Notes to a Friend who is Considering Voting Third Party

Yes, I have hopes of convincing you to vote for Hillary, but this also about other things.  It is, for me, about understanding how you and other third party voters are thinking.  It is about understanding the issues related to this election that are important to each of us. It is about taking the opportunity to talk – whether or not we ever agree – because I’m sick of living in a country where we don’t talk politics to people who are voting differently than we are.  I’m responding to you as someone who I hope to convince, but I’m also engaging with you as a member of my community.

Note:  This post has been adapted from various comments I’ve written in social media discussions.  Thank you to anyone visiting who takes the time to read this.   I hope that you will not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments.  Please do so with respect and in a spirit of mutual exchange.

 

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My Bernie yard sign, repurposed with Hillary bumper stickers. #WasteNot #FeelTheBern #ImWithHer

I’ve heard people say we shouldn’t vote based on fear.  And while I agree that sometimes, fear is an obstacle, something to be gotten over, fear is also a survival instinct.  It is the thing that tells us, yes, there is a predator, and we must respond.  Donald Trump preys on our fear of “the other.”  He preys on our fears about losing our jobs and not being able to support our families.  He preys on women.  He preys, in other words, on us.  We must defend ourselves, our community members, and our country against him with our votes.

But you’re right.  We must also vote out of hope, or things will never get better.  And they do need to change.

I donated to Bernie’s campaign over thirty times.  I know that’s not unusual among Bernie supporters, but I really did want him to win.  In his pragmatic way, you could say that he did: He fought for and won a remarkably progressive democratic party platform. By asking people to vote for Hillary, I’m supporting the same causes as when I was supporting Bernie. I’m not going to claim that Hillary is perfect, but the platform she’s running on now is pretty awesome. If we stick to her, she will stick to it.

 

I’ve heard Hillary described as lacking in competence, which Oxford defines as “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” We could debate what makes a president successful, but Hillary is probably the most qualified person in the country in terms of experience, skill set, and grasp of relevant facts. Sarah Silverman has aptly described her as “the only person ever to be overqualified for a job as the president.” Hillary is strong, determined, smart, and resourceful.

I’ve heard Hillary described as a “narcissistic sociopath.”  Ye Olde Wikipedia (hardly a psychological authority, but it does reflect the general population’s use of these terms) includes in the characteristics of a sociopath “impaired…remorse” and “bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits.”  Unless you’d call 90+% of our legislators and former presidents narcissistic sociopaths, a person who describes her this way is expecting her to be more caring and less egotistical than other politicians.  It’s worth asking why we might have those expectations of her.

5% of people in this country admit they won’t vote for a woman for president even if she’s qualified (and even if she’s not HRC). You’re not one of those people. You’re voting for Jill Stein, or maybe you’d love to vote for Elizabeth Warren.  But even those of us who would love to see a woman become president in our lifetimes may be affected by our society’s differing expectations of women.  It is worth asking ourselves if part of our distaste for Hillary is either because of the way the media has framed her or because of choices she has made in order to navigate a man’s world successfully.  Neither gives her a “get out of jail free” card, but – if we dislike her, or even loathe her – it’s important to understand that there may be more than one reason for that.

I’ve heard that Hillary lies.  According to Politifact, Hillary is actually very truthful, as politicians go.

I’ve heard Hillary described, in a variety of ways, as a bad person, as someone who is greedy and self-interested.  I don’t think it’s so easy to know what HRC’s deepest motivations are or have been. For most people, that’s a complex question. But I don’t care if she’s a good person; I don’t care about her motivations.  I care about how she’s going to do the job.  I don’t need to like her.  I need her to work for us – and with an engaged electorate, she will.

I’ve heard people complain about Hillary’s service as a New York senator because she moved to NY in order to run for that office.  I was going to school in NY when she first ran for senate there.  It was a strategic move, but it was also consensual.  NYers chose to vote for her – I imagine because they felt she would be an effective candidate – and they liked her enough to reelect her.  If you’re going to blame her for setting herself up there, you have to also blame the NYers who voted for her.

I’ve heard Hillary criticized as being inconsistent.  Hillary has been in politics for decades, which means that her errors in judgement are out there for all to see.   It would be great if we had more Bernies out there, solid as granite and with unimpeachable integrity, but they’re rare.  When I was a kid, Bush said “no new taxes.”  Then there were new taxes.  Scandal! But also eye rolling, because everyone knew politicians were slippery and inconsistent.  HRC is – so far as ethics and consistency – no worse than the presidents I grew up with or most of the legislators we have today, yet people hate her.  Politicians’ records are complex.  She’s no worse than Bill, and I’d take her over Bush, Bush, or Reagan any day.

Hillary has done a lot of good in her life.  But yes, she has, like most people in power, done horrible things.  She bears responsibility for these, but she wasn’t the only one who bought into these policies.  Not only Hillary and other politicians, but we the people have been complicit.  We have not, as a country, been engaged in the way we need to be in order to demand right action from our leaders.  If you’ve been demonstrating, protesting, petitioning, writing your senators, thank you.  I know I haven’t been doing a good enough job for most of my adult life.  In the last three elections, voter turnout has only been around 60%.  The government will not work for us if 40% of us aren’t even paying enough attention to cast a vote for president.  Voters are not victims; we have agency and must use it, in local as well as national elections.  Hillary and other politicians have been, in many ways, the politicians we have allowed and even encouraged them to be.

While I acknowledge the troubling aspects of Hillary’s record, what is most important to me what she does from here on in.  The Clintons have always responded to public pressure. HRC will be a president we can work with.  She will want to leave a legacy.  She’s no Bernie, who would stubbornly stick to the good no matter what people think, but if we make it clear what we want from her, if we pressure her and stay involved, hers could be an extraordinary presidency.  And there’s real hope that Americans would do that; there’s determination to change things – the Black Lives Matter movement, the #noDAPL movement at Standing Rock, Bernie’s Our Revolution, etc. are all evidence of this.  Hillary may be a corporate president if we become complacent, but she’ll be our president if we stay involved.  She has the potential to do extraordinary good in this country and in the world.  I believe whether that happens is up to us, now and following the election.

I’d also like to point out that Hillary has been courageous, both in her performance at the debates with Trump, and in her acknowledgement of the bias that exists in this country.  It’s not popular to talk about prejudice, but we need to.  As Tim Kaine said, if you’re afraid to have the discussion, you’ll never solve the problem.

 

You think that Jill Stein or Gary Johnson is a better choice, and you think that voting for them will make an important statement.  I have serious reservations about Stein’s lack of experience and Johnson’s lack of knowledge about the wider world, but it’s irrelevant to debate Jill’s or Gary’s policy’s versus Hillary’s.  Trump or Hillary will win the election.  We have passed the stage for other possibilities, and this particular election is too important for making statements.  The hatred that Trump has unleashed demands action, both now, in the form of a vote that actively keeps him out of the White House, and following the election.

A vote is not an endorsement.  It doesn’t indicate that the voter thinks the candidate will be perfect.  It is a choice the voter is making.  You have a choice to not vote or to vote for Stein or Johnson or Mickey Mouse, but there are only two viable candidates, and voting for anyone other than Clinton or Trump means you’re leaving the choice up to other people.

 

A friend has described Trump as “someone who would likely be very bad for those in American and possibly bad for people outside of America.”  That’s optimistic.  Trump’s bigoted rhetoric taps into the deeply help prejudices still present in this country.  He is electable precisely because he gives so many Americans the permission to act out their prejudices, and because he gives them scapegoats for their fears and anger.  He has brought hate groups into the mainstream.  He has bragged about assaulting women.  His identity is built on the worst sort of machismo.  This is a man who has threatened the press and threatened to jail his political opponent if he wins.  A man who doesn’t believe in climate change.  If he is elected, it will empower and validate the bigotry that his campaign has unleashed, and we will have a Commander in Chief who can’t even keep his temper in check during a debate.  A Trump presidency would be disastrous for the people in this country and for the rest of the world.

Hillary has her faults, but those faults are nothing compared to Trump’s racism, misogyny, fear mongering, and scapegoating.  A vote for Hillary is a stand against hatred, a stand in favor of a diverse and humane society, and – if you’re willing to stay involved after the election – a vote that makes it possible for us make real, positive change in this country.

 

Voting for Hillary doesn’t mean you have to give up on a multiple-party system.  I don’t think you’ll get change in our lifetime, or perhaps ever, by voting third party for president in itself – but we can achieve change by campaigning for practical, nitty-gritty changes:
Instant-runoff voting.
Primary reform.
Reforming/doing away with the electoral college system.
Automatic voter registration and doing away with voter ID laws.
This is the infrastructure we need to make a multi-party system viable. This is the work we need to do.

We don’t have time to make these changes before the election, but let’s call for change in these practical ways in the new year.  I hear a lot of complaining about the two-party system every four years, but I don’t see practical action being taken during the other three years of the cycle.  Why is that? Is it happening, and I’m just not seeing it?  Where are the posts?  Where are the petitions?  Where are the letter writing campaigns?  I’ll share and sign and write.

If a multi-party system is important enough to risk a Trump presidency, why wasn’t it important enough to spend 2013-2015 working on the details of the system?  I hope people remember how frustrating this has all been once we’re not in the middle of it anymore.  I think John Oliver suggested 2/2/17 as a day to write letters demanding reform on these matters…sounds good to me.

In the meantime, the best thing we can do is vote in a president who we can work with. With a responsive president and an engaged electorate, we have an excellent chance.  With Trump, we have no chance.  Those are our choices.