During election season, it is compelling to look back at the headline-grabbing, standout candidates of previous elections.
You know, the names like John Anderson, Ross Perot, George Wallace and Ralph Nader. All household names, right?
Wrong. Over time, these men’s names faded almost entirely into obscurity. To most, their names do not pique the faintest of memories. They all ran as third-party candidates facing an uphill battle. All ultimately lost their election, most by a wide majority. For registered Democrats and Republicans, the third-party candidate is often avoided and ignored, but voters registered as independent sometimes have more motivation to consider them.
Some voters look down on third-party candidates, accusing them of stealing votes from either the Democratic or Republican candidate, as if the third-party candidate is doing something wrong by earning the votes of the people. Some third-party candidates have indeed run shoddy campaigns, but the same could also be said for our two powerhouse parties.
Third-party candidates have some credible history as well. Theodore Roosevelt, who was rated in the top five presidents of all time by both CSPAN and the Wall-Street Journal, actually formed his own party in 1912, four years after his term as president ended. Running against the Democratic and Republican candidates, Roosevelt managed to finish second and showed the country — for however brief a time — that third-party candidates matter and should be respected.
This upcoming election could hinge on how much attention independent voters pay to these unlikely candidates. Independents are as critical a factor now as they have ever been. Recent polls run by both Gallup and IndependentVoting.org found that nearly 40 percent of registered voters are independent, which is the highest total recorded in history.
This growing group of voters will soon be faced with a challenging dilemma. Should the independent candidate deserve their vote, will they enter his name at the polls and join the small minority? Their alternative is to accept the fact of almost certain defeat and settle for the better of the two high-profile candidates.
Right now, Obama holds a nine-percent advantage over Romney amongst independent voters. Obama has a lot to lose if independent voters pay more attention to third-party candidates, yet both Democrats and Republicans seem about equally worried about third-party candidates stealing their votes.
Unfortunately, it seems most Americans only care about the feelings of the Democratic and Republican nominee, harboring a two-party system that our forefathers warned against. John Adams, our second president, told this to his fellow countrymen in his book “The Works of John Adams,” which is a collection of letters he wrote.
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” Adams said. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
It does not get much more direct than that. George Washington also served as a harbinger for the impending dangers of a two-party dominated system. In his 1796 farewell speech, he alerted his fellow citizens as to what would happen if that situation came to fruition.
“It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one party against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption,” Washington said.
Does that sound like a dead-on prediction to anyone else?
This is not to say that a vote for a Republican or Democrat is a vote towards the destruction of our Republic, but it is a warning against passionately aligning ourselves to one side or the other. Our job as voters is to give every party a fair shot, something that may not be happening anymore.
Ron Paul, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination, made the case for the existence of that very predicament occurring in politics during a recent taping of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“If I would have tried in the last several years to do exactly what I have done in a third-party, I probably wouldn’t have made your show. There is something about that — and if you ever come to a conclusion, heaven forbid — that the two parties aren’t all that different, then what is left?”
And while some may dismiss Paul’s claims as the venting of a frustrated and defeated candidate, these statements are analogous to the problems predicted by Washington. If the two parties spend all their time attacking each other instead of creating ideas for progress, we all suffer.
Over the years, I have heard people offer their opinion on the matter of voting for third-party candidates. The most popular slight against it is that it is “a wasted vote.” I would argue that that is not really the case. A wasted vote is a vote not cast. No matter the chances, a candidate has to win or lose. A vote made with good conscience and a belief in that candidate’s worldview is a legitimate attempt made by a voter to better this great nation.
The Constitution is clear in stating that it is our “right to vote,” and what makes that right so sensational is that it gives the power to the people. Voting is a privilege, and we must realize that, like with all privileges, it must not be taken advantage of or used carelessly. It is up to us as voters to research the candidates, not let the actions of others sway our views, and make the best decision possible.
All too often, people do not vote, consequently playing the role of the unruly student in the back of the classroom, complaining about the current state of affairs and offering halfhearted solutions to the problem while ignoring their best opportunity for input and involvement.
This election year, consider your choices, even the third-party candidates. Ruminate over who stands by your convictions and pick who truly deserves your vote. Make your voice be heard.
May the best candidate win, and let their name be remembered.