The Evils of Lesser Evil Voting
Joel S. Hirschhorn
Condemn progressives for voting enthusiastically for Democrats and the inevitable response is something like "just imagine how much worse voting for Republicans would be." Similarly, many true conservatives and Libertarians see voting for Republicans as a necessary evil. With many progressives regretting giving Democrats a majority in Congress and many conservatives regretting putting George W. Bush in the White House, it is timely to refute lesser evil logic.
Inevitably, lesser evil voters face personal disappointment and some shame. Politicians that receive lesser evil votes do not perform according to the values and principles that the lesser evil voter holds dear. These voters must accept responsibility for putting ineffective, dishonest and corrupt politicians in office. Though they may be lesser evils, they remain evils.
All too often lesser evil voters avoid shame and regret and prevent painful cognitive dissonance by deluding themselves that the politician they helped put in office is really not so bad after all. Corrosive lesser evil voting erodes one's principles as pragmatism replaces idealism. This makes the next cycle of lesser evil voting easier.
Lesser evil voting helps stabilize America's two-party duopoly that greatly restricts true political competition. Third party and independent candidates - and minor Democratic and Republican candidates in primaries - are defeated by massive numbers of lesser evil voters. Despite authentically having the political goals that mesh with many voters on the left or right, these minor "best" candidates fall victim to lesser evil voting. Lesser evil voters are addicted to a self-fulfilling prophesy. They think "If I vote for a minor candidate they will lose anyway." They ensure this outcome though their lesser evil voting. The truly wasted vote is the unprincipled lesser evil vote.
Effective representative democracy requires politically engaged citizens that vote. Lesser-evil voters support the current two-party system with its terribly low voter turnout and chronic dishonesty and corruption. Lesser evil voters help put into office disappointing politicians, not the best people that would restore American democracy and show more citizens that voting is valuable. Lesser evil voters demonstrate the validity of turned-off citizens' view that it really does not matter which major party wins office.
Politicians knowingly market themselves to lesser evil voters by constructing phony sales pitches, especially to certain audiences outside of their more certain base constituents. Democrats make themselves look more progressive than they really are, and Republicans make themselves look more conservative than they really are. Lesser evil voters are phony, and they produce a phony political system. Lesser evil voters contribute mightily to the travesty of our political system that no sane person respects and has confidence in.
Lesser evil voting demonstrates the worst aspects of political compromise. This is the common cause of terrible laws. When citizens surrender so much of what they truly believe in, they enable compromise politicians to create bad public policy that, in the end, satisfies very few people and puts band-aids on severe problems. Lesser evil voters concede victory to the other side - the side they view as the worse alternative because the people they vote for will not stand up for what is right and necessary. Think Iraq war. Even when their lesser evil side wins, they do not have the principled positions that would prevent awful compromises, often in the name of bipartisanship that is a clever way to justify our corrupt two-party mafia.
Lesser evil voters deride the alternatives of not voting or voting for minor candidates. The outcome should the "other" side win is deemed unacceptable. There is worse and there is worst. The core problem with lesser evil voters is that they are short term thinkers. They fail to see the repeated long term consequence of their style of voting - a system over many election cycles that persists in delivering suboptimal results. The "good" outcome in the current election (from their perspective) is the enemy of the "better" solution in the longer term (from an objective perspective). The better solution is major reform that will never happen as long as lesser evil voting persists.
Understand this: Lesser evil voting is not courageous. It is cowardly surrender to the disappointing two-party status quo. Lesser evil voters should trade regret for pride by voting for candidates they really think are the best. Voters in this presidential primary season have some remarkable opportunities to transform fine minor candidates into competitive major candidates - more honest and trustworthy people like Ron Paul, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, for example.
Finally, the deadly decline of American democracy results in large measure from lesser evil voters electing lesser evil politicians. When virtually no elected public official is there because most voters have embraced his clear principled, trustworthy positions we get a government that is easily corrupted by corporate and other moneyed interests. We get what we have now. And if you are dissatisfied with that, then reconsider the wisdom of lesser evil voting. We will only get the best government by voting for the best candidates. Otherwise, we get what we deserve and what the power elites prefer.
[Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Delusional Democracy (www.delusionaldemocracy.com) and a founder of Friends of the Article V Convention (www.foavc.org).]