Why We Should Change How We Talk About Third Parties

Rachel S

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I tend to lean libertarian more than I do conservative. If not, welcome to Chicks on the Right. You must be new.

I do identify as a libertarian, and today I’m going to put that libertarian hat on to talk about something I find troubling about political discourse. It goes without saying that the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Mock, Daisy, the other interns, or Chicks on the Right as a whole, but just to cover my bases: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Mock, Daisy, the other interns, or Chicks on the Right as a whole.

Now back to the point.

I first really started engaging with politics in the year or so leading up to the 2016 election, somewhere around this point:

Like many Americans, as the election drew closer, I became less and less impressed with the two major candidates and began looking elsewhere. I remembered vaguely from a high school class that I tended to have a lot in common with libertarian principles, so I looked into it, and thus began what some may describe as a descent into madness.

I voted for Gary Johnson, I have no regrets, and I’m still proud of my decision.

Here’s why. At a rally I attended (and at which I got a selfie with Gary, it’s nbd), he said something that’s stuck with me ever since: “If you vote your conscience rather than voting for the lesser of two evils, which one is really the wasted vote?”

Following a third party candidate made me realize how important I feel it is to vote for the candidate you want, not against the candidate you don’t want. I hate tactical voting. I believe it’s what led us to many of the problems we have in political discourse today. Our standards for elected officials are now so low that “not being the other guy” now qualifies someone to sit in Congress or run a state or lead the free world. To me, that’s a problem.

But when I point this out to people, I always hear something about “spoilers” and “splitting [insert party here]’s vote” and a bunch of explanations that inevitably come back to tactical voting. And I understand that. I just think it’s the wrong way to look at things. Because when we call third party candidates spoilers– heck, when we call them “third party candidates”– we’re perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy of fringeism (a word I made up just now, but it’ll catch on, just you wait).

I’ll use the 2016 presidential debates as an example. Although Johnson fell short of the 15% polling threshold, the case is to be made that it’s a rigged game and arbitrary number. To quote Johnson himself:

Johnson said the decision did not surprise him, and added that the commission is a tool of the major parties,

“After all,” he said, “the Commission is a private organization created 30 years ago by the Republican and Democratic parties for the clear purpose of taking control of the only nationally-televised presidential debates voters will see.”

The former New Mexico governor added that the commission “may scoff at a ticket that enjoys ‘only’ 9 or 10% in their hand-selected polls, but even 9% represents 13 million voters, more than the total population of Ohio and most other states.”

Now, if the libertarian candidates had been included in the presidential and vice presidential debates, do I think they might’ve won? Of course not. But they would’ve been given the platform that has historically been reserved only for the two main parties, and you can’t put a price on that kind of exposure. It’s the exact same reason Tulsi Gabbard is suing Google: Robbing a candidate of the chance to access voters means that they’ll never stand a chance. And that’s what the debate commission did to Gary Johnson.

Now, I will admit that, to an extent, the electoral college and our voting system inevitably leads to a two-party system. But it doesn’t have to. And it won’t, if we don’t let it. You don’t have to turn libertarian, but I think we owe it to ourselves, each other, and America to hear third parties. It’s time to stop talking about “wasting votes” and “election spoilers.” It’s not about being the head of the table for libertarians (and or Green party supporters, or Constitutionalists, etc.), it’s about simply having a seat. It’s about being let into the door. But as long as other politicians and the media and even other voters shut us out with self-fulfilling condescension, we’ll never make it.

Granted, there’s a lot of reasons that third parties aren’t bigger– the libertarian party has been plagued with sexism and the kind of in-fighting that makes the Civil War look almost tame. But today I’m talking about the exclusionary and self-serving rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats. I know it’s a tall order; convincing any politician to do something that doesn’t immediately benefit themselves or their party is an exercise in madness, and allowing other parties to have their say is in direct conflict with other parties’ goals (coincidence? I think NOT).

But perhaps I can ask y’all, treasured readers, to try out a different framework. Next time you hear about a third party candidate, give them due consideration. Evaluate them the same way you would a Republican or Democrat. You may well think I’m nuts, and that’s fine (but joke’s on you because I haven’t even started to unpack my anarchism phase, so if you think I’m crazy now you have NO IDEA how deep it goes). But maybe (hopefully) I’ve pointed out something you haven’t really considered before. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’ll just let you know right now that I’ve already heard all the criticism in the world against Gary Johnson, but if you think you have something new I’m game.

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for every last one of you readers and to our incredible founders who give us starstruck Chickterns the chance to speak our minds.

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