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Why Third Party Candidates Aren't The Saviors Of This Terrible Election

By Emily Cutler | Last Week Tonight | October 17, 2016 |

By Emily Cutler | Last Week Tonight | October 17, 2016 |

Imagine a presidential election between two candidates who are the polar opposite of each other (nearly impossible, right?). In this case, I mean that in a rhetorically literal sense. One candidate holds and espouses all of the “right” positions. An acknowledgment of the structural oppression of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, poor people in general, etc., and a promise to do everything in their power to fight that oppression. Unfortunately, even the candidate acknowledges they have very little political power, and will be essentially useless. The other candidate believes that not only are those groups not oppressed, but they probably should be. Women probably can’t hold upper office, people of color aren’t as smart as white people, the “gays” should stop rubbing their “lifestyle” in our faces or face the consequences. However, for political expediency, Candidate B will agree to all proposed legislation to protect those groups and has the political will to get it done. Who do you vote for?

I had this conversation over the weekend, and found it ridiculously hard to answer. The pragmatist in me wanted to believe that actions equate to power, and that power doesn’t care who’s granting it. But I couldn’t morally justify supporting a person who inherently believed I and many people I care about are “less than.” I finally fell on the side of the well-meaning, ineffective candidate. Maybe they can’t get shit done, but at least I can respect them.

And then, of course, reality set in. If the question is difficult as a hypothetical, it became a muddled mess under any sort of scrutiny. Candidate A would at least have some effectiveness as the moral leader of the country. Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage did have an impact even if he were not responsible for changing the law. And the Effective Asshole Candidate B can’t guarantee they’d be able to get done any of the things they were promising, because Presidents aren’t responsible for making laws. Plus, the continued proclamations that straight, white males are top notch would have ramifications in the way laws are implemented even when they’re perfectly written. Even in hypothetical situations, aligning yourself with a presidential candidate requires evaluation of both their ideals and their policies. There’s almost no way to evaluate one without the other.

Which finally brings us to the third party candidates. I understand the support for third parties in most elections, but particularly in this one. I wish Hillary were less hawkish, less cozy with Wall Street, less inclined to come to the defense of poor, little mom-and-pop shops like Disney. On the other side, I wish Donald Trump weren’t. But their faults aren’t automatic merits for Johnson or Stein. And if the thing which exposes a candidate as being unfit for office is “finding out what they think,” we’re going to have to acknowledge they probably weren’t the best candidate to begin with.

Now I personally (and my views do not reflect those of others on this site) am not arguing against a protest vote. If you are angry about the current political party system and want to register that complaint, go for it. If, however, you’ve vetted all of the candidates and really truly believe anyone other than Clinton is the most qualified and prepared to run the country, then we’re going to have an argument. And that one feels like it would be distinctly less hypothetical.