Friday, May 1, 2009

labels and third parties

I have a friend who chastens me whenever I use a label like socialist, conservative, righty, lefty, progressive, fascist, communist, Democrat or Republican. He finds such labels constricting.

My friend is a label-hater.

Me, I'm a label-lover. Why? Mostly because it means less typing. I mean, I can't very well say socialist, class-warrior, psuedo-intellectual, gun-grabbing, self-loathing, elitist hypocrite every time I want to bash a socialist, class-warrior, gun-grabbing, self-loathing, elitist hypocrite, can I? It's not like I'm trying to make a word-count here, and if I need to fill space I'll just pick a bigger font. Maybe Helvetica. Not only that, if I attempt to type out each agglutinative term every time I need the particular referent, I might leave something out--like pseudo-intellectual or race-baiter--and in doing so fail to convey the full meaning of my rant. On the other hand, a simple label can say it all. I mean, everyone knows that, right?

And yet, my friend protests. Why put everyone into these little boxes? How can millions of people be defined in a one-word sobriquet--or maybe epithet--as though a certain set of people all think one particular way? The answer is, of course, that the boxes seem to work. In the end, whether we like it or not, we can all be pigeon-holed one way or another. In fact, for most of us it's one way or the other. Left or right. Liberal or conservative. Democrat or Republican. I guess that's why the two party system developed, and why all the libertarian mixers I organize are so sparsely attended. A better question might be, what is it about Democrats and Republicans that makes it sort of fall out that way, so that either Sean Hannity or Alan Colmes speak for us all?

The first thing to realize is that it's always been like that. During the renaissance, when dead-white-guys first became all the rage, the educated class was shocked to discover that every thinking person on earth could be labeled as the intellectual descendant of either one of exactly two Greek philosophers. And that still holds true today. Now I'm not suggesting that Plato was the first chairman of the Democrat party (though if you read The Republic, you might wonder...), or that Aristotle's Peripatetics were the first Ditto heads. (I'm doing my very best Dennis Miller here. Just nod your head and smile.) I'm just saying that there seems to be something fundamental that makes people pick sides. And by sides I mean one label or the other.

But there aren't two sides, are there? There are several different ways to handle every political issue, and hundreds of discrete issues. And yet in the U.S., we all must accept inclusion in the Democrat box or the Republican box, or else be relegated to political irrelevancy in a third party. So if I think taxes are too high, I must also believe that government should throw marijuana smokers into jail. And if I think that gays should be allowed to marry each other and enlist in the military, I must also accept that your SUV is destroying the planet.

If you are looking for an explanation, you are on the wrong blog. Just because I recognize the dynamic at work doesn't mean that I understand it. Are we simply round and triangular pegs pounding ourselves into square holes? Or maybe political polarization is simply a product of the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend mechanism. I don't know why Democrats and Republicans became the only game in town. What I do know is that, however loathsome or stupid (respectively) the viable political parties have become, they are the only two there are.

Now please understand: I'm not saying it has to be that way. If someone asks me the best way to protect our trick-or-treaters on Halloween, I won't accept that the answer must be to give them either guns or condoms. I will admit that if I am forced to choose, I lean toward guns; but that's only because I can't guarantee that a random pedophile will pause long enough to put on the condom, no matter how nice we are to him. But neither is a good choice; so I choose a third.

Why, then, should I vote McCain simply because I'm so much more afraid of the damage that Obama might do?

I know, I know. The third choice is not really a choice. I don't have the option of supervising my children as they shuffle from door to door on their candy quest, and no third party candidate will be president in my lifetime. But it is only the fact that everyone knows that a third party has no chance to win that makes it so. In order for there someday to be a viable third party candidate, there will have to be a critical mass of voters who accept the possibility before it happens. When I am feeling optimistic--which is most of the time--I think of myself as the vanguard of freedom, the cutting edge of a political revolution. When I am feeling pessimistic--like on election day-- I trudge into the voting booth muttering to myself about how I am throwing my vote away. But I know that it must be done. If I don't, who will? Voting with my brethren in the libertarian two-percent is the only way that it might someday become ten-percent, twenty-percent, or more. Consequently, it's the only way I can legitimately hope for real change. No, the other kind.

So I choose to think outside the box. Or rather, outside the boxes.


Nothing in this blog post should mislead anyone into thinking that if Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater, or a close approximation thereof, were to grace the Republican ticket in the near future, that I wouldn't break my finger in my ardor to press a button for him..... or her (you know who I mean). And I fully support some great main-party legislative candidates--almost always Republicans--who don't happen to agree with me on every issue. But John McCain, George Bush, and anyone else who doesn't understand the proper Constitutional role of government will never get my vote for the Presidency.