With Parties, Three’s A Crowd

As the 2004 Election Season kicks into full gear, I can sit back and relax with the confidence of knowing my candidate will not be winning; not a chance in hell.
This takes a lot of pressure off of me this year; allows me to focus on other things. Even if my candidate were to be acknowledged and invited to a debate, his performance wouldn’t really matter. If he did a bad job, he’d remain in relative obscurity. If he did a good job, he might be less obscure, but still people would prefer to vote for the lesser of two evils.
That was the catch-phrase of the 2000 election. No one seemed to be too particularly thrilled with either Bush or Gore. The only enthusiastic voters I saw were on television in cheering crowds, somewhere else. The people I knew in real life, Democrat and Republican, all had the same shrug-of-the-shoulders response: Eh’ [my candidate] sucks, but I like him better than [the other candidate].

In 2000 I decided to vote for Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne. It was the most thought-out vote of my life. I had done all my research on the available candidates and determined that his party was the party I had the most in common with politically. Every time I was asked ‘Bush or Gore?’ I would smile and announce, ‘neither.’ I’d then explain about Harry and what Harry thought about things. Some of it was far-fetched, some simplistic, some brilliant. People would inevitably listen, smile condescendingly as though I were thick but well-meaning, and say: ‘So you’re throwing your vote away.’
I begged to differ. Voting for someone on the grounds that he ‘sucks less’ than the other guy seems more like throwing one’s vote away than voting for a candidate you like; regardless of the certainty of his not winning. I don’t think the Green Party, the folks who helped show Albert Gore the door, wasted their votes at all. They made a big difference in the 2000 election by helping defeat the next-closest thing to their party and putting the polar opposite of their party in office. Tee hee.
But the end result was not their concern. They were happy to have voted the way they did, because they voted what they believed. Granted, their party seems ludicrous; their candidate creepy, girlfriendless, and prone to wear tennis shoes with suits; but they voted their hearts and not for a lesser evil.
And that was exactly how I felt. Voting only to tip the election in favor of one of the candidates was not my concern. Rather than playing a game of electoral chess, I was determined to simply vote for the candidate I believed the most in, regardless of the outcome; so I did. That night I attended the Libertarian Party fundraiser and watched the election results on the TV monitors that had been placed throughout the room. As expected, the media focus was on Gore, Bush and Nader. Harry Browne got about as much attention as Gary Coleman in the post-Diff’rent Strokes years. When he did get a mention, he was there at the bottom, his zero-point-something-percent vote tally delivered by the smirking newscaster as if saying ‘And here’s a funny one ”
But that was okay. No one came to the party expecting to see Harry Browne win. Or place. Or show, for that matter. It was like going to the races and betting on Crippled Jim. You didn’t have high expectations, but you thought he was a nice horse and you’d be happy if he could at least make it out of the gate.
In a two-party country like the United States, the third-party folks are regarded as freaks, twits and goofballs. That’s the unfortunate truth. They’re a novelty for the amusement of the two-party folks who simply can not understand why you would bother to vote for a candidate who would not win even if Christ Jesus were to descend from the sky and endorse him. The ‘throwing your vote away’ retort is poised on the edge of their tongues, just waiting to pounce at you the moment you suggest you won’t be voting for the two main, and really only, contenders.
I was first introduced to the Libertarian Party through radio talk show host Neal Boortz. He is an abrasive man; a curmudgeon. He is skilled in debate, and armed with enough knowledge that any half-wit who dared challenge his wisdom was often delightfully eviscerated on the air. He was angry at things that I was also angry at; questioned things that I also questioned. There was no attempt made to sugar-coat, appease or apologize. He did not beat around bushes, he walked through them.
He railed, and rails, on the excesses of political correctness, stifling bureaucracy, inept and corrupt politicians; the overplaying of the race card, religious zealots, and government powers expanding unchecked. Just like Howard Stern tapped into the psyche of the immature, horny, fart-obsessed putz, Boortz tapped into folks who shared common anger at a legal system being sabotaged by lawyers, a not-my-fault culture of blame-putting, and knee-jerk emotional responses to political issues over logical ones. While the pundits of the Left and Right were blind to their ideology’s faults, Boortz would point them out because his allegiance is to reason. When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance, he took their very unpopular side. Not because he didn’t think Michael Newdow was an attention-seeking jackass, and not because he agrees with that often ridiculous Court on much else, but because when you actually looked hard at the case, it seemed to be the right decision.
To friends, I explain the Libertarian Party as having the heart of a Democrat but the brain of a Republican. The freedom to live your life as you see fit, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else’s, is one of the tenets. But with that freedom comes responsibility, and the understanding that there are consequences to your actions. Dye your hair blue, pierce your nose and wear a tattered wedding gown to work; that’s fine. But also realize that if your employer wants to fire you for doing so, that’s fine too.
The Libertarian Party is not without its faults. For starters, it is plagued by a fringe who find themselves identifying with various single elements of the party’s platform. The kind of folks who hole up in Montana, print their own money, and assume the CIA is after them are drawn to the less government component. The party’s desire to end the failed War on Drugs and decriminalize them attracts a coterie of pot-smoking, Simpsons-watching dunderheads.
If the Libertarians have one major issue aside from not being too well known, it’s that when they do get noticed, it’s because of some loon who’s decided he’s a Libertarian. I was appalled during an election in New York when a candidate for City Council (or was it Mayor?) papered the neighborhood in crude, black & white photocopies. ‘Vote for _______, Libertarian’ with a gigantic pot-leaf next to his name. I cringed every time I passed these mockeries. Anyone seeing these things would immediately think Libertarian, crudely drawn campaign poster, photocopy, pot leaf. ‘ freaks. And rightly so.
The voter’s guide for last November’s election featured a bio of a Libertarian candidate for City Council. The bio was scary enough, but the photograph featured a too-closeup of a gentleman standing in front of a flag, gazing off into the distance like the visionary he fancied he was. He looked like a cross between Crispin Glover and Hitler.
A few times I provided Mr. Boortz with comedic radio pieces that he played on his show; fake commercials and song parodies that echoed whatever sentiments he had at the time. Once I sat at his table during a Libertarian function and witnessed a procession of the devoted paying homage to him. One gentleman — bearded, bespectacled and with the demeanor of an uncle who might touch you too much — approached the table and handed Mr. Boortz a cassette. I write Libertarian science-fiction, he said.
So, the party is a freak magnet. They could do with a little overhaul. Get rid of the militia types, the black-helicopter conspiracy theorists, the druggies and the glaze-eyed dandies and you’ll find a collection of quite normal, quite rational individuals who have some very good ideas about things.
As far as the Libertarians making much of a difference in this election, I know better than to hold my breath. They claim that they are the third largest political party in the United States. That may be. But the vast majority of them continue to vote for the lesser evil to make sure that the greater one doesn’t get elected.
Until such time as the Libertarian Party, or any third party for that matter, can encourage people to vote ideologically, rather than strategically, there will be more of the same. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that somewhere in that zero-point-something-percent at the bottom of the screen is my vote. Un-wasted.