These recent elections have gotten me to think about voting in a new way again. I've talked to many people who have been dissapoointed with Obama's first term, but because they don't want "the other guy" to win, they are content to vote again for Obama even when there are other candidates that they prefer or would align with more. This led to some interesting discussions and now to the writing of a blog post to cover this subject more deeply. It is a vitally important subject that is too often dismissed and under valued.
It is often mentioned that the democrats are spineless compared the the right. People complain that Obama was too centralist and attempted to appease the right too much in his first term. But what is not considered is why this is. The problem is not the politician, for he is just a puppet to external forces, the problem is the voters.
When the far-right demands certain things, like gun rights and anti-abortion laws, their candidate listens: the right knows that if they are going to get all their votes, they need to also listen and include all of the right. If they didn't, those far-right voters would not vote, or vote for some other more extreme right candidate, they need all their votes, so they do a very good job of including both the religious and gun-right sub-groups of the right in their campaigns.
When it comes to the left though, they follow a very different set of logic. We just don't want "those other guys" to be in power, cause we know how bad it is, and anything at all is acceptable so long as it isn't "them"
What this means then is that our Democratic party doesn't need to worry much about the left. It doesn't matter if Obama promised he'd close Guantanamo bay, put into place a new high-speed train program, stimulate a green economy, take action to reduce global warming; elected a cabinet with Clinton and Bush advisers (and Wall street bankers) in his first week of being in office. The only thing that matters to "us left" is that he isn't Bush and his vice-president isn't Palin.
This needs to change, and it needs to change quickly. There are a number of other candidates on the ballot who are quite interesting, and some of them have values, speaking personally now, that I find are much closer to my ideal president. I would say that Jill Stein is about 70 to 80% in-tune with my values compared to Obama who is maybe 20 or 30% aligned with my views. Jill Stein provides for me the best match in policies that I would like to see change in the world.
Now if I vote for Obama, and I ignore this other candidate who has values that I actually agree with more, just because I am "afraid" of having the republicans in office again, then there are many negative consequences of this.
First it means that the democrats can continue to worry only about swing voters who are in the middle of the voting spectrum and can ignore the more left-winged voters. Their campaign and policies will continue to target the mid-spectrum voters (the ones who flip between the two parties) and essentially ignore the left-wing voters because they are "sure" they get their votes anyways. In essence, the Democrats become gradually every 4 years more-and-more right/central orientated.
Secondly, I am "waisting" my vote because I am not voting for who I actually wanted to have in office, instead I am voting for who I do not want to be in office. So I have compromised my vote. I am following my "fears" rather than pushing for how things should be I am focusing energy only on what I don't want things to be. It is important to not compromise your own ethics. Small things like voting for who you do not believe sends a message to yourself, and those around you, that you are willing to let injustices slide, to let negative behavior continue... just so long as it isn't worse than it is now.
Third, it is short-term thinking. What a lot of people don't seem to realize, is that neither party really wants to be in office indefinitely. Both parties want to switch periodically. Why? It gives you someone to blame. If the republican's would have been in office instead of Obama it would have been a lot harder for anyone to point the finger at someone else for blame in any economic issues. Even if Obama wins this re-election, how could anyone then assume that the republican's won't then again be in power in 2016? The republican's will inevitably be elected again in the future. So all you do by voting Democrat or Republican is delay the return of the other party from power.
Now if you agree with the policies of either party, then there really isn't any issue, you get your term, then you let the other side of the coin have their say for a while. But if you, like me, do not really see in either party the values that you believe in, then you are left with a rotation between two parties that never actually represents you.
Fourth point, let's assume that the democrats loose because too many people voted far left, say for Jill Stein of the Green party. What impact would this have? Sure in the short term we would have the republican's back in office. That might be bad, but then again, they will be in office again eventually anyways, so if it is not now, it would be again in a few years. The real impact though is that the democrats would suddenly realize that the far-left is being lost by them becoming too far-right, they would need to "recover" the left vote. A vote that for too long now has been just "taken for granted". It would mean that 4 years from now, in 2016 that the left would have to really look at what the values are in the left-side of the spectrum, and to make real attempts to incorporate those views in their next election campaign.
Perhaps the left compromises more because they want to create cohesion. Because they want union of the group. But much can be learned from the right, who know to stand up for what they believe in. These are key values.
Maybe one day we will have a voting system that actually provides fair representation. Where 5% of the vote would equal 5% representation in the senate/congress (as it does in many other countries, but not here). But until that day, we can only do the best that we can to move us in that direction. All of that starts with just voting for values/morals/ethics and laws that you actually believe in; and not compromising on that. This applies in voting, but also in life in general.
Be the change that you want to see in the world, it all starts with your self.