As we approach another presidential election, people once again fool themselves into thinking their only choice is between a Republican or a Democrat. As they often say, “it’s the lesser of two evils”; As if these are the only parties they have to choose from. As if there is no such thing as third parties or write-in campaigns. As if by not voting, you have somehow shirked your civic duty. People go so far as to say that if you don’t choose a Republican or a Democrat, then you would be wasting your vote, and your vote would no longer count.
But what does it mean for a person’s vote to “count”? Does it mean they have to choose a side that has a statistical possibility of winning? Does it mean they treat elections like a sport? There are only two teams. If you want to play, then choose your team and play to win. Voting is reduced to winning.
One easily loses sight of the complexities of voting. It is not as trivial as most people think. When a person places a vote, they have effectively immersed themselves into the affairs of governance. Historically, governance and voting were reserved for only a select few. But modern voting has opened the affairs of governance to all, where everyone now has the ability to play the role of ruler and lawmaker.
“Get out the vote” campaigns mindlessly tell people to vote without ever exploring the role of principles and morality, and without exploring whether or not the political process may be an insufficient way for the masses to solve their social problems. The Founding Fathers were very critical of democracy and how it degenerates into mob rule. They warned against the dangers of emotional and untrained people seizing control of government by electing leaders who will implement the self interests of the majority, even if it violates the law of the land. Democracies degenerate into competitions between special interests, where the law of the jungle takes precedence over the law of the land. This is in contradiction to the concept of a Republic, where a representative government is bound by the laws of a constitution despite the desires of the majority or the influential.
Even Plato and Aristotle considered democracy as one of the worst forms of governance, since in most cases the majority will eventually cease to protect the minority or uphold the law. Plato considered the “unwilling philosopher-king” as being the wisest choice for a ruler. This is somewhat similar to the Islamic teachings on governance. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned people against seeking leadership positions. The affairs of governance and political leadership are simply not meant for everybody. The Qur’an relays ancient stories of what leadership is really about. The lives of prophets such as Moses, David, and Joseph (peace be upon them), are all examples of righteous leaders. For Muslims, the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) embodies the apex of leadership. And the Rightly Guided Caliphs who followed him, also demonstrate the rare characteristics needed to be a just leader.
But modern democracy encourages all people to vie for political positions, and encourages all people to participate in the selection process, regardless of how unqualified they are. The result of this is that democracies tend to marginalize the wise, the humble and the righteous; And instead promote the ego-driven, the greedy and the amoral. This helps explain the current state of affairs and why the political system is so chaotic and broken. The government is pulled into every which way depending on which special interest group has the most influence over government. The military industrial complex, the corporate-government partnership, the powerful lobbies, or the will of the majority. These are the ones in control of government, not the rule of law. The Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible for the continuation of things like unjust war, drone bombings and assassinations, collective punishment of entire countries, a paranoid police state, pre-emptive prosecutions, corporate bailouts, and ever-expanding government regulations which place constraints on people in ways that are outside the bounds of the constitution.
So what is a person to do? Do we buy into the “mobocracy” of the two-party system? Unfortunately, most people do. They are either eager participants pursuing their self-interest at the expense of others, or they are people who self-righteously justify voting for one evil in order to defeat another evil. For those who fall into the latter group, they falsely assume that there are only two options, and they acknowledge the endorsement of evil by calling it “lesser”. Either way, both groups of people contribute to perpetuating injustices. They willingly put their stamp of approval on the crimes of government and politicians by continuously voting for them. And both groups have fatal flaws in their logic and ethics, where over the long run majority-rule fails at preserving peace, justice and liberty.
As people of principles and morality, we should pursue an ethics-based approach to voting and politics if one chooses to be involved. If a person cannot faithfully place a vote that genuinely contributes to peace, justice and liberty, then it might be better to abstain from voting. Boycott the mobocracy. Any candidate or issue that contributes to war, injustice and oppression is not deserving of a vote from a principled person.
Regarding the 2012 presidential elections, there are other options besides the “Republicrats” and the “Demoplicans”. Principled voters should investigate third-party candidates. The most popular of them being the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. If you cannot faithfully vote for a third party candidate, then join a write-in campaign. An example is the Ron Paul write-in campaign. Ron Paul’s 30 year congressional record of opposing government aggression and over-reach has created a movement of people committed to his philosophy and ideas. An alternative to a Ron Paul write-in can be writing-in the name of someone you think is worthy of the presidency. This can be part of a serious effort of supporting an alternative candidate, or it can be a statement of principle which expresses your dissatisfaction with all candidates. You do not even need to put the name of a person. “Nobody”, “None of the Above”, or “No Confidence” are all legitimate options for principled voters.
The last option for elections is to not vote at all. This does not mean inaction or disengagement from political discourse and debate. Rather it is a strategic decision to abstain from supporting unworthy candidates, or to abstain from participating in a broken political process. A person can channel the time, energy and passion that would otherwise be spent on voting or campaigning, into something more productive like getting involved in activism or advocacy for a certain cause. Volunteering to do charity work or community service are other valuable alternatives.
We are in no need to be on the winning side of an election or to supposedly have our vote “count”. What we need is for people to stand up for principles that are in line with the philosophy of liberty and in line with the common good (ma’roof). These are principles that should be reclaimed from the mobocracy, and not be compromised for the sake of inclusion in it. It’s time to break free from the two-party system and let them bring about their own destruction. It’s time to recalibrate our priorities when it comes to politics and elections.