First Party Spoilers

by Dwayne Holmes

With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump placed as front runners to be the next president of the United States (POTUS), voters are being warned against voting for third party candidates. Exploiting fear of “third party spoilers” is routine in any close election and is meant largely to keep party members from straying. That both major parties chose divisive figures for their standard bearers makes such fear mongering as necessary as it is ironic. [1] While not advocating that people should vote third party, much less for any specific party, I want to challenge some common arguments made against voting third party, as well as point out how hypocritical they are.

For those not familiar with the term ‘third party spoilers’, it’s a pretty simple concept. In an election where two political factions represent the most common, opposing positions on public policy, minor differences between members of the same and otherwise dominant faction can result in an electoral split into sub-parties, allowing a unified opposition (of otherwise minority standing) to gain temporary power over factual majority interests. In short, choosing to vote third party is to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Although there are a number  of problems with the “third party spoilers” concept [2], a pretty important one is that the sort of “vote-splitting” dilemma caused by third parties is largely a product of our current voting system. While the system is simple to understand (if we ignore the electoral college for POTUS), it does a poor job of assessing voter interest. Other voting systems, such as ranked preference, avoid outcomes where a representative or policy could be chosen against majority interests. [3]

Though unlikely, one positive outcome of this year’s election process could be election reform. If improved voting systems were adopted at party levels during primaries and/or state levels for the general election, we could avoid reruns of the current situation. For example, if they had been in place this year Trump (and possibly Clinton) might never have beat party rivals, and a Trump victory by a minority of voters in the national election would be impossible no matter how many splinter-Left factions popped up.

Of course, none of this changes the current situation in the US, where we operate with a flawed voting system that allows for such vote-splitting dilemmas.  The common argument is that within this system — which is what we have and may be stuck with for a while — voting third party is at the very least a waste of one’s vote and at worst, a vote for one’s political opposition, and thus, a danger to society (since anything your opposition wants is patently dangerous). This position was “argued” by Dan Savage on his talk show, in a profanity laden rant against third parties in general and the Green Party specifically. [4] A transcript of the rant was picked up and endorsed by many anti-Trump advocates. Surprisingly, this included Massimo Pigliucci, who gave it a plug on Twitter and defended it against critics. I say surprising, because it was so emotion-heavy and reason-light — it was the opposite of what I’d take to be Stoic position on voting third party. (Pigliucci is a self-described practicing Stoic.)  Could fear of Trump rattle Stoics, while fear of death finds no purchase?

One mistake with the “wasted vote” claim is that it involves an unwarranted sense of entitlement by a major party to votes not cast for its major rival. That is, if a particular vote hadn’t gone to a third party it is simply assumed the vote would have gone to their party instead (based on some shared interests) and so allowed it to win. But this is to ignore that votes for all other parties are by definition opposition votes. While some might have come its way, it is also possible a vote for a “similar” third party might have gone to another third party, the opposing major party (based on shared interests not recognized as “important” by the whiners), or not been cast at all. If a vote was never going to go to them in the first place it couldn’t possibly have been “wasted” (which you will note is defined as failing to help them win).

Another mistake is that it ignores the fact that many people vote third party with the consequences firmly in mind and believe that doing so is worthwhile all the same. For example, that it is worthwhile to have their actual opinion counted, especially if required to lay the groundwork for a new opposition political movement, whether or not it is likely to win in this particular election. This is particularly true for registered members of a major party who decide to break ranks, a move that is not usually made frivolously, since it comes at a personal cost. Sometimes a vote is a message (a protest), designed to send a signal that a party has moved away from important principles or concerns. Many voters do this in a such a way as to not affect general election results, for example, by only voting third party in solid, single-party states where there is no chance for the major opposition to win, or “trading votes” with voters in areas where it would not have an adverse impact. But that is not always the case.  The idea may be that the major party deserves a lesson, a lost election, a wake-up call, in order to improve for the future. After all a lost election is not a permanent situation. And even if it were, for some people standing up for their principles, even in the face of defeat, is not a “waste.” Whereas compromising to choose the “lesser of two evils” always is.

The “vote for the opposition” claim is flawed for the same reasons of it being wasted. Only here it openly begs the question how a vote for a third party (C) counts as a vote for major party (B) against major party (A), when B would have equal rights claiming voting for C counts as a vote for A against B. As a matter of fact, a vote for C doesn’t help either A or B. Perhaps it bears repeating, voting third party is by definition voting for the opposition, but it is a vote for one particular opposition party and not any other opposition party (except to self-entitled “first party” losers).

“But … but … but … think of the danger!” says each major party, with no sense of irony.

The Democrats in particular are blessed with a recent example of third party voting, which they like to brandish at people. That example, of course, is Ralph Nader and the 2000 election.  As the campfire tale goes, Ralph Nader (who ran as a Green Party candidate) “stole” enough votes from Gore (the Democrat) to allow Bush (the Republican) to win, which naturally led to all of the horrors that followed and for which we are still paying. What were those stupid Nader voters thinking? The question is rhetorical of course, because no one wants you to actually consider why they voted the way they did, why Gore lost, or what happened post-election. Just remember … Nader voters elected Bush, which destroyed the United States!

Like any campfire tale, this may contain bits of truth, but most of it is easily dismissed. One interesting truth missing from that story is that Gore actually won the popular vote! The reasons he lost the election were: (1) a flaw in the electoral system that we use for POTUS, which can actually deny victory to winners of the popular vote (the Electoral College); (2) irregularities in the voting process of one state where Bush’s own brother was Governor; and (3) a controversial Supreme Court ruling that was decided along partisan lines (and ironically against longstanding party principles regarding states’ rights). [5] Even had it come down to a simple vote count disparity issue — which it didn’t — if Nader hadn’t run, the votes cast for him were in no way guaranteed for Gore. As it is (and commonly goes unmentioned), the Republicans that year had more than one splinter-Right party to contend with, draining votes and energy away from Bush. If third party voting hadn’t existed at all that year, things might have gone even worse for Gore.

But those are, you know, facts, which tend to get in the way of a good story. Kind of like the fact that we have no idea how Gore would have handled the issues Bush had to face if he were elected, and that no one could have predicted in 2000 that Bush would have reversed his own campaign platform (and longstanding party principles) to engage in the responses he did (which is why he is now anathema to some conservatives).

And finally there is the really “inconvenient truth” about how Bush’s election did not inherently lead to the disastrous policies that followed. The Democrats have a lot of chutzpah blaming Nader voters for what Bush did, when Bush couldn’t have done what he did without the support of most Democrats! [6] That includes Hillary Clinton who, despite being such a great listener [7], voted to support Bush’s most absurd policies and who, consequently, is much more responsible for the “horrors” that came after than any Nader voter could be. [8] If Nader voters made an error, which accidentally put Bush in power, her role (as well as other Dems) should have been to block his ability to make bad decisions. Instead, she invested Bush with even greater power than he naturally held as POTUS. Clinton (like many Dems post 9/11) abdicated the power they had to stop him and/or supported the very worst of his decisions.

This is part of the hypocrisy when major parties damn third party voters for the results of what their opponents do in office. They deliberately ignore the power and responsibility they hold within the remaining branches of government, in order to smear the electorate for what the party itself fails to provide (a bulwark against bad policy), following an election they lost.

But … but .. but … Trump!  Ah yes, that brings us to the Democrats’ current (damn the pun) trump card: Donald Trump.  If Nader is the ghost of elections past, Trump is the ghost of elections future. Unlike Bush, where one really had no way of foreseeing the train wreck to come [9], Trump does look like a (bigger) buffoon and has absolutely zero experience with governance.  How could he not go wrong?

Well, you’ve got me there. I openly admit that I do not want Trump as president. I don’t even like thinking about Trump as president. What an embarrassment. But let’s think about it anyway. Seriously. Let’s say third party voters split votes in such a way that Trump gets into office. What are the Democrats going to do this time? What they did last time, when Bush won? Or will they have learned the lesson that they need to act as an opposition party and not cater to those in power?

One positive outcome of a Trump presidency could be a general disillusionment with the common but errant concept of POTUS as a “leader” who ought to be “followed” (the position, while important, is supposed to be a “representative” who enacts laws and policies established by the will of the people through their legislature), as well as a reality check on what powers we want to invest a single human being with (or the executive branch as a whole). A Trump presidency might be the first time in history that POTUS would face near unified opposition of both Dems and Reps, across legislative and judicial branches, keeping a tight rein on presidential policy decisions and halting the ever-expanding powers of the Executive branch. [10]

This possibility of providing checks to a rogue POTUS raises another problem for the false idea that third party voters inherently empower their opposition. Did anyone bother to ask who else they voted for besides POTUS? There are other levels and branches of government than POTUS. Someone who voted for Nader may have made sure to put Greens or Independents (where they had a chance) or liberal Dems (where not) in crucial positions to check policy decisions by a potential Republican POTUS. Whereas someone that blindly punched a straight Dem ticket that year in NY arguably “wasted” their vote by installing a hawkish centrist into the Senate who raised no credible opposition to POTUS. In contrast to the caricature, third party voters can be smarter and more strategic in advancing or protecting their interests than people who vote along strict party lines.

But with Trump in line for POTUS, we can’t count on that! Think of his finger poised over the nuclear button! We must do everything possible to stop Trump from simply being in that office! It’s everyone’s moral duty!

Really? So where were Hillary and the Democratic party this year? If it is all of our moral duty to make sure Trump does not win, why didn’t Hillary (a known divisive figure) renounce her candidacy as soon as Trump became the Republican candidate? Why couldn’t she bring herself to do her part to ensure his loss?  She could have thrown her weight toward a less divisive figure, including another woman if preserving that aspect was important, or — more obviously – to Bernie Sanders. It’s funny listening to Dems complain that many Bernie supporters might not vote for Hillary. Well, if Hillary voters were willing to vote for Bernie (if he had won the nomination) and know that many Bernie supporters would not vote for Hillary (if she did), the obvious political (and moral) calculation would have been to place Bernie as the Democratic candidate, as he would have the best shot. But instead of duty we got whine.

And surprisingly — okay not so surprisingly — when Hillary was anointed, she didn’t bother trying to appeal to more liberal voters or offer olive branches to Bernie supporters to keep them. Indeed Dems ignored the fact that Bernie had brought voters from outside the Democratic party, who might not have voted for them otherwise (or at least for Hillary) and needed to be courted to keep them in house. Instead she pivoted right (which after all is her natural political stance), and has been virtue-signaling to Republicans ever since. Yes … demand liberals do their duty and “hold their nose” for Hillary, while making the Democratic party as warm and inviting to moderate Reps as possible.

As a practical matter, that strategy seems to be paying off, at least while Trump is busy alienating the moderate Republican base, many of whom are openly going third party, not voting, or shifting to Hillary. [11] But it should not come as a surprise then, given what is happening with Trump, that such moves by Clinton (making her platform appealing to Republicans) would alienate people on the Left from the Democratic party and who would then go third party (at least on POTUS), just like the Republicans who are alienated by Trump.

It is important to note another hypocrisy in play here. Criticism of people voting third party is usually not made against those splitting from their major opposition. Those kinds of third party voters are encouraged. Those kinds of third party voters are treated as if they are taking a principled stand that the rest in that party should take. Those kinds of third party voters are sometimes even targeted to bring them over to “our side.” Whereas those who split from “our side” are ill-considered, unprincipled — even immoral — vote splitters, who are not worth the time and effort to attract. If they fail in their moral duty to vote our way, then no use compromising with them, as clearly they are the ones unwilling to compromise.

While popular, the “third party spoiler” canard is merely a conceptual fig leaf to (1) hide the hypocrisies and failures of major parties, both to attract enough voters through an open, honest search for the best candidate (and thoughtful compromise) during an election, as well as to act as an effective opposition party when they lose, and (2) disguise the underlying cause of vote-splitting dilemmas, which is a flawed first voting system that does not accurately assess or protect majority interests (since the solution is something that might break long standing two-party rule).

This is not to argue anyone should vote third party or that voting third party can’t be a waste. It can be a waste as much as voting for a flawed “first party” candidate. But that is for you to call and not someone else. A good way to avoid feeling like you wasted your vote is to consider what you want to get out of an election. Will this candidate or party actually represent your interests, if not across the board (and realistically which can?), then at least on some vital issue that would certainly fail without them. And regardless of how you feel about POTUS, is there a way to advance your interests at other levels? Elections are not usually a one-issue, one-office affair. Voting wisely across levels and branches is like spreading your bets in gambling. One particular vote may not come through, but you can cover yourself with elsewhere.

Notes

(1) If anything, Democrats and Republicans made this one of the most attractive years to vote third party. I can’t remember another election where so many party members spoke so openly about having to hold their noses, or overlook obvious mistakes and gaffes (in past years considered catastrophic), to vote for POTUS candidates on both sides.

(2) One problem with this simple concept is that for any specific topic there are usually more than two policy options. And when we start considering many different topics, no single party, or two parties, can capture all the relevant ways individuals might want them handled. This gets more complicated where people might want different types of representation, depending on the level (local, state, federal) or branch (legislative, executive, judicial) of government being considered. For example someone might want a very hands off libertarian approach at the federal level and hands-on social progressive approach at the local level.

While most people in the US have come to view politics as a binary Left-Right, Democrat-Republican game, this conceals the complexities of each party. As dominant political powerhouses, which have put in rules intended systemically to perpetuate that dominance, the Democratic and Republican parties have effectively absorbed many of the smaller parties that you will still find in nations where multi-party governance (by faction-building within parliaments) is the rule. So in the lead up to US presidential elections, a circus of internal faction-building is conducted under the “big tents” of the two parties, followed by a straightforward duke ’em out between the two (now consolidated parties), during the election. Despite their power, smaller parties still show up on the ballot (sometimes due to failed faction-building within the big two) as very real, even if unlikely, alternatives. Although dismissed as vanity projects by supporters of the main parties they normally represent platforms or approaches not supported by the main parties.

(3) US elections (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_the_United_States) and their underlying system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-past-the-post_voting), are arguably less suited to determining majority interest, compared with other election systems (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system), especially the ranked preference systems (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranked_voting_system).

(4) To be fair to Dan Savage, I actually agree with his point that within our current system third parties are better off building a power base at lower levels and different branches of government, before seriously attempting to offer candidates for president. But his rant ignores that it is sometimes necessary to run someone just to get parties into debates, on ballots, and to acquire funding in order to shift election dynamics (get issues taken seriously) and to lay groundwork at that level for future elections. Not to mention his totally missing the point on what might motivate third party voters or what they might expect from their vote.  http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2016/07/19/24362128/dan-savage-on-jill-stein-just-no

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2000 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoiler_effect#Bush.2C_Gore.2C_and_Nader_.282000_U.S._presidential_election.29

(6) Using as a primary example of Democratic support for Bush policies, the tragic resolution to allow Bush the power to invade Iraq:

http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=107&session=2&vote=00237 … With the notable exception of my own Democratic representative (Senator Richard Durbin) at the federal level.

(7) http://www.vox.com/a/hillary-clinton-interview/the-gap-listener-leadership-quality

(8) While a comparison between Sanders and Clinton, this link provides a short and easy break down of Hillary’s support for some of the more controversial Bush policies (and some into Obama’s presidency):

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2015/sep/02/11-examples-hillary-clinton-and-bernie-sanders-hol/. In a more pro-Hillary piece (to be fair) this breakdown explains that while hawkish her voting record in bucking Bush policies was generally in line with or better than many Democrats.

(http://www.rollcall.com/news/hawkings/8-years-senate-votes-reveal-clinton). That only seems positive, as far as I can tell, if one accepts the level of support Bush received from mainstream Democrats as a measure of having provided an adequate “opposition” to Bush.  To me, most Dems failed in general, she may have failed slightly less than them, but consistently managed to fail on some key policy fiascos Bush had to offer.

(9) Before replying how obviously flawed Bush was that Nader voters should have known, remember Hillary and her supporters are using that same excuse for her at a point in time post-election when his inabilities (and poor policy decisions) were pretty obvious.

(10) In all honesty, one of the things I fear most from a Clinton presidency is that once in office so many will think “we won!” and then relax their guard (forgetting that they held their nose) and not question her decisions (or block her policies) as much as they would Trump, or any other Republican, when her track record has been terrible. About the only thing I can say would be a positive aspect of her victory would be that (a) we can get finally get over the novelty of having a “first female president” (other countries are well past this) and subsequently judge candidates on merit rather than sex, and (b) it might be easier to fight for some rights under a Democrat-led administration than under a Trump-brand Republican administration.

Certainly, under a Clinton presidency, I expect a status quo preserving expansion of executive power that likely would be fought tooth and nail (something I favor) under a Trump presidency.

11) From my perspective, conservatives in general and the Republicans in specific have already won the 2016 election (for POTUS) in all but name. Certainly the actions of long term conservative Republicans suggests this is the case.

(http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/25/the-biggest-gop-names-backing-hillary-clinton-so-far.html)

We are down to haggling over whether it is a moderate pro-business southern Democrat (aka conservative) or extreme right wing (slash reality TV star) pro-business conservative who sits in the office. Both are hawks (with Trump more blustery but less hawkish) and neither that great for minority rights (Clinton by past precedent and current policy statements and Trump by policy statements). By bringing on Kaine as VP, Clinton has even signaled a potential weakening in abortion rights issues (yeah he might say a woman has the right, but has supported financial impediments… here is a to-be-fair pro-Kaine article that is negative from my political spectrum:

http://www.vox.com/2016/7/23/12259036/tim-kaine-vice-president-abortion-views-explained

Strong pro-choice signaling should have been a given for a Democrat this year, given that a Supreme Court seat is on the line, but not with Hillary.

Categories: Essay, Essays

42 Comments »

  1. Thank goodness someone has finally said this, Dwayne. I can’t think of anything more annoying or self-serving than people saying, “You’d better vote for the person *I* want you to vote for, or else you’re immmooorrrrralllll!”

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  2. Well, I said what I needed to about the problems facing third parties, and their voters, in my response to David Ottinger’s article, so I won’t repeat that here. The question of whether a third party vote is ‘wasted’ has always seemed to me trivial, since third party voting is factored into major party strategies, and is in play as a normal part of American politics. The ‘Nader effect’ is really a myth, since we actually don’t know how Florida voted in 2000. In 1948 both the States Rights Party and the Progressive party bled votes from the Democrats, but Truman got elected anyway. The last election a third party had a real effect in was 1912.

    Finally, squabbling over third party voting fails to take the Electoral College structure as seriously as it deserves. In fact we are not a direct democracy, we do not elect presidents by popular vote, and the election – technically, by Constitutional law – is actually determined by a handful of people representative of the population of the state, both according to the size of the population as well as advised by the expressed will of the population. (‘Advised,’ because, again technically, the College Electors can vote otherwise if they choose otherwise.)

    All that noted, it must be admitted that this is the worst election in US history. We have an old-style (pre-alt/right) conservative running as a Democrat, a far-right crazy running as a Republican; an untrusted insider with poor campaigning skills vs. a potty-mouth clown. That’s a choice between syphilis and gangrene; well, at least syphilis doesn’t stink.

    Frankly, I think Chomsky’s right – this is a one party state, the Businessman’s Party, divided by emphasis into two factions.

    It is possible that C. Wright Mills’ Power Elite – the wretched marriage of big business, government and the military – what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex – could have been unraveled once it was properly noticed; but that time has long passed. As a political community, we made our choices, and we got what we get.

    As I said in my comment to David’s piece – I’m glad I live in a state where the outcome is so foregone that I don’t even have to think about voting. I fulfill my civic duty by posting comments like this.

    And this: At some point, it may help to ignore the whole carnival roadshow and start talking about real issues that concern real people, in a manner that can build grass-roots involvement in real political action.

    Or, like Morris Berman (Why America Failed) simply find a nice community to live in and, as an individual, opt out.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. It seems that Kaine is walking the political earth, playing the middle against both ends, seeking the wisdom of high office. Do you see now….

    Those ends – never the twain shall or should meet. Anti-abortion people for whom it is a voting issue people should really vote for their 3rd. party if there be such while continuing to curtail access. As Vox (populi, vox dei) says they are having success there. Will there be ‘free’ states in the end?

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  4. Hi Dan, thanks for the compliment! Maybe my essay can convince David?

    ………………

    Hi EJ, nice comment as usual. You touch on a few things I mention in my essay, and a few that I deliberately left out. My argument certainly grants cover to the decision not to vote as well… though that issue has different facets that would have added length. For example, you raise the point if it is worthwhile to vote at all. Whether rigged or not, voting (even third party) might lend some sort of legitimacy to the whole affair. That is a bigger question and perhaps something for a further essay.

    Your final line is something that I have been planning to write an essay about. I have spent my life moving about trying to find a “nice community”. It’s beginning to look like (given the forces of “globalization”) that will not be possible and I’m going to have to “stand my ground” somewhere and push back with whatever mechanisms I have available. Voting is a practical option along those lines.

    If a flawed system is going to be changed by a grass roots movement… and one great change would be improving the voting system we use… I suspect it will still require getting out to vote at some point. 🙂

    BTW, I also sympathize with Chomsky’s assessment. And sadly it now seems that it is not only a single business party, but a social-conservative business party system. At least the two business factions used to hold some slight liberal-conservative divide on social issues.

    ……………….

    Hi Michael, I’m not sure I completely understood your reply. It seems to me that Kaine is in support of curtailing access to abortion, and with her choice Hillary has signaled she is willing to compromise on that point to Republicans willing to put her in power.

    This year I don’t know of any 3rd party that is fully anti-abortion… with the Republicans still most likely to put an anti-abortion litmus tested justice on the Supreme Court. Certainly that is what Republicans willing to “hold their nose” for Trump are saying.

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  5. Hi D.B. Holmes,
    Looking through the Vox link I formed the opinion that Kaine was tailoring his approach to his audience in 2005 and it is made clear that his support for abortion services is firm in 2016.

    Kaine signed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court strike down Texas’s anti-abortion laws in its recent landmark case. And when the Court did so, Kaine released a statement praising the decision: “I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is — an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices.” He added that the Texas laws were similar to “arbitrary and unnecessary rules that were imposed on Virginia women after I left office as Governor,” like a controversial mandatory ultrasound law that Kaine spoke out against in 2012.

    He’s on the ticket as a cynical attempt to win a few inattentive pro-life votes.

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  6. Hi Michael, ahhh, maybe the problem was that I didn’t see a link.

    I have heard that Kaine has been modifying his position recently. However, the types of impediments placed by Texas and certainly Virginia raise other questions and defying those specific approaches does not suggest he would be unwilling to support any constraint on women’s access to abortion.

    I mean I would hope most people, even those that are pro-life, would be appalled by the ultrasound mandate. That seems counter to even conservative conceptions on the limits of government power. I mean if it could mandate that, then…

    That said, I agree with you that at least in part Hillary’s choice was cynical. Perhaps you are right that it was fully cynical, but she has waffled in the past on abortion rights (just like LGBT rights) so I am not convince yet that it is entirely cynical.

    By the way, do you know of any solid anti-abortion third party?

    I am firmly pro-choice myself, but I am curious.

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  7. Hi Michael, I need to make a correction to my last comment. I said…

    “ahhh, maybe the problem was that I didn’t see a link.”

    That was me getting confused about your reference to “the Vox link”. I thought you meant a link to the Vox you mentioned in your first reply, not the Vox website I linked to. Too many Voxs these days. I realized on a reread it came from my link.

    While that quote stands, later in the same article it gets to what I was talking about. Despite Kaine being opposed to certain types of anti-abortion measures he is amenable to other types. Here is the relevant quote…

    “If something happened to Clinton and Kaine became president, would he be as willing as Clinton to fight the constant efforts by Republicans in Congress to chip away at reproductive rights? Or would he be willing to make concessions on those issues in order to pass other important bills?

    And that’s just playing defense. Would Kaine push for policies to expand access? After all, abortion access is still severely restricted in many states, and public funding restrictions mean that low-income women have a particularly difficult time affording the procedure.

    For instance, Clinton has promised to work towards repealing the Hyde amendment, which would help low-income women afford abortion by once again allowing federal funds like Medicaid to pay for it. But Kaine still says he supports Hyde, even though he “is fully committed to Hillary Clinton’s policy agenda, which he understands includes repeal of Hyde,” Kaine’s communications director, Karen Finney, said in a statement.

    Finney added that Kaine “shares the concern that low income women and women of color too often face barriers to health care,” which is why he supports Planned Parenthood and programs that offer similar services. But would a President Kaine actively fight to repeal Hyde? It seems doubtful.”

    So Kaine could very well allow financial restrictions based on the “freedom of choice” argument that seems to be getting popular these days. That is you may have a freedom to choose to have an abortion, but I have the freedom not to pay for it.

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  8. Hi D.B. Holmes:
    It is a safe assumption that if Kaine is on the ticket he is also on message, today’s message. The idea of a Kaine mutiny doesn’t seem realistic. The anti-abortion folk are following the Wilberforce strategy used in combating the slave trade and not slavery as such. They want to hamper the abortion trade legally in every way possible and as Vox admits they are having some success. Given that they represent a good proportion of the population and that America is a democracy they are emboldened to continue.

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  9. Hi Philip, I’m with Dan that it cannot be as simple, easy, and comprehensive a change as you suggest. But let’s assume that they are able to make changes within their term in office. Would that not spark a reaction to reverse those changes? Is this something that would be impossible?

    That said, I understand there are people on both sides declaring that they are holding their noses explicitly to possess nominating position on Supreme Court justices. That is a big deal. In essence all of these people are one issue voters… gaining control of the supreme court… and that is ok! It just shouldn’t be used to tarnish those who aren’t one issue, or who doubt whether either of the main parties will put in people that are significantly different.

    As far as I can tell both parties will place justices that will be extremely pro-business, and pro-expansion of executive power, which will be more devastating to the nation than what any justice might be able to change regarding Roe v Wade.

    Let me be clear, I am totally pro-choice as well as pro-LGBT rights. Preventing Republicans (especially Trump Reps) from controlling nominations for SCOTUS at a time when many justices are pretty old, makes a very strong case (to me) to vote Democrat this year. Not a moral case, but a pragmatic one which is tempting. I get why people would want to do this and I would not try to argue them out of this.

    What’s sad is that this is basically the only thing I see which makes voting Democrat tempting, and even that is tainted by the fact that other than abortion rights (and maybe LGBT issues) they will be no better for SCOTUS than the Republicans.

    In truth, I would much rather have the Greens or Libertarians in charge of nominations for SCOTUS in the next term. Disregarding their chances, wouldn’t you agree?

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  10. Hi Michael, “Kaine mutiny”… ok, that’s catchy.

    I think I agree with the point you make about Kaine. For voters who are serious about advancing anti-abortion positions, Kaine is not their man. He won’t be a wrecking ball on abortion rights within the Democrat party.

    Of course, I hope you would agree with me that for people who are serious about advancing pro-choice positions Kaine is also not their man, and by choosing him Hillary has indicated that issue is not going to be something she will be advancing heavily or at all. For pro-choice advocates that is (or should be) troubling.

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  11. “I would much rather have the Greens or Libertarians in charge of nominations for SCOTUS in the next term. Disregarding their chances, wouldn’t you agree?

    Greens, of course yes.They are like Bernie Sanders, a hero.
    Libertarians, no. They are are as bad as Republicans on economic issues.

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  12. db (et al),

    Before turning to the argument, a few words on arguments of this type. In my last piece I did make an argument about civil and moral obligations. In doing so I was obviously assuming that there are such obligations and that they are fit to be argued. But in so doing I was assuming no more than is usually assumed in present public life and in the Western tradition. Without this assumption there could be no journals of opinion or editorial columns. Indeed I have made the same assumption previously when I wrote on freedom of speech issues, which did not raise the same comment. Those involved negative, not positive duties, but I was arguing negative duties in a moral/civic way, i.e. it is wrong to shout down one’s opponents. I cannot see that this basic assumption deserves more comment here.

    Moreover, in arguing disagreements over moral obligations I am not arguing that anyone is depraved or unworthy of moral respect. It is true that arguing over morals implies that those who disagree are thereby not morally perfect. But I take that it is obvious that no one is morally perfect. And in making an argument I by no means took myself as morally perfect. I am struck how many seem to take arguing morality as inherently oppositional, as one party tearing another down. I find it can better be viewed as mutually supportive, with each sided (or more realistically all sides) recognizing their fallibility and making arguments which serve to correct and improve every party when (and if) they are accepted. My essay was offered in the latter spirit and I believe a charitable reading establishes that.

    And lastly a word on tone. It seems strange to me that those who seem so bruised at the prospect of a moral argument are willing to take up such severe terms. The targets of this essay are described as sputtering (“But … but … but …”), emotive, dismissive of facts, “hypocrites”, “whiners”, “fear-mongerers” and probably more that I have missed. Now I am not so narcissistic as to think this all directed at me, I know the target is broader than that. Maybe all of it is supposed to go around me and hit Dan Savage, in which case happy hunting. But if it is meant to apply to me, I cannot see that I have deserved it. I have done no more than offer a garden variety political argument. I welcome disagreement, but I find this rhetoric unwarranted.

    Now to the argument. I think we may disagree more on fact than normative politics. I want to be clear that I would not make an argument and do not believe I did make an argument against voting for a third party under any circumstances. Interestingly I was just today reading Hofstadter. He summarizes the accomplishment of the Populist party: “Forming a third party was no way to win office, but given some patience, it proved a good way of getting things done.” Obviously when the Abolition party became the Republican party it was even more successful. However I do not see us as being at such a crossroads. I’ll argue that as I take individual comments.

    “One mistake with the “wasted vote” claim is that it involves an unwarranted sense of entitlement by a major party to votes not cast for its major rival.”
    This can only be true if the argument is made by a major party. Obviously neither I, Dan Savage nor most independent commentators have that affiliation. Actually I think the parties themselves usually sit back and let others make this argument for them. But I am subject to correction.

    “…[I]f a particular vote hadn’t gone to a third party it is simply assumed the vote would have gone to their party instead”
    I think it is safe to assume that if a person votes for Stein, the candidate who next best represents their interests/preferences would be Clinton. And so for Nader and Gore etc. It strikes me as a safe assumption.

    “Another mistake is that it ignores the fact that many people vote third party with the consequences firmly in mind and believe that doing so is worthwhile all the same…it is worthwhile to have their actual opinion counted, especially if required to lay the groundwork for a new opposition political movement”
    I agree with this in the abstract but not as it pertains to this election. I see possible constituencies which could be built in to real third party opposition. In particular a populist right and a democratic socialist left. I don’t see either constituency rallying around or being lead by the Libertarian party or the Green party especially when they are run by “What is Aleppo?” and “something-maybe-vaccines-are-bad”. William Jennings Bryan they are not. Obviously I also disagree about the degree of urgency in stopping Trump, about which more in a moment.

    “Many voters do this in a such a way as to not affect general election results, for example, by only voting third party in solid, single-party states where there is no chance for the major opposition to win”
    No objection.

    “The idea may be that the major party deserves a lesson, a lost election, a wake-up call, in order to improve for the future.”
    No objection in principle, I just do not believe that is worth the risk in this case.

    “But with Trump in line for POTUS, we can’t count on that! Think of his finger poised over the nuclear button! We must do everything possible to stop Trump from simply being in that office! It’s everyone’s moral duty! Really?”
    Yes, I think so. According to a source who spoke to Joe Scarborough, in a security briefing about nuclear weapons Trump asked three times “I don’t understand, if we have them why can’t we use them?” He has advocated flagrantly illegal policies. High ranking members of the military have said they would refuse orders he would give. In addition he has promised to convene a massive armed force outside the military. I think he could set off a constitutional crisis between the military and the civilian government such as America has never seen. He has promised to drag thirteen million people out of the country. This is the tip of the ice-berg. I believe it out-weighs (and massively out-weighs) the chance of organizing an opposition especially when that chance, as I argued above, is so very slim.

    “One positive outcome of a Trump presidency…”
    I sense a certain tension here. You argued previously that a vote for A could no more be considered a benefit for B than C, as if to say even if you vote third party you are not responsible for the outcome of splitting the vote. Then you seem to consider how being responsible for a split vote might not be so bad as if the third party voter does share some responsibility for that outcome. Are you just conceding the point that the voter is responsible to argue a fortiori?

    “So where were Hillary and the Democratic party this year? If it is all of our moral duty to make sure Trump does not win, why didn’t Hillary (a known divisive figure) renounce her candidacy as soon as Trump became the Republican candidate?”
    Maybe she should have, maybe not. But someone else not meeting their obligations is not an excuse for us not meeting ours. We have the choice we have (at this point) and we just have to make it as best we can.

    Agree on ranked voting (aka instant run-off voting). If you are interested in that sort of thing you might like Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (if you haven’t already).

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  13. David: Just on one small thing. Dwayne’s “But … But …s” hardly even scratch the surface of the hysterics that characterize a good portion of the Trump opposition. I’ve had very smart people tell me that we have moral obligation to vote for Hillary, because if Trump wins, he will start a nuclear war.

    Edit: Lol. I see that you have suggested something very much like this. I’m afraid, yes, I think that is borderline hysterical.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. dbholmes

    “Could fear of Trump rattle Stoics, while fear of death finds no purchase?”

    Nicely put.

    “We are down to haggling over whether it is a moderate pro-business southern Democrat (aka conservative) or extreme right wing (slash reality TV star) pro-business conservative who sits in the office. Both are hawks (with Trump more blustery but less hawkish) …”

    Yes, I would say Trump is less hawkish in terms of foreign policy. He is not a neocon. On the issue of conservatism and the left/right divide you’d have to say that these terms are getting more difficult to apply in the normal way. This is partly because a lot of people – including many traditional conservatives, classical liberals and previously apolitical folk – are becoming disgusted with the status quo and so are voting or threatening to vote for candidates outside the mainstream or otherwise in quite radical ways (e.g. Brexit).

    Hillary Rodham was a keen Goldwater supporter before she went to Wellesley College and was introduced to left-wing thought. She wrote her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky. But she certainly seems to have moved away from Alinsky’s ideas (apart perhaps from his ideas on lying). She is a neocon and supported by neocons. As you note, however, a lot of conservatives hate the neocons. (Ejwinner mentioned Eisenhower’s unheeded warnings: I’m very much with him on this.)

    I see that the issue of war has come up. My main concerns regarding this election are geopolitical. Clinton’s general foreign policy orientation (and she has form on this front, remember) strikes me as a greater danger to world peace than Trump’s. (And if she has serious health issues (as appears increasingly likely), that would only add to the danger/instability.)

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  15. Hi David, I apologize if the timing and subject matter made it seem like I was addressing (and so mocking) you in specific. The target was broader.

    To put your mind at ease I started this essay months ago, well before your essay… which I will point out I complimented twice in my replies. I’ve been piecing this essay together, a few minutes at a time, for a while now. The only direct connection it has to you is that your essay motivated me to finish it already.

    I should add, it was begun before I saw Dan Savage’s rant too, so it was not a direct response to him either. However once I read his… whatever it is… I saw that it fit too well, both in tone and target, to ignore. If anyone, Savage was the working model for my comic foil.

    Of course I have seen people (besides Savage) spluttering in astonishment in the ways I depicted, and I stand by the labels of hypocrite, whiner, etc where people engage in the actions described. While perhaps a bit spicy, again for dramatic effect, I don’t see how they are inaccurate.

    I’ll get to your arguments about my position in another reply.

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  16. Mark,

    “And if she has serious health issues” – actually if her health is bad, that’s a reason to vote for her, since Kaine already has Washington experience and proven administrative skills. He would be unexceptional, but capable in filling out her term. Pence not so much for Trump.

    In passing let me remark that one of the depressing aspects of this election is that for the first time in history, we have a choice between two one-term presidency candidates. Neither Clinton nor Trump have a rat’s ass chance of winning a second term. And for differing reasons, it is likely neither will even be able to finish out their one term – Clinton possibly because of her health, or a probable impeachment attempt by a grudging Republican House; Trump due to his unwillingness to divest from his (somewhat shady) business interests, which will likely lead to impeachment or resignation.

    It is true that the President now has greater war powers than the Constitution originally allowed. But it is also true that the Pentagon has greater political leverage than it ought. There are a number of factors and interests that actually limit the President’s ability to dial up a war at will. Neither Clinton nor Trump have foreign policy positions I care for; however, their positions on foreign trade are far more important than the question of which wars they would start. (And I also don’t like either of their trade policies.)

    But back to my original point: Assuming that one only has the two party choice, it would help voters to consider voting for the Vice Presidential candidate, given how loathsome the Presidential candidates appear to many Americans.

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  17. Hi Philip, while I agree libertarians can be as bad as some republicans on economic issues, they generally don’t support the “companies are people that should be given tax money” republicans. They might limit that problem in SCOTUS. More importantly they are pretty good on limiting executive power, and support abortion rights (which seemed your concern) more than Hillary does as well as ending the drug war.

    Not saying you should like the libertarians more, just that the economic stuff isn’t all they are about and may be offset by some issues that could be more important.

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  18. One more thing on this nuclear war business. The same scare was raised against Goldwater and then again, against Reagan. The promised nuclear war has yet to happen.

    Such hyperbole actually makes politics impossible. When we go past “I disagree with my opponent” and even “I think my opponent will really do harm to us, by way of his policies” to, “My opponent will cause the extinction of the human race” and “my opponent is mentally ill and thus, medically unfit for office” and “My opponent is so terrible that anyone who has even a shred of decency must vote against him, as a moral imperative” one de-legitimizes one’s opponent, *in principle* and thereby undermines the possibility of a bona fide political contest.

    The Republicans did this to Obama, by way of birther slanders and other such fare, and the result for our politics has been toxic. It is depressing — though not surprising — to see the Democrats engaging in the same sort of thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi David, now for your arguments…

    “This can only be true if the argument is made by a major party. Obviously neither I, Dan Savage nor most independent commentators have that affiliation.”

    You make a point that the “wasted vote” claim is not necessarily based on an unwarranted sense of self-entitlement (by either party). However that doesn’t really damage my argument, does it? At worst it forces me to broaden my language to include those who agree with the concept that the major parties (due to having so many members) are entitled to votes of people with “similar” interests. The inappropriate and unjustified sense of entitlement I was discussing remains.

    As an aside, given Savage’s rant on third parties and clear support of Dems, I am uncertain how you claim he is independent and lacks an affiliation.

    “I think it is safe to assume that if a person votes for Stein, the candidate who next best represents their interests/preferences would be Clinton. And so for Nader and Gore etc.”

    But that is flat out wrong and fails to address the argument I made toward why it is wrong. It all depends on what specific issue brings them to Stein/Nader in the first places rather than Clinton/Gore. Ok, if you want to place odds and gamble on who each voter might have voted for otherwise, maybe you could make some money. But to use such an “assumption” for anything else doesn’t seem sound, particularly arguments against voting third party in general as if you know what they all want.

    “I don’t see either constituency rallying around or being lead by the Libertarian party or the Green party especially when they are run by “What is Aleppo?” and “something-maybe-vaccines-are-bad”. William Jennings Bryan they are not.”

    I’m not seeing your argument here. The Dems are failing to rally those same people, based on other sets of errors like supporting the invasion of Iraq (and much much more). William Jennings Bryan, she is not. Which errors are worse? Aren’t those supposed to dictate who people should or should not vote for? And there is some irony in that you seem to be arguing that members of those groups who actually are rallying around Alleppo et al, shouldn’t (and actually should switch their vote) because they won’t be rallied by Allepo et al.

    Also I really don’t get if Trump is so bad, how suggesting Reps ignore Johnson or other third parties and force them to choose Trump or Clinton (take it or leave it) is a good idea.

    “He has advocated flagrantly illegal policies. High ranking members of the military have said they would refuse orders he would give. In addition he has promised to convene a massive armed force outside the military. I think he could set off a constitutional crisis between the military and the civilian government such as America has never seen. “

    Yeah we agree he is an idiot. We also seem to agree he would be coming in with built in opposition… and possibly get us asking some serious questions (for once) about how much power we want invested in a single person.

    I still find it interesting how you treat the ramblings of a blowhard as factual policy that will get done, while waving away as unlikely (to happen again) the actual policy decisions of a career politician, the effects of which have been nearly (and perhaps more) damning than what you lay on the blowhard. You know Clinton has said Nukes are on the table for her as well, right? That means she already believes she can “use them”, she’s just not asking the generic, rhetorical question Trump did.

    “Then you seem to consider how being responsible for a split vote might not be so bad as if the third party voter does share some responsibility for that outcome. Are you just conceding the point that the voter is responsible to argue a fortiori?”

    No. That portion has nothing to do with divvying up responsibility or credit at all.

    It is about addressing the fears, indeed hysteria, being raised about a Trump presidency. It takes for sake of argument the “worst case scenario” as envisaged by the spoiler-card players in order to burst the unstoppable-monster concept. The only people responsible for voting Trump into office would be Trump voters. The people responsible for anything good that might come out of (fighting) his presidency would be those who work to limit his powers at that time, regardless who they voted for for president (it may even include Trump voters).

    “Maybe she should have, maybe not. But someone else not meeting their obligations is not an excuse for us not meeting ours. We have the choice we have (at this point) and we just have to make it as best we can.”

    Maybe Clinton should have? If it is all our moral responsibility where does the maybe come in? It seems the only logical position is that she should have, and that she still should. That is her moral duty.

    Then there is the question of washing away her moral failure to do so.

    If “someone else not meeting their obligation is not an excuse for us not to meet ours”, then it would seem third party voters are in as good a position as anyone else. After all, that so many voters fail to meet their obligation (choosing between two evils instead of voting for the best candidate), is not an excuse for us not to meet our obligation of voting for the best candidate… right?

    Basically you have a problem on theoretical and practical fronts.

    Hillary has more power than any single voter to turn the tide against Trump. She has the power to remove herself (with epic disapproval ratings) to place someone more appealing to voters and with a better policy track record in government. Since she has more power, she presumably has a greater moral obligation. Heck, we can forget her stepping down. Why not compromise with groups, limiting some of her personal interests, or taking on some of theirs, to get more people on board? As I said she is doing so, for Republicans, while simply cracking the whip of duty for left leaning independents. That’s on her.

    It would be more interesting to me (and likely more effective) if you made moral arguments toward a single person (or influential supporters of that person) whose actions have greater consequences, than trying to make the case all third party voters (or non voters) owe that person a vote despite all of her political and moral failures… especially the same moral failure you lay on third party voters.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hi Dan, with Trump I have also been reminded of the Reagan “scare” ads. Frankly I didn’t like him or his policies, and man he really seemed likely to increase the odds of a nuclear war… that message resonated with me at the time… but it didn’t happen.

    And with some irony, we came the closest to nuclear war during the presidency of a lovable, well-spoken young guy who was (and still is) more associated with peace and progress than anything else.

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  21. Actually, just as only Nixon could go to China — and only Begin could go to Cairo — I think that only Reagan could have the relationship he had with Gorbachev, which was absolutely crucial to the end of the Cold War.

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  22. Hi db,

    I’m glad I and people like me were not your main target. Sorry if I came off as defensive, I just wanted to stand up for morality in politics as a reasonable position. Debatable sure, but not ridiculous. Likewise I have no interest in sheltering everyone. I find Dan Savage to be a pretty good paradigm of everything wrong with American political discourse. He should be roundly mocked. Remember I wrote in defense of Trump supporters and against condescending liberals examining them like bugs under a magnifying glass. So it’s worth noting we are in broad agreement about some things.

    To your replies:
    “However that doesn’t really damage my argument, does it?”
    Not really, I just thought it worth noting.

    “But that is flat out wrong…”
    We disagree sharply on this. I’m not sure how to further adjudicate it.

    “I’m not seeing your argument here.”
    In the OP you argued that one justification for voting third party was to “lay the groundwork for a new opposition political movement”. I was replying that making such a case for the Green or Libertarian party is pretty weak in my estimation. I strongly doubt either will lay the groundwork for let alone become a lasting opposition. I don’t think there are nearly enough people who are sympathetic to their ideology. Put differently I don’t think the country is drifting in either a a libertarian or “Green” direction. These parties then compound this fact with bad leadership. So I don’t believe a vote for them stands a reasonable chance of brining a new opposition to the mainstream. As I said above this was noticeably *not* true of the Abolition party, the nascent Republican party or the People’s Party. They had much broader constituencies and very serious people like Lincoln and Bryan. Voting for them stood a much better chance of having a real political effect.

    “I still find it interesting how you treat the ramblings of a blowhard as factual policy that will get done, while waving away as unlikely (to happen again) the actual policy decisions of a career politician, the effects of which have been nearly (and perhaps more) damning than what you lay on the blowhard.”
    I think it is quite reasonable to take Trump at his word at least about immigration because it has been his number one campaign promise. Also modern presidents have had a pretty wide berth for enacting executive agendas such as this, making it quite likely he would be able make good or at least try to make good on his proposals. (I realize you think electing Trump could spell the end of the imperial presidency, I am much less optimistic.) We also disagree very much about Clinton’s foreign policy record. Clinton is an interventionist but her foreign policy positions are far more sophisticated than “bomb the shit out of them”. I am actually sympathetic to a limited interventionist policy such as Clinton’s, so we may just be too far apart on this issue.

    “No. That portion has nothing to do with divvying up responsibility or credit at all.”
    Then why lay out how a Trump presidency might not be as bad as we might think? What do you see as hanging on that?

    “Maybe Clinton should have?”
    Yes, I think, maybe. While Clinton’s flaws are well noted (and I do not deny them) it is not clear to me that there is a better candidate behind her. There is a reason why the Democratic Party rallied around her. For instance I think Bernie Sanders would have been a significantly weaker candidate and a much, much weaker president. This may be another case in which we are farther apart on the facts than on politics.

    “After all, that so many voters fail to meet their obligation (choosing between two evils instead of voting for the best candidate), is not an excuse for us not to meet our obligation of voting for the best candidate… right?”
    Positing an obligation to vote for the best candidate, which I do not posit. (I take it that here what we mean by “best” is something like “most suited to govern regardless of the odds of being elected”.) I posit an obligation to vote and to vote what is most likely to bring about the most just governance. This entails taking into account the information on how other voters are likely to vote. Again I take it (though you may disagree) that a Trump presidency has a high potential for disaster (to use the word he is so fond of) a Clinton presidency would probably be pretty good overall and that no third-party candidate is viable as a victor or even as a potential opposition leader. If we take those as facts (and I realize that’s a big if) I see a moral obligation to act in a way that brings about a safe if imperfect political outcome and a moral obligation to *not* act in a way which potentially puts the community at great risk.

    “Basically you have a problem on theoretical and practical fronts.”
    Let me see if I understand. My theoretical problem is that I posit a moral obligation to vote for the best outcome and then ask voters to vote strategically. I answer that above. My practical problem, I take it, is that I lock in whoever happens to be in power and will not ever do what is necessary to begin a new political party. But I do not have this problem because, as I have been at pains to say, I do not object to voting third party simpliciter, but in this current political situation.

    “It would be more interesting to me (and likely more effective) if you made moral arguments toward a single person (or influential supporters of that person) whose actions have greater consequences, than trying to make the case all third party voters (or non voters) owe that person a vote despite all of her political and moral failures… especially the same moral failure you lay on third party voters.”
    I find that really interesting. Really everything I have written for EA has been premised on the idea that we need a return to active, involved citizenship and do more to culture autonomy and independence of judgment. I think it is exactly *our* obligations and responsibilities we should be talking about. We need each other as citizens, as members of the community.

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  23. The post and discussion, I am afraid, have largely missed the point. They are discussing symptoms and it is more useful to examine the disease than it is to examine the symptoms. The symptoms are a breakdown in traditional political alignments as people find that the political system no longer reflects its will, needs and aspirations. And so we find third party candidates and two widely disliked primary party candidates. No party or candidate properly reflects the real divisions in the electorate. Electoral makeup is changing, placing stresses on parties as they try to align with these needs but neither party is able to properly align with electoral needs and so what emerges is an ugly compromise that nobody likes. The emerging needs of the electorate are pulling parties apart, until finally they will lose their cohesion and reform into new parties naturally aligned with the divisions in the electorate.

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  24. Turning now to the disease, it is as old as human history itself. In very simple terms, the able, powerful and intelligent organise to monopolise power so that they control resources to enrich themselves. All of politics can be seen through this lens. Not to mince words, they are the kleptocrats and they make up the kleptocracy. We practice euphemism and give the kleptocracy nice, acceptable names such as monarchy, nobility, parliament, Democratic administration, Republican administration, etc. In all cases they have an ostensible goal and a real, unstated goal which is the monopolisation and accumulation of resources. This is the dirty secret of politics that few will admit. Don’t for one moment believe the whiny protests of labour politicians in the UK or Democrat politicians in the USA. They are as venal as their opponents but with the added twist of even more hypocrisy.

    Since earliest times kleptocrats have successfully monopolised resources. All that has changed is the name and the mechanism. Two processes interrupted this for a space of little more than 150 years. This was a period of brief hope when access to resources was broadened to a larger part of the populace. The first process was the emergence of free market economies which created new resources outside the control of the kleptocrats. The second process was the emergence of parliamentary democracy which freed resources from the control of the old guard kleptocrats.

    This brief period of wide and fair access to resources is drawing to a close. The able, intelligent and powerful have discovered means to recover their monopoly of resources and are bending all their energy to achieve this. To do this they are perverting the free market economy to concentrate wealth and have achieved remarkable success, especially in the US. To make this possible they needed to pervert the parliamentary system so that it could be bent to their will. They have used a variety of tools to make representatives dependent on the kleptocrats. Here also they have achieved remarkable success.

    The problem here is that both the major parties have in effect been bought or infiltrated by the kleptocrats so that they both represent the interests of the kleptocracy, though using very different language. Neither party adequately represents the exploited. This simple fact is causing great strains in the political system which will ultimately cause it to break apart and reform so that one party represents the kleptocracy and the other party represents the rest, the working class, the downtrodden, the great unwashed proletariat. The attraction of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is that they both appealed, in different ways, to this proletariat. Sanders failed because he could not overcome the entrenched interests of the kleptocracy in the Democratic Party. Trump, with his radical appeal, somehow, hijacked the Republican Party, but the entrenched kleptocracy there is fighting back vigorously.

    The Democratic Party and the Republican Party thus contain huge contradictions and it is this fact that led to the two, quite ugly candidates, prevailing. These contradictions are unsustainable and the parties will break apart and coalesce around new focal points that coincide with natural divisions in the electorate. It will be an ugly process as the kleptocrats will do all they can to impede it and retain their control.

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  25. Hi David, I was busy to the point of burnt out at work today (and likely will be again tomorrow), but I appreciate your reply and will answer you tomorrow or the day after.

    For what it’s worth… I get the blame and/or credit for the title. 🙂

    ……………………….

    Hi Labnut, you say my essay and the following discussion “missed the point”. No offense, and in all fairness, you seem to have missed the point.

    Much of what you said I agree with, even if I would put it a little differently (not criticizing, just saying I’d use different terms). There are even nods to some of it within my text (including end notes).

    I deliberately limited the scope of my article, which if anything, deals with one of the manifestations/instruments of the underlying problem you discuss. As such, nothing you said undercut what I said at all.

    I’d been planning an essay that has the larger problem as its subject, though I’ve been somewhat inhibited by the fact it’s been said so many times already by others (and would be lengthy). On the flip side, I had not seen anyone take on the “third party spoiler effect” directly (ever) which is why I thought that might be an interesting start, especially in a year like this one. My intention was to be novel and topical, while undercutting a theme the “kleptocrats” have installed as an efficient device to prevent people from considering anything beyond the usual two-party forced choice.

    It also gets into the moral/ethical dimensions of voting… something that I find interesting (apparently David does too) and is not available when dealing with an historical account of how citizens have been disenfranchised. David might also agree with your account, but it honestly has nothing to do with what he was addressing in his essay or what I was in mine.

    Perhaps you should consider the actual topic, before saying what does or does not miss the point. To me that basically reads as “what I want to talk about”. Great, write your own essay.

    It looks like I would like it! 🙂

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  26. db, “I’d been planning an essay that has the larger problem as its subject . . . .”

    I would really hope you do since I enjoyed this article as well as the commentary, very stimulating, and it moved me to do some digging where I encountered subjects like Condorcet’s paradox and Downs paradox. Just wondering if you will deal with those in the future.

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  27. Hi David, sorry again for the delay…

    You claimed that it was “safe to assume” votes for a third party would go to one of the major parties based on shared interests. Clearly we disagree on this, but I am not sure why this can’t be solved. Surveys from the 2000 election showed that votes for Nader would have been split between different parties, not 100% for Gore. I’m not sure how much clearer one can get that such an assumption is not “safe”. Heck, I knew people who voted Nader and would never have voted for Gore.

    If you don’t understand why a person who voted for Nader would not vote for Gore… that gets back to the logical case I presented (and you still never dealt with). Among other things, what seem like “similar interests” to you may not be the “important” interests for another voter.

    “In the OP you argued that one justification for voting third party was to “lay the groundwork for a new opposition political movement”. I was replying that making such a case for the Green or Libertarian party is pretty weak in my estimation. I strongly doubt either will lay the groundwork for let alone become a lasting opposition. I don’t think there are nearly enough people who are sympathetic to their ideology. Put differently I don’t think the country is drifting in either a a libertarian or “Green” direction.”

    But that’s just your opinion, and does not negate the validity (and necessity) of someone trying to lay the groundwork for a new movement which they think could be viable one day. I would agree that the nation is not drifting en masse toward either of those parties in particular, but it does seem to be drifting away from politics/politicians as usual. In any case, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to convince enough people it isn’t ever going to happen such that it doesn’t.

    “These parties then compound this fact with bad leadership.”

    Wow, you mean compared to Clinton and Trump? You mentioned a couple minor flubs about Johnson and Stein but that’s it and nowhere near as awful as those by both major party candidates. Isn’t it true that these other parties are doing better business than usual this year, because of the extreme bad leadership of the major parties?

    “Then why lay out how a Trump presidency might not be as bad as we might think? What do you see as hanging on that?”

    I explained it already. The Democrats (and their supporters) are drumming up unreasonable fears about Trump, to scare people into voting Dem (in lieu of actual negotiation on issues… something you say you like). I am deflating that bogeyman while pointing out that kind of argument (just like when Dems lay all blame on Bush and Nader) ignores their own responsibility after an election. This gets to why they are the spoilers, not the third parties.

    “I think it is quite reasonable to take Trump at his word… We also disagree very much about Clinton’s foreign policy record. Clinton is an interventionist but her foreign policy positions are far more sophisticated than “bomb the shit out of them”. I am actually sympathetic to a limited interventionist policy such as Clinton’s…”

    Most of this does boil down to your having an extremely negative view of Trump and his capacities, and a glowing view of Clinton and hers. All of which I find unwarranted by fact and reason. I’ve dealt with Trump, so let me address Clinton… especially as this gets to your (continued) apologies for her moral failures.

    Clinton is a known hawk, which is not simply “interventionist” but “military backed interventionist” (some might say adventurist). I guess one can call her policies “sophisticated”, just as one can call Kissinger’s policies “sophisticated”, but that didn’t make them any less damaging and errant. She is on record as having supported the most damaging ventures, national and foreign, across at least two (arguably three) administrations.

    But I hear she gives great apology. Is that the sophisticated part? Or maybe I am missing something. If she has a body of decisions (or actions that she supported) that were not damaging, perhaps even beneficial, that make up in any way for the costs of her failures, I’d be interested in knowing about them.

    How you go from that body of work (and her historic disapproval ratings based on those failures) to thinking there could be no Dem candidate to follow her if she stepped down is… wow.

    Also, the idea the Democratic party rallied around her, as if it was about her, is bizarrely counterfactual. The primary was quite close, with Clinton being helped by state voting that excluded independents (the very constituency Sanders was bringing into the party), plus… as we know now… corrupt party officials that were working against Sanders and for Hillary.

    Your claim seems to ignore all those people openly “holding their noses” for Hillary. How many people would really not vote for whoever she named as a successor, simply because “not Hillary”? And you really believe no one would join if someone else were named? I know some that would vote for Sanders, yet not for Hillary (he did have the higher general approval ratings).

    The way you talk about Sanders seems to indicate you’d understand people not voting for him, where you can’t understand anyone not voting for Hillary. Strange, the foe and so the duty remain the same. Wouldn’t it be just as compelling under Sanders? If not, why not? Then apply that to Hillary.

    “I posit an obligation to vote and to vote what is most likely to bring about the most just governance. This entails taking into account the information on how other voters are likely to vote. Again I take it (though you may disagree) that a Trump presidency has a high potential for disaster (to use the word he is so fond of) a Clinton presidency would probably be pretty good overall and that no third-party candidate is viable as a victor or even as a potential opposition leader. If we take those as facts (and I realize that’s a big if) I see a moral obligation to act in a way that brings about a safe if imperfect political outcome and a moral obligation to *not* act in a way which potentially puts the community at great risk.”

    But basically this boils down to “if people have the same conception of the candidates and the field as I do then they would be obligated to vote the way I feel obligated to vote”… right?

    And I’m not sure you can get away with talking as you have in the past about voters acting against some “theory” underlying democracy, when it turns out to be your personal theory.

    The theory underlying the democratic enterprise is that an informed electorate will choose the best representatives from amongst all candidates. The idea that they “ought” to select between two evils… even on a case by case basis… is not standard theory. And you yourself reject your own theory when it comes down to say Hitler v Stalin. While that might be understandable, that is not an objective line, and for some it may get drawn at two pathetic, power-driven jerks.

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  28. Hi Thomas, thanks for the compliment. It may be a while before I get to the larger problem because… well it is larger… and it will take more free time than I have.

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  29. Given that the franchise in the US is a prerogative, I don’t see how one can “posit” an obligation to vote. I mean, you can invent an imaginary country, where that’s not the case, but in the US, it is.

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  30. Hi Dan, true. While theory may say an informed electorate will do such and such, that is not the same as saying they have an obligation to vote in any or all elections.

    Though I sure wish it meant that anyone voting in elections had an obligation to be informed.

    This was one other problem I had with David’s position. He seemed to take rank and file voters who vote blindly for their party’s candidates, whoever they are, as fulfilling their moral duty (as if intelligently engaging in some compromise) more than voters that looked at the candidates first and said “meh”… just because the rank and file outnumber the self-informed?

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  31. Hey db,

    No worries on time. Thanks for a full and considered response.

    “You claimed that it was “safe to assume” votes for a third party would go to one of the major parties based on shared interests…”
    Ok. A few things. One claim I am *not* making is the counterfactual claim, if X had not voted for, say, Nader, X would have voted for Gore. I am saying that given a voters weighted preferences, it is rational to prefer the next nearest, and still viable, candidate. I take it is as obvious that a person who found Nader most congenial would find Gore more congenial than Bush. I realize they would not necessarily find that a sufficient case to vote for Gore but that is the conversation we are having. The assuption is only that the voter does have a preference between the two. That I take to be obvious.

    “But that’s just your opinion….”
    True.But being my own opinion I have to hold it.

    “…and does not negate the validity (and necessity) of someone trying to lay the groundwork for a new movement which they think could be viable one day.”
    Certainly not. But it does undermine (I think fatally) voting for the Greens or Libertarians as a means to laying that groundwork. There are, of course, many other ways to support an opposition. You can give money to some better suited organization, give time to some case, protest, try to influence the Democratic party more towards Sanders-style reforms, write essays for The Electric Agora, and many other things besides. But for now the path to me seems clear. Vote for Clinton, then work to change the future.

    “…it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy…”
    This is key. I think it really contains everything we have been arguing over. I will remind you again, that I am making an argument specific to a historical moment. I am not defending the proposition that a voter must never vote for a third party. Indeed I probably would have voted for the abolition or People’s Party. I certainly could understand voting for the Bull Moose Party. But in this situation I believe there is compelling reason to vote for the “lesser of two evils”, if you like. This does not in any way counsel against taking a whole host of other actions which would influence the future of our politics including in the direction of a third party. There are more ways of preventing “prophecy” than voting.

    “Wow, you mean compared to Clinton and Trump?”
    No I can’t see that that would be the relevant comparison. I meant compared to the task at hand. You spoke of laying the groundwork for a new opposition. I place long odds on Stein or Johnson laying that groundwork. Voting for Clinton pays out less but with much, much better odds. I see it as the better bet.

    ” I am deflating that bogeyman while pointing out that kind of argument (just like when Dems lay all blame on Bush and Nader) ignores their own responsibility after an election.”
    I see. But then you are arguing, as I mentioned, a fortiori.

    “Most of this does boil down to your having an extremely negative view of Trump and his capacities, and a glowing view of Clinton and hers.”
    So it now seems we do agree that we disagree largely on fact and not on normative judgment. You are correct that I have an extremely negative view of Trump, but wrong that I have a glowing view of Clinton (though of course my assessment of Clinton is more positive than yours). But I don’t think we should try to adjudicate fact. We both made arguments premised on certain facts. I wrote mainly to “to challenge some common arguments made against voting third party”. I wrote mainly to challenge some arguments about precluding candidates from consideration. I think we should stick to that.

    “How you go from that body of work (and her historic disapproval ratings based on those failures) to thinking there could be no Dem candidate to follow her if she stepped down is… wow.”
    I did not think or state that there could be no Dem to follow her. You wrote that she have stepped aside to let the party “place someone more appealing to voters and with a better policy track record in government”. I don’t know that she should have. I don’t know if the party could have fielded a “better” candidate as far as elect-ability or compromise between elect-ability and policy. She had huge positives on the elect-ability side. She had massive name recognition, she had proven herself in several national campaigns, she had held very significant offices etc. If you meant, as you may not have, that she should have stepped aside because the Party would have a better chance of winning without her, than I doubt it.

    “Also, the idea the Democratic party rallied around her, as if it was about her, is bizarrely counterfactual.”
    Let me be clearer. I did not mean the Democratic voters rallied around her. I meant the Democratic *party* rallied around her. It was widely acknowledged that the two parties were pursuing different primary strategies. The Republicans put forth a variety (18!) of candidates and let them fight it out. The Dem party clearly thew its support behind Clinton and discouraged competitors. Sanders ran *against* his own party’s leadership. Indeed the party favored Clinton to the point of being unfair, as you yourself noted. My point was that I don’t think they were out to lunch when they put their eggs in the Hilary basket. She had big negatives and big positives but may have been the best bet at getting a Dem into the White House.

    “…the foe and so the duty remain the same. Wouldn’t it be just as compelling under Sanders?”
    Yes. I would absolutely feel (about equally) obliged to vote for Sanders in a head to had against Trump. I don’t know where I gave the contrary impression. I think I did say I could understand voting for Clinton over Sanders in the *primary*, but that is a totally different matter.

    “But basically this boils down to “if people have the same conception of the candidates and the field as I do then they would be obligated to vote the way I feel obligated to vote”… right?”
    Well no. A person could fall into the kind of thinking I tried to critique in my piece. On such thinking they would prefer one to another but would feel unable to extend any support to the preferred candidate. So even assuming all the same facts and preferences, they would be thinking very differently and coming to a different conclusion. I thought that worth commenting on.

    As to “theory”. I am not sure what you take my theory to be. I did argue that members of a society have an obligation to be active citizens and to make decisions based on the common good as they judge it. Among those who would advocate such a view are Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Hume, Smith, Mill and, certainly, Jefferson. I think Dan will want to say Hobbes and Locke (and maybe Mill) would not. I would want to argue some of that. But I feel confident in saying most of the Western tradition posits an obligation to be actively involved in working to the benefit of the commonweal. I want to argue in this spirit, the spirit of “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” This tradition is well established in Western and American tradition. I am happy to defend it, but it is not an eccentric view.

    “…you yourself reject your own theory when it comes down to say Hitler v Stalin…”
    If you mean I reject a principle of “never vote third party, I remind you again that I defend no such principle. As I was at pains to say in my essay, I would note vote either for Hitler or Stalin but I would come to that decision on practical, political grounds, nit out because of any false deontic restrictions. As such this action is consistent with my argument. I mentioned that case only to bat away a potential reductio.

    Ok db. I may reply briefly if you anything further to add, but this will probably be my last long reply. My last two comments almost add up to an original essay (!), and I really have to work on my next piece which is, you may be relieved to hear, apolitical! It’s been good talking and I look forward to reading whatever you have to add.

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  32. Hi David, I’ll keep it short (most of it large quotes from your reply)…

    “There are, of course, many other ways to support an opposition. You can give money to some better suited organization, give time to some case, protest, try to influence the Democratic party more towards Sanders-style reforms, write essays for The Electric Agora, and many other things besides.”

    Agreed, but I can only point out that in this case people did try to influence Hillary’s team to reach out toward the independents Sanders brought to their party. The answer was a resounding no, she pivoted right. That was her strategy. That comes at cost.

    “But for now the path to me seems clear. Vote for Clinton, then work to change the future.”

    I’m not arguing against people feeling this way, much less trying to get people to vote against her. I’m just saying that “clarity” is based on your personal set of interests which others don’t have to share. One could just as easily say “don’t vote for either and work to change the future… not voting (and so not validating one or the other) being a first step in the work to change the future.”

    “You spoke of laying the groundwork for a new opposition. I place long odds on Stein or Johnson laying that groundwork.”

    Just to be clear, I meant groundwork for the organization irrelevant of the current front runners of those parties. As in they need to get a certain % to get matching funds, or on a debate, etc.

    “I meant the Democratic *party* rallied around her. It was widely acknowledged that the two parties were pursuing different primary strategies. The Republicans put forth a variety (18!) of candidates and let them fight it out. The Dem party clearly thew its support behind Clinton and discouraged competitors. Sanders ran *against* his own party’s leadership. Indeed the party favored Clinton to the point of being unfair, as you yourself noted. My point was that I don’t think they were out to lunch when they put their eggs in the Hilary basket. She had big negatives and big positives but may have been the best bet at getting a Dem into the White House.”

    That you think this argues in Clinton’s favor says just about all that needs to be said about our differences on this election.

    To me that is a pretty damning statement about the Democratic party, and how interested in “democracy” or choosing the “best candidate” it really is. The Reps may have voted in a demagogue, but at least Trump wasn’t pre-packaged for them by party leaders who feel they know what is best for everyone.

    And again, the claim in your last sentence has no supporting data, and plenty of data against it.

    What’s funny is that as soon as Reps picked Trump… Trump became the best bet of getting any Democrat (even one as problematic as Hillary) into the White House. Sort of like the McCain’s selection of Palin, on steroids. Hillary must be really thankful her old family friend came along to bust up the Reps like he did.

    “I did argue that members of a society have an obligation to be active citizens and to make decisions based on the common good as they judge it. Among those who would advocate such a view are Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Hume, Smith, Mill and, certainly, Jefferson. I think Dan will want to say Hobbes and Locke (and maybe Mill) would not. I would want to argue some of that. But I feel confident in saying most of the Western tradition posits an obligation to be actively involved in working to the benefit of the commonweal.”

    Ok I have the same reading list, and whatever obligations may be found, I have not seen anything which suggests voting in every election, and certainly for the lesser of two evils would be recommended much less an obligation, or that failing to vote inherently constitutes one’s failure to be an active citizen.

    Of note, given Hume and Jefferson’s elitist tendencies neither was likely much interested in having everyone voting.

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  33. Hi David, I forgot to add…

    1) “She had massive name recognition”

    That is completely true, and I believe this was why both Clinton and Trump were successful.

    Or rather “brand recognition”.

    Clinton and Trump are brands that seem to keep going on despite some pretty dismal track records in what they are supposed to be good at: Hillary in government (yeah she held lots of offices and has lots of experience, but mostly fail), and Trump in business (yeah he’s had lots of businesses, but lots of fail).

    They are famous for being famous. Celebrities. And Hillary has been positioning or running for first female president (heard the chants for it) for much of my adult life, and certainly for the last 12-16 years. If he is the reality TV star billionaire, she is the reality TV star first female president.

    I think this made a lot of people overlook more qualified and deserving candidates in both primaries, and sadly the Democratic party leadership who simply acted like it was obviously her turn. More sadly, I think their success is likely to foster the idea that brand recognition is an important criteria for candidates in future elections, the crucial formula for success, making primaries and elections more of a circus than they’ve already been.

    If your candidate gets into office, which I assume will be the case, I hope that she performs as well or better than you expect. The most compelling reason I can think of for voting Democrat this year is (as Philip Thrift suggests) concerns for controlling nominations for the Supreme Court, specifically for abortion rights. That isn’t about pro-Hillary or anti-Trump, just strategic placement of an opposition party in control of a specific branch of gov’t during a critical period (Reps currently hold the legislature). I assume she will get that at least half right. Despite EJ’s prediction, I’m sure Clinton wants to be more than a one term president.

    If she managed to win my vote for a second term, now that would really say something about her.

    2) Thank you for your replies… plus the article which got me motivated to complete my own! 🙂

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  34. Sounds good db,

    Glad I could be a motivator. You are very kind to say so.

    Agree that the history of philosophy stuff is complicated. I was of course sensible that Aristotle and Plato do not even support democracy and even Mill supported only limited franchise. Still I think a meaningful generalization can be made. Maybe we’ll have a chance to get into it over subsequent posts. We can both agree heartily on the invidious effect of celebrity culture in politics. As you know I locate the source of a lot of our problems in media and public discourse.

    It’s been fun talking, and I have a strange premonition we will get back to this again. So. To be continued…..

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