Monday, February 23, 2004

With Ralph Nader entering the presidential race, predictable howls of outrage from the Democrats have been defeaning.

Nader's candidacy "is terrible if he goes ahead because it's about him, it's about his ego, it's about his vanity and not about a movement," sniffed New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, assuring us that John Kerry and John Edwards and anyone else running for president have no ego or vanity whatsoever.

Nader denied such nonsense noting that his candidacy was about changing the whole political system, not just removing the corporate shill in the White House with a slightly less messianic version. Bush is taking the country to pot at 80 mph and replacing him with someone will take the country to pot at 55 mph isn't acceptable enough.

To his detractors, he noted, "It is an offense to deny millions of people who might want to vote for our candidacy an opportunity to vote." After all, if the Democrats had spent the last decade or so acting like Democrats, then Nader wouldn't have gotten enough votes to "cost" Al Gore the 2000 election (as the myth goes).

The movement is about expanding political participation. When you have choruses of "pragmatic" people demanding we vote for the lesser of two evils (who's still an evil), no wonder so many Americans decide to opt out of voting altogether.

The 'lesser of two evils' crowd is directly complicit in provoking the widespread political apathy in this country. They've demanded we lower our standards. And most of the voting population has chosen to cower to those demands. Or they've simply tuned out in disgust. Conversely, if the voters decide to take their anger and use it to buy a backbone, then things just might have a shot of getting better.

I'm going to say something that I never thought I'd say: I no longer object to people not voting. I believe people should vote their conscience. Always. This is not a luxury. It's the only reason we engage in voting. If I forego my principles, then what's the point of the exercise?

Some people don't vote because they don't care. Why should they cast an uninformed, disinterested vote? Others don't vote because the "mainstream" candidates are so uninspiring or compromised and voting for a smaller party candidate is a "wasted vote," according to so-called conventional wisdom. Others believe the system itself is so messed up that no individual candidate can change it so why lend legitimacy to a process that has none in their eyes.

I don't agree with this logic, but I understand it. And I can even respect the choice. I think if you look at the candidates and say "All of these guys stink," not voting is a better expression of conscience than saying "well the Democrat will screw up 15% less often than the Republican and the other candidates 'don't matter' so the Dem's got my vote."

I'd still encourage such people to look at smaller party candidates (actually I encourage this for all people) or even to write in someone's name. But I'd rather have someone act on their principles by not voting than to throw their principles in the trash just for the sake of some perverted notion of short-term expediency. So I actually have more respect for someone who makes a decision to uphold their conscience by not to voting than for someone who corrupts himself and the system by settling for someone he detests slightly less them someone else.

If you really like or support Kerry/Edwards or Bush, then by all means, vote for him. If you don't, vote for someone else. Don't hold your nose. Ever. It makes a mockery both of your principles and of the exercise of voting.

At some point, you have to make a stand, even if so-called conventional wisdom perpetually insists "it's not the right time."

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