Voting Isn’t Everything

Picking up on the various discussions going on about the Democrats, third parties, and progressive movements, Mannion has written a piece called Fugue for the Disenchanted, in which he explains why he won’t abandon the Democrats, and asks:

Who will you vote for? For governor? For Congress? For mayor? For dog catcher?
My short answer is the best candidate. I'm not a Democrat, though I've always voted that way (and undoubtedly will again). However, I've got no party affiliation, because I always intend to vote for/support the best candidate for the job, and once—just once—I did support a Republican nomination. You may have heard of him; his name is Patrick Fitzgerald, and he's currently investigating the Plame leak in Washington, although he's the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, where I used to live. I agree with Mannion’s categorization of the Democrats as the better party, the party that has been repeatedly vindicated on principle, and yet…I’m not a Democrat. There are things about which I care very much that the Democrats don’t address satisfactorily, or don’t address at all. Which leads me to my longer answer, and it starts this way: voting isn’t everything.

Elections are one part of politics, and they have, quite unfortunately, become the biggest and most visible part of politics, but within the context of a discussion about the potential of changing the political landscape, asking for whom one will vote misses the point, because what I do on election day is not inextricably linked to do what I do in the interim. Disillusioned progressives have been, over the course of the past couple of weeks, proposing three main options: reforming the Democratic Party, supporting a third party, and forming a progressive solidarity movement. Not only are these not mutually exclusive propositions, none of them have to do with elections or voting.* Instead, they must be recognized as the efforts of those who quite correctly view politics as affecting each part of their lives, in big and small ways, and have resolved to find a way to influence politics to better reflect their wants and needs.

The daily effects of politics on one’s life is connected to voting only insofar as which political party received the most votes. (To circumvent a tangential discussion of whether endorsing particular hot-button issues can win or lose elections, I will simply insert a reminder that in poll after poll, Americans’ politics are in line with Democratic principles on those issues.) The platforms on which parties run, the issues they address, and the policies they endorse are all shaped and refined outside of the voting booth. Casting a vote is the least important role of a citizen who has a vested interest in changing the political landscape, specifically because it is an easy choice to make. If I gave money to the Greens, volunteered for their campaigns, and dressed head to toe in nothing but green garb, I could still vote for a Democrat in a tight governor’s race (and perhaps help safely elect a Green dog catcher).

Those of us who care passionately for the influence of politics on our daily lives don’t have the election day tunnel vision that many party members seem to share. Interest in seeing progressive ideals be enthusiastically championed is not nearly as reliant on vote-casting as on building a progressive movement that cannot be ignored. My progressive vote was cast for Clinton, and yet he has on his rap sheet DOMA, DADT, and NAFTA, for a start. That doesn’t mean I feel my vote was wasted; it means I am motivated to see a presidential candidate who better reflects my interests—by the time I vote, it’s too late. It’s what we do in between voting that really matters for progressives.

A wise man once noted the importance of seeing the influence of politics on our daily lives:

Americans have a habit of talking about politics as something apart from the normal doings of their lives. Kind of strange of us, considering that the normal doings of our lives are only possible because of politics. Turning on the tap to get a drink of water is a political act if only because the water flows and is relatively clean because of decisions made by politicians who owe their jobs to political decisions made by us.
Absolutely right. They owe their jobs to our political decisions, not just our votes. Sometimes political decisions are completely independent of Who We Will Vote For, and we’d probably end up with better politicians if we made our decisions that way more often.


*I acknowledge the familiar refrain that third-party support will inevitably steal votes away from the Democrats and hand elections to the GOP, but such arguments deliberately ignore the determination on the part of many third-party supporters to vote strategically in tight elections. (Those who would point to Nader voters in 2000 miss that this is, perhaps, one of the key groups who now advocate such tactics, having seen the result of abandoning the Dems at a critical point.)

Indeed, our own history should inform the idea that the influence of third parties and progressive alliances only serve to strengthen progressive ideals within the Democratic Party; the New Deal was in large part taken from the platform on which the then-more robust Socialist Party had been running—and, their interests being addressed by the major left party, socialist voters were urged by some party leaders to vote for the Democrats. Treating the suggestion of supporting a third-party as nothing more than stealing a vote away from the Democrats ignores not only the willingness of many third-party supporters to make judicious decisions when casting a vote, but also the important contributions that progressive coalitions have made to pushing for legislation now hailed as the Democrats’ greatest success. The party does not now and has never operated in a vacuum, nor should it; giving a third-party or progressive coalition the funding and support to push hard for progressive ideals is an important strategy in getting what we want from the Democratic Party. Forcing them to deserve our votes isn’t foolish; it’s necessary if we want a party that doesn’t move ever rightward.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus