The Tragic Ballad of Mittens and Bam-Bam (Or: Why I Might Vote Jill Stein)

8 Oct

By John Cole.

When I started this blog, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to touch the subject of politics with a ten-foot pole.  Put the words ‘politics’ and ‘Internet’ together and you get nasty images of caustic, passive-aggressive Facebook posts, ill-informed rants floating around the comments sections on news sites, and complete strangers cyber-bickering about candidates whose platforms they don’t (or won’t) understand.  And all of us have been that person, right?  At one point or another, all of us have let some post or another get our blood pumping so hot that we let go of our judgment and let fly with something stupid.  I didn’t want to be that person.  Not here.  “No,” I thought, “politics and writing don’t mix.  Not here, at least.”

Then I realized how absolutely ridiculous that statement sounds.


The consummate face of the voice of a generation.

Mario Vargas Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature and also ran for the Peruvian presidency.  George Orwell made political statements with every piece of journalism and every novel he published.  While writing with his green fountain pen about spring and the cherry trees, Pablo Neruda also occupied multiple positions as a Chilean diplomat.  Politics and writing go hand-in-hand.  You can’t become a good politician without recognizing the power of every word you speak.  And if you’re a poet or novelist, your work has to fight for something – it has to struggle for change – or it has no meaning.

Going to a high school for government and international studies, I’d like to think I learned a thing or two about how to evaluate American politics.  But (and I am ashamed to admit this) sometimes it’s just so hard.  Getting bombarded by attack ad after opinionated talk show after smear campaign creates a slipstream of facts and fiction that can take hours to decipher.  Where do the facts start and the fictions end?  When I watched the first presidential debate last Wednesday, I pulled up Politifact on my laptop and frantically checked statement after statement as Obama and Romney’s measured voices washed over me.  Over the course of that hour and a half, my mood slowly sank as I watched the candidates squabble almost mechanically.  They interrupted each other.  They interrupted the moderator.  And half the time, they just couldn’t finish their own sentences.

This post isn’t about what exactly they said.  I’m not going to talk about whether I agree with their tax plans or Obamacare or Social Security.  Rather, I want to talk about how they said it.

Of Bickering, Bravado, and Big Bird Butchering

Call me idealistic, but I expect any candidate for the presidency to have a basic familiarity with manners.  One of the roles of the POTUS is being the chief diplomat, for chrissakes.  I’m not looking for the Webster-Hayne debate or anything, but I feel that it’s rational for the contenders to treat each other with respect.  I don’t want the dog-and-pony show of the primary debates – I want actual political discourse.  And, more importantly, I don’t want Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the VMAs.  When Obama whines “I would have had five more seconds if you hadn’t interrupted me” and Romney petulantly interjects later on with “virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate,” I am reminded of my ten-year-old brother arguing with his friends about whose Minecraft server is better and who absconded with whose good Pokémon cards.  These are the men to whom we will entrust our international affairs.  If they can’t speak civilly to each other and to the moderator, then how can we expect them to conduct deals with other nations that may hold radically different views?

Evidently not.

That’s not the only issue I have with the debate, though.  Both candidates cloaked their meanings with vague phrases and misleading facts, spinning and framing the statements they were trying to make.  Watching Politifact’s Twitter feed, I saw article after article pop up revealing that the candidates were fudging the truth.  Obama saying that 50 million people would lose their health insurance if Obamacare were repealed?  Mostly false.  Romney claiming that Obama doubled the deficit?  False.  Obama stating that Romney’s plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut?  Half true.  Romney retorting that pre-existing conditions are covered under his healthcare plan?  Mostly false.  “It’s like the campaigns are driving 100 miles an hour on a highway with a posted speed limit of 60, but the patrol cars all have flats,” said Mark McKinnon (a Republican ad manager for previous campaigns) in TIME magazine.  Again, none of us are looking for perfection in our candidates.  That only leads to disillusionment.  And, again, this has been going on for the whole campaign season; it didn’t just start now.  But I think that most of us would rather they rely on the strength, eloquence, and validity of their own platforms rather than tear into each other.

The Pull of Perot

This election year, along with the usual feelings of “I want to crawl into a nuclear bunker for the next month/move to Europe/become a Canadian,” I actually feel like I’d rather vote for a third-party candidate.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’d rather vote for Jill Stein.

When I off-handedly mentioned this to my mother over breakfast yesterday, she speared me with a look of horror.  “But Elizabeth,” she said, “you wouldn’t want to waste your vote in your first presidential election, would you?”

“I’m voting Perot,” interjected my eccentric ginger of a father.

And you thought Obama had memorable ears.

“Honey, Perot isn’t on the ballot.”

“I’m voting Perot,” he repeated.  “Write-ins, you know.  Write-ins.”  And he sauntered off to the living room in all his gingery, iconoclastic glory.

As much as I am loath to admit it sometimes, my father did have a point.  Third-party candidates don’t get nearly the attention and media coverage of their Republican and Democratic counterparts.  They’re running not because they were the most politically advantageous choices of their parties, but because they are passionate enough to believe that one day, if they just push hard enough, they could take the presidency.  But they face the dramatic problem of achieving the fifteen-percent threshold in polls to appear in debates.  Gary Johnson and Jill Stein (and Ross Perot, much to my father’s chagrin) weren’t invited to speak alongside Romney and Obama.  However, from what little I know about them from their debate on All Things Considered, they appear to be more eloquent, more committed to honesty, and more enthusiastic than to hem and haw their way through a bleary ninety minutes.

But I won’t be able to verify that, since they’ll never show up in a debate.

If there’s a point to all this, I suppose it’s that I’m disillusioned by a two-party system that would champion rude, untruthful candidates while shoving others who may be just as driven and intelligent by the wayside.  All my life I’ve been told that voting for anybody but the Republican or the Democratic option will result in my vote being thrown away, as if I had never exercised my right to vote in the first place.  But how can third-party candidates ever gain any traction if we all continue to believe that?

I’m starting to get a little too politicky for my own good, so I’ll wrap this up with one last thought: if I don’t see any change in the behavior of the major competitors, I may just throw my weight towards Jill Stein.

And, bless my father’s nonconformist little heart, he may manage to throw his towards his beloved Perot despite it all.

Did you watch last week’s debate?  Do you agree or disagree with any of the third-party candidates?  What do you think?  Post in the comments section below!  (In a civil manner, please.)


8 Responses to “The Tragic Ballad of Mittens and Bam-Bam (Or: Why I Might Vote Jill Stein)”

  1. briandrush October 9, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Unfortunately, our two-party system is a necessity given the way we elect people to the House of Representatives and state legislatures. Because those elections are district-wide and winner-take-all, it makes strategic sense to make common cause with those who agree with us on the most important points and compromise the areas where we disagree. Because of this, two parties organize themselves at the local level and this transmits to the upper stratospheres, ultimately to who can nominate a presidential candidate with a chance of winning.

    Only three times in our history have non-major parties succeeded in pushing their way into public acceptance: during George Washington’s first term, when the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans first congealed; during Andrew Jackson’s presidency when the Whigs arose to contest the Democrats after the collapse and disappearance of the Federalists; and in the 1850s when the Republicans arose around issues of industrialization and slavery after the demise of the Whigs. Each time, one or two parties arose to fill a vacuum, not to create a third voice. Only once has a third-party presidential candidate defeated a major-party nominee: in 1912, and that’s the exception that proves the rule, since Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party candidate, was also a former Republican President.

    If you look at democracies with thriving multi-party systems, all of them also have some form or other of proportional voting. That’s because with proportional voting, if you vote Green, and at least eight percent of Virginians also vote Green, Virginia would send one Green Congresscritter to the House (since Virginia has 12 Houselings). As it is, if you vote Green in your district, and eight percent of people in your district also vote Green, your district will send — a Republican or a Democrat. Under the present system, your vote for a third-party candidate IS wasted. Under proportional representation it wouldn’t be, and so people would be more inclined to do it.

    It would be a good thing to break the two-party system, I agree. But it can’t be done just by people deciding to vote for a different party out of hope. At best, what that would accomplish is to lift up what is now a third party to replace either the GOP or the Democrats — and in order to do that, the third party would have to appeal to a broad constituency, with completely predictable results.

    What we need is a movement at the state level to implement proportional representation. No amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be necessary, since the Constitution prescribes only the number of Representatives and that they be elected every two years by “the people of the several states” — the states themselves may determine the manner of electing them.

    So Elizabeth, if you really want to break the stranglehold of the Demopublicans on our politics — and believe me, I sympathize — work to have your state implement proportional representation.

    • elizabethballou October 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

      As always, Brian, I appreciate every comment you leave on my blog – but none more so than this one. I was going to touch on proportional representation, but decided that that was a can of worms I didn’t really want to get into at the time I wrote this. You are, of course, right.

      Like I said above, I feel that I’m so young and inexperienced when it comes to political decision-making that I usually get swept away in a tide of news articles and sound bytes. We did, however, discuss this issue in great length in my AP Gov class last year (my senior year of high school), so one thing I know to be true is that I find the winner-take-all system contrary to democracy. More research on my part is necessary – you mentioned countries with multiparty systems, so I need to read up on several examples of those before I am truly informed.

      I still think that a vote for a third-party candidate isn’t a complete waste if you truly believe in that candidate’s platform. Many people have told me that they feel like they’re choosing between the lesser of two evils. If they don’t feel good about either choice, why keep it that narrow? But your words are full of wisdom, and I will certainly look into how one might reasonably work on changes to Virginia’s state laws.

      p.s., can we make Houselings and Congresscritters the official monikers of said posts? That would be delightful.

  2. Jogger October 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    good article but don’t throw your weight at Jill Stein, throw it at Gary Johnson. He’s the man

    • elizabethballou October 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      eh, my personal views line up more with Jill Stein’s, but I certainly respect Mr. Johnson as well 🙂

      thanks for stopping by, Jogger!

  3. obama2012 October 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Jill Stein is amazing!

  4. Matthew Ruskan October 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    I agree totally with you…How can we know whom to vote for if we do not know what they really stand for? Maybe I will vote for Gary Johnson after all

    • elizabethballou October 10, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

      Well, he’s coming by MLWGS to speak (or has he already come?), so you’ll get an awesome opportunity to hear him speak about his platform!

      Thanks for stopping by, Alfredo 🙂

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