Tomorrow I will be voting for a man who I disagree with on many fundamental levels. I work both in the arts, and in the public sector. Under his plans, my job would be high on the list of expenditures to be eliminated. But most of you will also be voting for someone you disagree with. Someone who believes the government has the right to spy on citizens, someone who believes that smoking weed should be treated more harshly than drunk driving. Someone who believes that political discourse should be restricted to established parties, scripted debates and anonymously funded attack ads. (For those keeping score, that's both Obama and Romney.) You're arguing over who wants to take away the rights that you hold more dear. Should we have to choose between deciding what to do with our money and deciding what to do with our bodies? Should we have to choose between the right to practice our faiths openly and the right to keep our children healthy? Should we be arguing about if it's better to fire firefighters or teachers?
Our system is broken, and it's rapidly taking on the tone of a schoolyard game of dodge ball. The cool kids choose sides and anyone who is smaller, different or unpopular get a rubber ball to the face regardless of which side of the line they are on. There's a lot of screaming, insults and whining, but in the end, nothing changes.
We are given the opportunity every four years to, with a single vote, make a difference. Yes, local elections have a greater impact on your daily life. Congressional elections are more important to how this country works. But the President is "The Most Powerful Man (or-someday-but-not-this-go-round-woman) In the World". As much a symbol as an office. There is a reason that everyone has an opinion. Ask a European, an Asian, an Austrailian, an African. They'll probably tell you who they'd vote for. But for all the symbolism of the President, other offices matter more. And that is exactly why who you vote for tomorrow matters so very much. One office, one person, one vote, can change the entire system.
Are you better or worse off now than you were 4 years ago? 8 years ago? How much better or worse? Do you think the person sitting in that office made a huge difference? A bigger difference than your Senators and Representatives? I'm guessing that if you answer honestly, you'll agree that the answer isn't significant. Despite what the ads say, the person in the Oval Office is still a servant of the country. The same system that prevented Obama from socializing the entire healthcare system and prevent Bush from running for a 3rd term, will prevent Obama from instituting Sharia law and Romney from banning unions. (All things I've seen suggested as possibilities. Seriously.) (Incidentally, the same thing would keep Johnson from successfully eliminating the IRS.) The checks and balances still are there, although the checks are getting a lot more exercise than the balances lately. Even if your vote for a third-party candidate was somehow directly responsible for the person at the top of the ballot you liked less getting into office (unlikely, and if you live where I do, damn near impossible), the way things work for the next four years isn't going to change in a massive way. But what happens four years from now just might.
What if third party candidates weren't able to be just ignored by the Democrats and Republicans? What if you couldn't just campaign on "At least I'm not that guy."? What if those smaller parties got a national stage? What if those third parties started winning seats in state legislatures on a regular basis. What if we started to see real competition in places like Chicago? What if there were enough (it would only take a few) Senators who didn't owe their loyalty, their office and their funding to toeing the party line? What would our elections look like in 10 years? What about 20?
It really doesn't take a lot. 5% of the popular vote would change politics in this country. It could push things off the current track, back towards a system where real representation matters, where politicians feared for their jobs because the voters know they don't just have another option, but they have two or three or more other options. A few people can help. And I'm going to try.
I'll be voting for Gary Johnson tomorrow. He's not going to win. I don't even know that I'd want him to. But right now, there's no one on that ballot that I can honestly say I want to win. I'm voting in the hopes that by time Dean starts voting, he'll be able to vote for a president rather than voting for a lesser evil.