In an election season when we’ve already spent what seems like years debating what public restrooms straight, gay, and trans people should be allowed to use, I rise to ask a related question: Where can I, an unaffiliated small “L” libertarian voter, go to flush the whole 2016 race down the toilet?
If there’s one good thing about the election so far, it’s that the remaining major-party candidates, especially Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are so thoroughly reviled even by members of their own parties that academic bigwigs, top-dollar pundits, and even Oscar-winning actors are actually talking about the need for more and different political parties. Sure, they’re all a little tetchy about “throwing their vote away” on somebody who has no chance in hell to win, but as someone who has never voted for a winning candidate at any level since high school class elections, I can tell you that nothing feels better than voting for someone or something you actually believe in rather than pulling the lever for the lesser of two or three evils.
In every other part of our lives, we have been getting more and more individualized options and disaggregating the package deals producers force on us. That same freedom of choice needs to come to politics, but it never will as long as we put up with parties that bundle totally unrelated things such as, say, tax cuts with anti-flag-burning amendments or abortion rights and mandatory union dues.
It’s so past time for more parties. For a century and a half, voters have been offered only two choices in every national election: a Republican and a Democrat. This, in a world in which Astroglide alone offers 10 types of “personal lubricants” and, as Bernie Sanders once bemoaned, there “are 23 underarm spray deodorants” and “18 different pairs of sneakers” out there (not being, presumably, much of a shopper, he of course lowballed both of those dramatically). For fuck’s sake, Ben & Jerry’s offered about 100 flavors of ice cream and froyo even before naming one after their pal Sanders.
But now that fewer and fewer Americans identify as Republican or Democrat and as the specter of President Trump becomes more and more corporeal, things are changing. Consider Randy Barnett, the Georgetown Law professor who has long affiliated with Republicans. “Trump’s election,” writes Barnett in USA Today, would be “a political cataclysm second only to Southern secession in its danger to our constitutional republic.” Before that happens, he argues, “What the nation needs is a new party that is expressly dedicated to upholding the Constitution of the United States.”
Where Barnett wants to start an “American Constitution Party,” the co-founder of Politico Jim Vandehei is calling for “The Innovation Party,” because, well, “who is against innovation?” Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Vandehei says somebody not named Trump or Sanders has to come in to rescue American politics from its inability to connect with decent, blue-collar folks via a mix of social media and an unapologetic willingness to “exploit the fear factor.” Seriously: “A third-party candidate could build on death-by-drones by outlining the type of modern weapons, troops and war powers needed to keep America safe. And make plain when he or she will use said power.”
And to make totally sure that this new party really represents everyday Americans and their hopes and dreams of killing Muslim terrorists, Vandehei suggests that Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg lean in with his workmate and fellow billionaire Sheryl Sandberg to run the show. It’s kind of amazing that Politico is keeping Vandehei through the election, really, though there must be a reason the Journal rather than Politico published this.
In what appears to be at least a slightly more intentional self-parody, the musician, motivational thinker, advice columnist, and “Great God of Partying” Andrew W.K. has started “The Party Party.” Its mission is “To free the American people from the dysfunction that is our two party system…. Most people have become too caught up in the bickering of our news cycles to realize that we ultimately desire the exact same things: reliable access to education, healthcare, and a sense of social equality. If enough people are willing to liberate themselves from choosing left or right, a third voice can emerge with a much more powerful message.” If you doubt the “I Get Wet” hitmaker’s ability to deliver on promises, you might want to check out his four-year run as host of the wildly popular kids show Destroy Build Destroy.
In a season where left-leaning Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon has suggested she’d want Donald Trump to win the presidency if Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, all things are possible. Discussing her contempt for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on MSNBC, Sarandon espoused a burn-the-mother-down ethos that is showing up across the political spectrum this season. “If you think it’s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now [by voting for Clinton], then you’re not in touch with the status quo,” she told Chris Hayes, who seemed to be wetting his pants at the idea that the female lead in Rocky Horror Picture Show wouldn’t automatically vote for the eventual Democratic nominee. “Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately. If he gets in, then things will really explode.”
Something similar is happening on the right, where leading spokesmen are willing to court the destruction of the Republican Party rather than vote for Donald Trump. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg has publicly stated, “No, I will never ‘come around’ to supporting Trump.” Unsurprisingly, the reflexive Republican also swears off voting for Clinton and Sanders even as he ends up in a place that more and more Americans seem to be heading. “There’s nothing Trump can do that would make me vote for Hillary Clinton,” says Goldberg. “But if Trump is the nominee or the president, I will for the first time be working outside the familiar binaries of the two-party system. I guess I should ask the guys at Reason magazine or Cato how they cope.”
Well, I can’t answer for my Reason colleagues and certainly not for the rag-tag crew of libertarians at Cato, but my short answer is this: “Familiar binaries”—whether we’re talking toilets or politics—just don’t cut it anymore. I cope just fine voting outside the two-party system, and I’m almost kind of giddy at the idea of seeing especially Andrew W.K.’s Party Party on the ballot (but to be honest, Vandehei’s “Innovation Party,” even as a new-media thought experiment, makes me feel sadder than the release of the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app during the 2014 midterms).
I’ve been able to vote in presidential elections since 1984 and I’m not ashamed to admit that back then I voted for Walter Mondale, because he admitted that he would raise taxes (which Reagan ended up doing anyway). Or perhaps I, like 40 percent of America, simply swooned for his vaunted “Norwegian charisma.”
Since then, I have voted for the Libertarian Party candidate in every presidential election, whether I actually found him (yep, all men) credible and interesting (such as former and future Congressman Ron Paul in 1988 and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in 2012) or ridiculous and opportunistic (such as the 2004 candidate Michael Badnarik, who refused to carry a driver’s license, or former Congressman Bob Barr, the 2008 candidate who wasn’t anti-war or pro-drug-legalization enough for my tastes). I fully expect to vote Libertarian in 2016, whether the party’s candidate is bath-salt-snorting computer-virus-killing businessman John McAfee or (once again) Gary Johnson or even former Fox Business producer Austin Petersen. None is perfect as far as I’m concerned, but they’re close enough for government work.
I’m open to voting for a major-party candidate the minute either offers up either a person or a platform that comes close to conforming to my beliefs in “free minds and free markets” and social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. But until then, I’ll “cope” being outside the “familiar binaries of the two-party system” the best way I know how: By trying to change it, so that either we have more parties that allow more of us to express ourselves by voting for policies and people we actually believe in, or shrinking politics to a smaller and smaller part of our lives so that we have more time to enjoy all the different flavors of Astroglide and deodorant and Ben & Jerry’s that are out there waiting for us to sample.
There ain’t no party like a third party. Except for a fourth, fifth, or even sixth party. No apologies—much less coping—necessary.