Oh, For Fuck's Sake: Why Your Presidential Protest Vote Is A Wretched Idea

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Pop Quiz: What do you think when I say “President Bill Clinton”?
All right, your first thought is probably “the bawdy things you can do with a cigar.”  (Ah, Billy.)  But then your mind likely wanders to Clinton’s Presidential accomplishments; if you’re a conservative, you fret at all the damage he did, if you’re a liberal you think of the economic prosperity he wrought.  Eight years in office is a long time.
Now: How many of you thought of Bill Clinton and thought, “He was elected because voters were sick of the two-party system?”
Ah, but that’s arguably true!  People forget that Ross Perot was the third-party candidate in that election, acquiring 18.9% of the popular vote – more than any independent candidate in modern history.  And while mostly Perot held relatively even support between conservatives and liberals, conventional wisdom is that Perot siphoned away votes away from Bush – the first Bush – to help tilt the race in Clinton’s favor.*
Did you remember that?
Or did you remember “EIGHT YEARS OF DEMOCRAT IN OFFICE”?
See, that’s the problem with Presidential protest voting.  You think you’re sending a message, but the guy who wins the Presidency hears “I won, I get to do what I think is best.”  The guy who loses maybe hears a message, but that guy lost.  And after two years of President-in-office, all those Presidential protest votes evaporate in people’s memories to become, well, another Democrat or a Republican won.
Note that I’m saying Presidential protest votes.  Because here’s the thing: if you want to make legitimate change in what is and has always been a corrupt system, placing a single vote in the ultimate winner-take-all race is the worst fucking idea ever.
You want to change that system because it’s corrupt or nonrepresentative or what-have-you?  Well, there’s a sliding scale here:
Voting in Presidential races to change the two-party system?  You might as well poop your vote onto toilet paper.
Voting in Congressional races?  Better.  You have a chance of being heard.
Voting in midterm Congressional races?  Now you’re getting golden.  Midterm races are where only the ancient and entrenched vote, and a fresh face showing up when there’s not the Presidential dog-and-pony-race has an actual chance at producing change.
Writing letters and emails to Congressmen while they’re still in office, telling them what you will or will not support?  Oh, you’re approaching the beatifics now, my friends.  The truth is that most corruption isn’t actually hidden. It’s out in the open.  We all know how much the NRA is paying politicians, we know how much the Koch brothers are pouring into races.  But no one cares.  If you care, well, that’s one politician who has to worry about losing your vote.
Voting smartly for local candidates?  Oh my God, that’s right, your state governor and mayor and other officials exist, and chances are really good a few hundred votes can make a difference.  Hell, mayors have gotten flung out of office because some old fart didn’t like the way the trash collectors left their cans on the lawn and mounted a crusade, so if you want to make a change, hey, start here.
And the absolute thing that will guarantee a change insofar as any one person can make a change?
Volunteer.  Get out there and canvas.  Get the local politicians indebted to you.  Get voters on your side.
That’s how you make a difference.
I’m not saying not to vote in the Presidential elections.  I am saying that the Presidential elections are the accumulated corruption of literally the entire country funneled through an avalanche of votes, and if you think you can change the system by showing up once every four years and spending ten minutes standing in line, then fuck are you egotistic.
Look, if you’re a disenfranchised Democrat who was disappointed with what Obama could accomplish, let Samantha Bee remind you how the 2010 election – where you young spitfire Democrats didn’t show up – completely fucked Obama by ushering in a new tide of crazies:

If you think you’re “fighting corruption” and “sending a message” by one third-party vote in the biggest campaign ever and then going home for half a decade, you done fucked up.  Because the government is not just the President – you may note Obama struggling to pass laws through a Congress who hates him.  And that Congress, in turn, is beholden to politicians in their home states.
Want change?  I support change.  But I don’t support it through the weaksauce mechanism of a single Presidential vote.  You’re not going to get Jill Stein or Gary Johnson elected – which isn’t to say you shouldn’t vote for them if you believe in their candidacy, because if that’s the case you should.  But if you’re voting for someone else to “send a message” to Hillary and/or Trump, well, a lot of people sent messages care of Ross Perot and yet somehow that package never got forwarded.
You can’t get Jill Stein or Gary Johnson elected – but with hard work you do stand a reasonable chance of getting a third-party option onto your city council, or into the mayor’s office, which may demonstrate that your neither-Democratic-nor-Republican policies are effective, which is the only way you’re going to actually send a message for the necessity of a third party.  You need to work from the ground up, paying attention when the news headlines are not shoved into your face daily, actively participating in democracy as opposed to passively sitting back and having CNN stuff you full of poll results.
The Presidential Election makes it easy to know what’s going on.  But the elections that you can use to change the system in are small, undocumented, often overlooked.  The corruption is endemic, but part of the reason that corruption is endemic is because people don’t bother to show up – at the ballot boxes, at the volunteer office, at their politician’s mailbox.
Corruption sails by because people like you aren’t watching.
So yeah.  If you’re pissed off about how Bernie got screwed by the DNC, voting for someone else in one election is a positively dumb way to fix that complaint.  Former Bernie staffers have rallied to create Brand New Congress, which has as its goal electing, well, a brand-new Congress. Volunteer for them, donate to them, do something other than dorking up the ballot box with your single vote and going back to Netflix.
Or if Bernie’s not your guy, there’s plenty of other options out there!  Google them!  Find the local levers of change and start tugging those fuckers.  If you’re furious, use that rage productively.  I want you to go make permanent alterations to the fabric of our society.  I want you to fight corruption, and entrenched interests, and politicians who no longer give a crap about you.
But you will not do that with your crappy Presidential protest vote.  You’ll have to put more skin in the game.
Good luck.  Because I damn well hope you do.
 
* – Not that he needed much help, honestly.  Bush was a weak candidate.

4 Comments

  1. thirty
    Jul 27, 2016

    Truth. Except you can allow people who live in certain states the freedom to vote for whoever they wish. There is zero chance that California won’t be blue or Texas won’t be red. So if you live in a state like that feel free to vote for the Great Gazoo (Green Party) if it makes you feel better. However, how funny would it be if enough of the people of Utah vote for Johnson? He’s polling 10% there because he’s somewhat local and in essence a Republican. If he pulls 20%, he might make the state blue.

  2. Bill Sage
    Jul 27, 2016

    Ralph Nader? Perot’s influence was more budgetary than electoral. Nader sent Bush 2 to the White House.

  3. Scylla Kat
    Jul 27, 2016

    Pretty much this. The path of least resistance is not activism, children. Grow up and do the work.

  4. Brad Sussman
    Jul 27, 2016

    Welp, I was going to vote for Johnson, but you’re right, so I’ll hold my nose and vote for Trump.

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  1. Oh, For Fuck’s Sake: A Gentle Talk With My Republican, Democrat, And Undecided Friends | Ferrett Steinmetz - […] (EDIT: And for all of those who’ve shown up to tell me how your protest vote in this election…

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