From an email (slightly revised) that I wrote to my sister (like me, an Obama supporter, with reservations) a couple days ago on the unpleasant subject of politics, the US election and third parties—more of a rant than anything:
In general, I support the Green party and certain Democrats, but at the same time, on the national level, there’s little point in supporting a third party: the US electoral college guarantees third party candidates will lose. In the meantime, disgruntled progressive Democrats need to bear in mind that this election is less about deciding who should be president and more what direction the Overton window will take—that is what is truly at stake. What passes for right wing discourse should be recognised as politically untenable, relegated back to the fringe from from where it originally came.
In order for that to happen, and because of the electoral college, the vote therefore has to be cast to Obama. This should not be about ideological purity, throwing a tantrum because Obama isn’t progressive enough (which isn’t to say he ought not be criticised—there is plenty of which to be critical!). There are a lot of whinging progressives that don’t seem to get this: you don’t go from predominant far right political discourse to more progressive discourse in one election. I don’t think most people in the US truly see just how conservative the political culture is here (there are conservatives in Europe and elsewhere who who are more liberal than Obama, after all).
For example, while I think the Affordable Care Act does not go far enough, the US is so backwards that it needs this stepping stone which will eventually lead to a more solid solution, single payer, ‘Medicare for All’ or something like that. So while I don’t entirely agree with the ACA, I support it insofar as it will hopefully lead to something in that direction. People who are disappointed in Obama set themselves up, no more than the abolitionists (who were actually a tiny minority in the US) were disappointed with Lincoln, who was no abolitionist. Collectively speaking, people in the US simply don’t really adjust to change very well, buy into unwarranted fears too easily, and are poor in handling any criticism.
We can’t go from the most conservative developed nation on the planet (which, in some certain respects, has more in common with China, Iran and some third-world countries) to something more in step with every other OECD nation! Contra ‘American exceptionalism,’ the USA is not ‘number one’—this is a cultural delusion that feeds a political delusion. If people in the US would really take an honest look at other countries without its collective narcissism (and irrational fear), it might learn something new.
There will likely be vacancies to open in the Supreme Court, and if Obama isn’t the one doing the selecting, then it will be Romney making the appointments. This will have a tremendous effect far beyond a mere four years. This is why the election matters—it is not about ‘my progressive conscience’—that’s just being irresponsible. It is really to miss the point, thinking too much in the short term (and again, I say this being a supporter of the Green party and some progressive Democrats).
This is not just simply a case of ‘voting for the lesser of two evils’: the Overton window matters more than any presidential candidate or any political party—and it certainly matters more than one’s ideological purity. This is what voters who are considering voting third party need to bear in mind before they step into the voting booth.