speak in Little Rock in 1988 and have attended speeches for everyone ranging from Bill Clinton to Mike Huckabee. In college I got deputized and registered other candidates to vote and I've worked in campaigns for Bob Dole and both Democrats and Republicans running for governor in Arkansas (I never worked in Bill Clinton's campaign -- he's a bastard).
What's my point, then? I'm merely suggesting that supporting Democrats and Republicans if you hate what both parties are up to is a terrible idea. Want some real change? Ignore the process entirely (that does send a message) or find a third-party candidate that you do like and work hard in that person's campaign.
Political parties don't last forever, after all -- look at what happened to the Federalists and the Whigs. Yes, the Federalists and the Whigs were essentially replaced by alternative parties that people believed reflected the interests of Americans more effectively. One can't help but think the Democrats and Republicans will go the way of the Federalists and the Whigs one day, but that natural evolution of the establishment of new major parties can't happen if people subscribe to the notion that voting is a duty and supporting third parties is a waste of time.
The first presidential election I voted in was the Bush-Dukakis race in 1988. I wasn't thrilled with Bush, but hated Dukakis so I held my nose and voted Republican. I did the same thing in the Bush-Clinton race in 1992, the Clinton-Dole race in 1996, the Bush-Gore election in 2000 and the Bush-Kerry race in 2004. That Bush-Kerry one was such a miserable thing that I was on the phone with my brother on election day and said, "Well, I guess I'd better go and crap out a vote for Bush."
In other words, I'm like a lot of Americans in that I haven't voted for a candidate in years (on a national level, at least), but I've voted against a heck of a lot of them. It occurs to me that some change may be in order, but how are we going to get to that point if society emphasizes both voting and supporting the major parties?
Well, it's just a thought. And an odd one to have at this point, too, as I haven't been this interested in a presidential election for years. I'm firmly back in the Republican camp (thanks to that snarky Sarah Palin), but I can't help but wonder about the individuals who look at the choices from both parties and wonder, "What the hell?"
Don't like who's running? Don't bother voting or support a third party you do like. And don't feel a bit bad about it, either.