dirty rag

Election 2000 - The Lesser Evil - Mike McCrea

The American democratic system is failing. Right in front of our faces. The basis of our political freedom is supposed to be our ability to choose the person we feel is best suited to run the show. In today's two-party system, the "third-parties" and consequently all Americans are the real losers in our electoral process.

How many people realize that there are more than four people are on this November's ballot? Several factors are to blame for this sad fact. The primary factor is media coverage.

The two major parties, with their overstuffed billfolds and scads of celebrity supporters, plague the television airwaves while the Reform Party quietly endears a controversial battle between two separate candidates seeking the party's nomination. The news media continues to feature Bush and Gore ad nauseum, while countless other candidates campaign in utter obscurity.

Many candidates exist in this political black hole because of campaign finance. Democrats and Republicans pollute our neighborhoods and TV sets with their ad bombardments. Lesser parties do not have the bankroll to keep up with this red, white and blue blitzkrieg and most candidates cannot spend nearly as much time or money traveling the US on their respective campaigns. The end result is that John and Jane Q. Public never see nor hear of these overlooked politicians.

A feature of this year's race that had me livid was the treatment of the debates. The juvenile actions taken by the debate committee lost what little faith I had in our electoral system. Ralph Nader was not allowed to debate because he did not carry enough support in the preliminary polls.

Whatever. That's fine.

What got me was that they would not even allow him entrance to the debates as a spectator, a right enjoyed by any other American citizen with a ticket. Perhaps they feared civil unrest. Nonetheless, my suspicion is that the Republicans and Democrats wanted America to know as little as possible about other candidates for the Chief Executive position. The end result of these factors and actions are that the American people are left unaware of many, and often any candidates other than the "big two" that are running for office.

A symptom of this dysfunctional electoral system is the political apathy of the American people. I honestly wonder how many citizens genuinely share the beliefs of the Democrats or Republicans. I'm not talking general perspectives; I mean across-the-board, card-carrying-member proud. In today's world, people are confronted by the media everywhere they go, and it is the media that often choose which issues are primary to an election. Those issues upon which people will decide the fate of our nation.

Bill Maher, host of ABC's "Politically Incorrect" and outspoken proponent of the Libertarian Party, voiced his dissatisfaction with this year's series of debates. He first noted that the "public forum" held in St. Louis consisted of the same issues brought up in the previous debates, and also brought to light the notion that both of this year's primary candidates have a history of drug use in their past, but the "War on Drugs" was not brought up once. Apparently the American people do not care about this issue at all.

What about expanding NAFTA to other Central American or Western Hemisphere nations? What about Cuba? It's the media's hype and also it's under-prioritization of issues that contribute to the tunnel vision our populace blindly considers a thorough review of our relevant current affairs.

Perhaps the most intriguing dilemma facing a "third party" candidate is the public's opinion of a vote for anyone but a Republican or Democrat. People often consider a vote for a less popular candidate a "wasted" vote. I read a quote recently that stated, in essence, "The only wasted vote is the one not cast."

Along with this mentality comes the fear that a mainstream candidate with dissimilar views will end up winning the election, by virtue of the vote being split three or more ways. In 1992, President Clinton won the election with less than 50% of the popular vote, and it is very likely that the same will occur this year.

Inevitably many people who support a lesser party will figure that their candidate has a snowball's chance in you-know-where of winning, and instead settle for voting for a more mainstream candidate that shares some of their views to prevent an unsatisfactory candidate from getting the victory. Democracy is not about settling, and our nation should be voting for, and not against, candidates in the election.

Because of this system and the resulting unfortunate situation, the "third parties" end up in an endless cycle. Because people often choose to settle on a more mainstream candidate rather than wasting their vote on someone who in their opinion is obviously out of the running, the lesser parties never gain the confidence and respect of the American public, and more importantly, the media. Come four years later, the same cycle continues: only two candidates, one Democrat and one Republican, get to debate on issues that the media figures the people feel are important, and the United States as a whole gets to watch ads and coverage of only those two candidates, while they complain that nothing ever changes, and collectively settle for the lesser of two evils.

Until we start giving some consideration to these other candidates, democracy will continue to fail.