Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An alternative for would-be Nader voters

I've never voted for Ralph Nader, but I absolutely understand the mindset of those Americans who do. It's not because they believed that there was literally no difference beween Bush and Gore in 2000, or that there's literally no difference between McCain and either Clinton or Obama in 2008. It's because they recognize that there's a lot more political diversity out there than they're seeing represented in their available choices, and so they're opting to use their votes not to vote for president, but to say: "hey, we deserve a broader spectrum of choice than we're getting."

There are those who call these kinds of votes "protest votes," but really, that's too simplistic a description of the thought process behind them. What it's really about is how, when your Political Compass score is way down in the lower left quadrant, the differences between any of the multitudes of candidates in the upper right one just don't look that major to you. They certainly seem a lot less important than working toward a more diverse political spectrum that might actually stand a chance of someday encompassing your own views.

The problem, though, is that any hope of increasing that diversity is a vain one. The combination of direct voting for president and the first-past-the-post electoral system does an excellent job of decreasing the chances of any third-party emerging in the U.S. from "not very likely" to "no chance in hell." It just ain't gonna happen, ever. And there's the rub: if voting for Nader has no chance of changing anything, that means that the effect of voting for Nader is zero. In the short term, and in the long term as well. Anyone voting for Nader is essentially opting out.

If you're already opting out, then, why not really opt out? And no, I don't mean "don't vote," I mean "leave the U.S. behind in favour of a country that already runs political candiates who represent your views." The bureaucracy of such a move is maddening, but trust me, the relief at regularly having more choices than "right-wing" and "righter-wing" is worth any amount of paperwork. You've already reached the conclusion that you don't fit into the political and cultural mainstream of your country, so isn't emigration the logical next step?
And for that matter, if what you're really interested in is sending a message, just imagine the message that would be sent by masses of lefty Americans stampeding across the border! It'd be a sight to behold.


Steve V said...

Why hasn't Nader used his support base to organize a real third-party? Why haven't these people targetted a congressional district, something smaller, to lay the foundation for a real alternative? Why does it seem that this is more about the cult of personality, than it is about providing choice? If Nader was really genuine here, and this wasn't a vanity exercise, then he would have spent the last years building a new party from the ground up, because ultimately that is required, well before you entertain the top job. Receiving .5 of the vote is hardly a triumph, it amounts to marginal nothingness, that in the end doesn't have ANY impact on the system he rails against. I know the rationale, Nader running gives his issues a voice, forces others to react. The trouble, people have tired of this routine, the fourth run now, and nobody really pays attention, rendering the exercise esoteric masturbation. Nader should have spent the last years building a foundation for a third-party, pouring resources into local races, looking for a breakthrough, from which to build on. Instead it's all about Ralph, he comes and then he largely goes, never focusing his small army of believers. What a waste of time.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I don't speak for Nader and wouldn't dare to try. But building a third party in the U.S. is an impossibility for the reasons I outline in this post. It makes much more sense for his supporters to go somewhere else where they're already wanted.

West End Bob said...

That's what you, us, and a host of others have done. Get the hell out of the US, that is. As you point out, the bureaucratic hoops are quite challenging, but worth every agonizing minute of it.

Best thing we've ever done.

Now, if we can just do something about the stephen harper thing . . . .

pyesetz said...

Things have gotten a little better since 1993. I *was* able to use my US credit history, to obtain a Canadian mortgage on favorable terms, to get a retailer credit card from a Canadian store whose parent company is American, etc.

What has gotten worse since then is the US government's attitude towards "traitors" who dare to admit that they want to leave. It took me five years to move, and half that time was in repeated attempts to get a "certification of no criminal record" from the FBI.

But now I get to live in a 137 year old house just outside of Waterloo Ont.!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


First off, I didn't realize you'd made it! Congratulations! I spend a month out of each year in Waterloo (this time it will be in June), so we'll have to meet up.

As for the actual immigration process, it sounds like the changes for the better have been on this side of the border and the changes for the worse on the other. Sigh.

Steve V said...

Building a third-party is just as plausible as Nader actually being relevant in this campaign.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Bwahaha! Good one.

bza said...

Wow, i'm shocked on how right-wing Hillary and Barak actually are. I knew they were, but I was expecting them to be more on the centre of the spectrum.

Only Kuninich or Nader would be close to my own views. Which is why i'm suprised I know a lot of NDP supporters who are fans of Obama. They might be looking at the whole 'hope' thing without a close look at the policies and positions perhaps.

Makes me happy to be in a system with more choice that matters. I would highly consider a vote for Nader if I was in the states, even if it didn't matter.

Or *gasp*, consider strategically voting Democrat if I was in a swing state. But ofcourse no need for strategic voting in Canada since the NDP is around. :)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Yeah, it's funny how reality sets in once you look at, you know, their policies!

I mean, take a look at Clinton's or Obama's health care plans. Now imagine the hell that would break loose if Harper proposed identical plans for Canada...

Ben (The Tiger) said...

I voted for Nader in 2000.

Had Gore and Bush been within five points in New Jersey polls, I'd have voted for Gore.

I just plain didn't like Al Gore.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Okay, the fact that you've voted for Nader and I haven't is freaking hilarious.

Do you still feel that way about Al Gore?

TheIronist said...

As someone who grew up in Tennessee, and who has followed the career of Al Gore since I was a wee lad (ie, the 80's), I have never been able to vote for him. He's far to slippery a character for me to ever support--his cultivated gravitas and stilted earnestness notwithstanding. The man will do and say pretty much anything to get elected; is someone who will reposition himself on a dime for a vote; and who is a master of the art of campaigning to the left and governing from the right.

If Gore were to run for president again, and if George W. Bush were running against him a second time, I still wouldn't vote for him. I would just opt out. I can do no more, I guess, having already moved to Canada.

I've never thought much of the logic of "lesser evilism," as the options have tended to be so contemptible. Vive le Canada!

Vive Ralph Nader!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

The Ironist,

Interesting, what you say about Gore. That would certainly account for why he's seemed so much more human since he hasn't been trying to be elected.

Just out of curiosity: do you still vote in the U.S.? Ironically, I've actually found myself much more willing to vote for Democrats ever since I've been allowed to cast a vote here for the NDP. It's like, as long as my main vote is for something I can believe in, I can assign the other one a purely utilitarian purpose.

TheIronist said...

Well, if you promise not to tell, I am planning to vote in this presidential election. I'm even voting for Obama--that is, if he wins the nomination (I wouldn't vote for Hilary if you put a gun to my head). It will be the first time I've voted since moving to Canada 6 years ago.

I recently sent off the form I downloaded from the US Embassy website.

Now, I'm not voting for Obama because I think him a progressive. Nor do I take his rhetoric of hope seriously. I am hoping he will be elected because of the tremendous amount of hope he has instilled in others, and also because of the large numbers of folks he has brought into the electoral system--folks to whom I hope he will feel more than theoretically beholden.

But again, Shhhhh, please don't tell anyone that I'm voting in the US presidential elections!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

The Ironist,

My lips are sealed! Although I don't think there's anything wrong with you voting in the U.S. (I kind of wish more Canadian lefties could vote in the U.S., not fewer. ;-)

Obama is actually further right than Clinton on the issues that matter most to me, so I'll have an equally easy (or equally difficult) time voting for either of them. But I still have an opinion on who should be elected the U.S. president in the same sense that I had an opinion on who should be leader of the Liberal Party--I didn't pick based on who I agreed with (because I didn't agree with any of them), but instead on who I thought would best represent that party. And by similar criteria, i.e., who would be the best leader of the kind of country I decided to leave behind, I definitely think Obama should be president.

I'll probably write a post about that at some point.

TheIronist said...

"I'll probably write a post about that at some point."

I look forward to reading it!

Ben (The Tiger) said...

My distaste for Al Gore is longstanding, personal ideological & philosophical changes notwithstanding.

Re the election this fall, one funny storyline to watch will be how close Massachusetts gets.

Obama will win it, there's no question (barring a 49 state McCain landslide), but right now the head-to-head polls have it within two points.

Why? Bay Staters aren't very happy with Deval Patrick, who is Obama's national campaign co-chair and a very similar candidate, in terms of rhetoric, ideas, and applications thereof.

Ben (The Tiger) said...

(And have now made a post from that last comment.)

Re Gore and Nader again -- lots of my college friends felt the same way. Gore just failed some sort of smell test. Ralph -- we all knew what he was about. Some didn't vote for him just because they didn't want to be the guys who voted for Nader (even in NJ) if Bush eked out a victory.

Ben (The Tiger) said...

Oh, third point. Re Canada-based Americans voting in the States.

It's legit. The country debated it out a while ago (the 1970s?) and agreed that even Americans who had never lived in the USA should be able to vote for Congress and the Presidency. (Unlike Canada, which requires an (unenforceable) intention to return w/in five years.)

I got my mother to vote in 2004, even though she hadn't voted stateside since emigrating in the early '70s and was going to cancel out my vote with hers. (Now she's voting in California primaries and is a swing voter in this fall's election.)

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Oh, I know it's "legit" in the sense of "legal." It's complicated for political immigrants, though--many of us feel like we've left the U.S. and it's loathesome political system behind, and we don't want anything at all to do with it anymore. In my case, leaving has made it possible for me to vote for Democrats for the first time without feeling like I'm compromising anything. Many others feel differently, though, and I think that's all right.

Ben (The Tiger) said...

The right to vote includes the right not to vote, yes -- and I'll stand firm against Arend Liphart and his ilk, who seek to force us all to vote. (Tyranny, I say. Tyranny!)

But I meant that it is legitimate in a slightly broader sense -- that it isn't gaming the system through a technicality, it was something that was debated and foreseen.

But really, when are politicians ever a perfect match with one's principles? Very often, the choice is between a better match with less electability and the lesser evil who is still electable.


Anyway, as I have a fair idea about the politics of most of these 'political' emigrants, I'll just say that I'm happy enough if they keep on not voting. :p

L-girl said...

"You've already reached the conclusion that you don't fit into the political and cultural mainstream of your country, so isn't emigration the logical next step?"

I know (on the internet) lots of folks who would like nothing better, but they lack either credentials or funds or both. They have nothing left in the US, but they are stuck there. Angry, depressed, and stuck.

I wish I could airlift them here or something.