Sunday, August 06, 2006

Confessions of a former Nader voter, part 1

The first presidential election I was old enough to vote in was in 1992. I probably would have voted for Clinton if I had voted, but I had just moved to New Jersey to start grad school, and my passion for politics at the time wasn't quite sufficient to motivate me to figure out how to register in time.

I was raised a Reaganite, and when I rejected my parents' religion, I questioned their politics as well, but I hadn't gotten around to thinking hard about it yet. Four years in academia later, I was radicalized to the point of being beyond Clinton.

Sure Clinton wasn't so bad, but I felt like we could do better.

First he caved in to the right with that bizarre "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, then caved to the medical insurance industry and dropped the ball on universal health care. He seemed as quick as any hawk to find military solutions to problems abroad rather than making a serious effort to look for alternatives, and seemed as beholden to wealthy and powerful corporations as any politician.

So I read a few green party articles that talked about how politicians always end up compromising like that, so whichever of the two major parties you choose, you get the same thing -- a politician in the pocket of the powerful, who does both good things and bad according to political expediency. They backed this up with some examples of very progressive measures and appointments under Reagan and Nixon. And comparing Clinton with Bush Sr., it looked like maybe they had a point. Most of my friends agreed with me that Nader was looking like a good choice.

However, while chatting with some friends just before the 1996 elections, I learned that one of my fellow inmates of the ivory tower was planning on voting for Clinton instead of Nader.

His reason?

"I'm not convinced that Nader would make a good president."

I was surprised by this argument. I paused to think about it for a second, blinked at my fellow student a couple of times in incomprehension, and said to him "Well, he's not going to win!" Duh!!! Hello?

Then I wondered if maybe I was being foolish to cast my vote for a candidate without even having considered the question of whether or not he would make a good president.

But, nonetheless, I cast my symbolic vote for Nader, and Clinton won, and we all continued on our merry way.

Over the next couple of years I moved further to the left, and went so far as to help organize a protest of Clinton's military actions in the Persian Gulf.

This should surprise anyone who knows me because I'm one of the most consensus-seeking, mild-mannered, non-confrontational people you will ever meet. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty upset by the incredibly negative reaction our tiny little campus rally generated even within the university community at Rutgers. That, combined with some ugly infighting among the various groups involved in organizing the thing -- plus the general weirdness of some of the Communist groups involved -- made the whole experience, well, traumatic is the only good word I can come up with for it.

It left me with a strong sense that political activism is vital to a functioning democracy, however I personally will never participate in it ever again.

The next election rolled around in 2000, and I didn't know much about Gore except that he appeared to be as much of a hawk as Clinton, if not more so. Continuing to support Nader seemed like a good way to push for radical change while (sort of) working within the system.

My number one issue was promoting a constitutional amendment for election reform. I'm not totally certain any of the candidates were on program with me, but Nader seemed to be the closest.

The framers of the constitution never meant for the president to be chosen in a national popular election. However, more than two hundred years of precedent have shown that essentially nobody agrees with the founding fathers on this point, so maybe -- just maybe, mind you -- it might be a good idea to take a critical look at the system they designed to prevent and replace the popular presidential election, namely the electoral college.

The state-by-state winner-take-all system (as opposed to, say, a general instant-runoff election) guarantees that for a big part of the population a vote for your favorite (third-party) candidate is essentially equivalent to a vote for your least-favorite (major-party) candidate. And what kind of democracy is that? Election reform is critical in order to allow alternative voices to organize and bring issues to the public stage without having to spend all of their time fighting the (accurate) accusation that they're kind of helping their worst enemies...

And while we're at it, why not throw in some campaign finance reform, just for fun?

At that point, I'd finished my Ph.D. but hadn't quite left academia -- I was living in university housing in Princeton. As I cast my vote for Nader, I knew there was essentially no chance that Gore would lose New Jersey. But as the results started coming in, I was astonished that Bush Jr. had made any kind of good showing at all anywhere.

I remembered Dan Quayle testing the waters of candidacy, and -- as far as I could tell -- he had been laughed off the stage for his ridiculous gaffes. Since Bush Jr. had demonstrated himself to be (if anything) even stupider, I figured he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected. After all, I reasoned, even stupid people will say "Maybe for our leader we should choose someone who's not an idiot..."

Clearly I was spending way too much time in my ivory tower when I should have been taking a page from P. T. Barnum.


To be continued...

14 comments:

The Sinister Porpoise said...

Well, I'll give Clinton credit for one thing, he did more for the cigar industry than any other U.S. president...

I'm not a Clinton fan, and not really happy with Bush after the wiretapping thing.

Joseph's Left One said...

I made a conscious decision not to discuss politics on my blog. It's not that I worry about offending people (heaven knows I do enough offending as it is), but I have discovered a couple of things: my political stance was very much tied to my religious beliefs, so I'm in the process of re-evaluating them; also, I have so much to think about these days that politics just aren't a major concern of mine. I'll get to them later, after I sort the rest of it out.

C.L. Hanson said...

LOL, Sinister porpoise!!!

Hey JLO!!!

I know how you feel. When I first stopped believing in Mormonism, my politics went into kind of a state of flux (as I suggested at the beginning of this post).

I embraced Feminism and environmentalism more whole-heartedly -- I had already been openly in favor of both causes even as a Mormon -- but as for the rest, I didn't want to just do a knee-jerk 180 degree turn without thinking about it just to spite my parents or something. ;-)

So over time I explored different ideologies, as you can see from this story.

The main reason I've avoided politics so far is because it annoys the hell out of me when people accuse me of hating America and/or "siding with the terrorists" just because I'm not happy to see my homeland being driven into the ground by the current incompetent and short-sighted administration...

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Well.. if we hadn't made the state senators ---popular party votes, then we wouldn't be seeing a breakdown of the popular president vote...

It was really meant for
Representatives--represented the people
Senators--represented the States
President--through casting votes and then casting electoral votes representated the people and the States.

The political systems was supposed to be another check and balance of the system.

I think if it goes completely popular vote then we will become a democracy and not a constitutional democracy... :-)

So I don't agree. But, the fun thing about politics is that no one agrees with anyone... Great for debates. I used to debate these issues with my two best friends. I was the conservative and they were liberals.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I am not a Clinton fan either. LOL

Especially when my birthday coincided with his... I had a lot of hostility about that personal fact.

Just one of many said...

Politics is often false advertising. They promise big things but hardly deliver! Is that because most politicians are men?!? J/K ---well, maybe not!
Good post!

Bull said...

Hurray for Cynthia!

Someone who actually understands why things were set up the way they were.

I'll also point out that we don't live in a democracy. We live in a republic which incorporates some democratic principles.

The founders were for representative government but were also aware of the dangers of unreigned democracy. If you need an example of democratic excess look no further than the French Revolution or even 1830s Missouri.

The winner take all system is to force everyone to the middle and to prevent fringe parties from becoming king makers. I still remember the Bolivian presidential election while I was a missionary that had something like 102 candidates. No one would compromise because all you needed was a plurality to be in the game.

Anyway, interesting how religion colors politics and vice versa. Sadly, I haven't seen my politics change much despite drastic religious changes :)

Rebecca said...

Hey Bull - I was totally going to point out the republic thing. I re-evaluated a lot of my political stances after taking a political science class at BYU (of all places). It was a GE, and I DID NOT want to take it, but I'm really glad I did -- one of the most informative classes I've ever taken. Now I'm actually MILDLY interested in politics, instead of completely oblivious...

Chanson, I LOVE that you wrote this: "It left me with a strong sense that political activism is vital to a functioning democracy, however I personally will never participate in it ever again." For some reason that's just really funny to me. :)

Arizona Expositor said...

I voted Liberterian in 1992, and Republican ever since. Just like Joseph's Left One, since I have left the morg my political identity is shifting too. As my wife says when she sees GWB on the tube, "His lips are moving again, here come more lies." I am starting to hear that too. Growth is interesting.

As for the electoral college, I still support it. I see it as part of the great compromise of our republic. Hey it gives North Dakota and its 3 votes a very big say in close elections. However I do see your argument for changing it. A bientot.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Hey Bull....

I lived in Panama for seven years and I saw what happened with an unbridled democracy... Really scary.

I agree with your post.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I really should have said democratic-republic instead of constitutional democracy... But either way I think that we area living under one of the best systems. :-)

C.L. Hanson said...

It would be one thing if the electors were actually chosen according to whatever republican-not-necessarily-democratic means the founding fathers intended. However, since the consensus is that the president is to be chosen by the populace in a general election, why not actually go with that instead of having a system that weights some citizens' votes more than others.

This system hardly gives more power to the states. Those few that choose to split their electors instead of going with the ususal winner-take-all system quickly find that their state is a less important one for the candidates to bag.

And it's not just a question of the electoral college -- the fact that the system has no runoff of any kind -- i.e. no way of voting "I want candidate X, but if it comes down to it, I want candidate Y over candidate Z."

Other countries have this, and it is the only way that smaller parties have any possibility of accurately demonstrating how many voters support their platform (since of course the U.S. doesn't have a house chosen by party representation in its legislature, either).

As Bull points out, this prevents the fringe from having any power. It also means that the major parties have less motivation to be responsive to voters -- since voters can't realistically turn to some other party if they're not satisfied -- so the major parties are free to represent whatever corporations and contributors they see as their constituents.

MattMan said...

I know I'm late to this party, but hopefully you have comment-notification emails turned on. I only recently added you to my regular read list just because I was overwhelmed for a while. I must say I'm enjoying your blog very much. Anyway, on to my comments...

I too voted for Nader in 2000 because I think of the choices he was the best man for the job (yeah, that sounds sexist because the system is sexist -- he did have a female VP, though, so added bonus there). I had regularly arguments with a coworker about my "wasted" vote. I would stand on my soapbox and defend my position that I was voting for the candidate I thought was the best choice, not based on whether it was winnable or not.

My coworker's position was that in our two party system, you basically have to vote for the lesser of two evils as a vote against the person you're sure you don't want in there -- pointing out that my vote for an unwinnable candidate was essentially a vote for the person I did not want in there.

I didn't back down, and here we are 6 years later and I'm finally seeing his point. And it stinks that the system is that way.

I often avoid politics on my blog or anywhere because it can affect friendships and such. And my own rejection of mormonism (and religion in general) has changed my political stance *a little*. Even when I was still morg, though, I was environmentalist, anti-corporate-control, green, "liberal", etc etc. But now my leftist leanings in many areas have become stronger.

For example, I'm now more strongly anti-republican because (here we go with the stereotypes) they are typically the evangelical types that cater to religious perspectives on everything. It wasn't always that way. The religious right has hijacked the republican party, as far as I'm concerned. And I see nothing "conservative" about fucking over the planet for corporate greed, or robbing the poor to pay the rich, or consuming resources so fast that we couldn't survive as a nation without ties to 3rd world war-ridden nations of extremists (talking about oil here). Anyway, enough of that.

I don't subscribe to or identify with any particular political party. These days I'm more of the thinking that it's just disgusting that what I call "career politicians" are so overwhelmingly corrupt and dirty. The democrats are just as guilty at this as the republicans.

I guess I'd mostly be favor of something more along the lines of a socialist democracy, but generally no one understands what I mean by that and I end up tarred and feathered. Go figure.

Anyway, love the posts, appreciate the comments you leave on my blog from time to time, and ... [wolf whistle] keep the pics coming. ;)

C.L. Hanson said...

Thanks Mattman!!!

I don't know if I have notification emails turned on or not -- I suppose that's something in the blog settings somewhere...

Good comments -- I'm pretty much in agreement with your politics. :D