To the pissed off progressives over here: Don’t be Naderites. It’s a losing political strategy.
Our country has what’s called a "plurality" voting system. It means the first candidate to get 50% of the vote, or the candidate that gets the most votes in an election, wins. This kind of system discourages third parties by punishing people who abstain from voting or who vote for third parties. To be clear, in a plurality voting system, if you don’t vote or if you vote for a third party, you are actually helping the candidate you least want to see in office, because in a plurality voting system it’s a zero sum game. One man, one vote, so if you don’t use it, you’re helping your opponent.
Not all voting systems are like this. Systems of proportional representation allow for third party representation even if the third party doesn’t win a plurality of the vote. Systems of voting like Range Voting or Instant Runoff Voting allow people to vote their conscience (say, for a third party) without helping the opposite mainstream candidate.
However, America does not have these kinds of systems. There can be two logical reactions to this reality.
First, you can agitate to change the voting system. It’s a long road towards a voting system that better represents the will of the American people instead of shoehorning them into voting for the lesser of two evils, but it’s a worthy fight and you’d find a lot of support.
Second, you can work to change the party from the inside. That means primary challenges, organizing powerful groups within the parties, taking over party infrastructure – you know, all that Crashing the Gate stuff.
But not voting or voting for a third party because you’re not getting what you want is politically infantile. It’s the equivalent of a spurned child crying out, "I’m taking my toys and going home!" It might feel good, but it doesn’t actually help you achieve your goals, because you’re helping the people you least support. There has been no instance I can think of – not one – where a purer faction of a party sent a message to the party establishment by voting third party and the party establishment listened. Not one. Though there are plenty of examples to the contrary, the Tea Party’s failed run at NY-23 being only the most recent.
The people who voted for Nader in 2000 sent the country backwards and didn’t help reform the Democratic party. By contrast, Howard Dean and his followers mounted a powerful primary challenge and then proceeded to take over large parts of party infrastructure and create real change. It’s a lesson on how to do things, and how not to do them.
I don’t disagree with the basic premise that corporate Democrats should be challenged, especially for the way the health care debate has played out. But it’s important to find a constructive target and mode of action. Who’s really to blame for the health care debate? Is it people like Tom Harkin, who stood up for principles but ultimately had no support from leadership? Or is it people like Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and President Obama, who watered down health care in the former instance and refused to fight in the latter?
If you want to send a message to centrist Democrats in the Senate, not electing more liberal people (as Coakley is – she might not be Bernie Sanders but she’s not Joe Lieberman) is not the way, as it’s probably something Nelson and Lieberman would applaud. If you want to send a message to the White House, there are direct ways to do that. Taking away the 60th seat in the Senate, as useless as it seems, will only make the administration compromise more, as they’ll now want a Republican on board for everything. (Yes, we need to reform the Senate, but we’re not there yet, the campaign still needs to be run and groundwork be laid. Taking away the 60th seat in this environment leads to more compromise, not Senate reform.)
I know some people won’t like this advice. So be it. Still, folks should find a good target and make an example within the party. Folks should organize and takeover, not disorganize and take down. It’s harder to do, and it requires more thought then yelling and screaming, but it’ll actually get what you want done. If you put your energy into these things, you’d make a lot of difference.
Being self-defeating because it feels good isn’t going to get anything accomplished. Though it’ll sure feel good, and I guess that’s what politics is about for some people.