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Why a Third Party Matters

Full disclosure: I am not a Libertarian. I am not a Republican, nor am I a Democrat. I voted for McCain in 2008 because of his experience and, after Obama’s four years in office, I now think the right person was elected. The sad thing about America is that, given all of this information, only one question can inevitably follow: “Well, all right, what are you then?” It’s better not to examine the massive idiocy that that question contains –imagine reporting a missing person with a single attribute and you’ll know how I feel about one-word political summations – but rather why the question is prevalent in the first place.

The common fear with voting for a third-party candidate is that your vote will be wasted on someone who will never get elected. The goal of a third-party candidate at this stage should not be election but merely exposure in a two-party system that’s been around for more than a century; but even that is beside the point. Right now, it doesn’t matter if the third-party candidate is Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, or a shiny rock. A third party is important because it is not one of the first two. Sorry if that sounds patronizing, but it’s an incredibly important reality. The reason we ask if people are Republicans or Democrats rather than what they believe in is because we are trapped in a false binary. A third party is not just a third option. It eliminates the possibility of either-or. We say we want progressive thinking, but how progressive can one person really be when half of the argument is spent qualifying why the only other option is wrong?

Think back to grade school, when you learned the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why (and how – the bastard exception). We were taught to ask these questions because they cannot lead to a yes or no answer. Journalists are obviously religious about using them. Police officers gather information about criminals with them. We get a second date and get married because we asked the right questions on the first date. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to politics, we are okay with confining ourselves to Republican or Democrat?

Parties are no different than any other political issue, whether it is gay rights, minority rights, or slavery. People aren’t going to realize the implications of their hard-line thinking collectively overnight. To be a Libertarian or a member of any other party and not vote because it won’t make a difference in this election indicates a sort of historical ignorance. Even if the total sum of third-party votes equals a headline on the lower fold of a newspaper or scrolling text on MSNBC, congrats: you set the ball in motion for not just your party, but for a nation that isn’t immediately one thing or the other. Will there be six or seven parties as the result of a breakthrough with Libertarians? No, and thank whomever you believe in for that. But that does bring up another interesting wrinkle: how will a third force-to-be-reckoned-with in Congress affect legislature? Will it stop up progress entirely? Will we find ourselves in a logjam from which we cannot escape?

Probably not and here’s why: The goal of the Libertarian party is not necessarily to push certain issues, like Republicans with abortion or Democrats with gun control, but rather to change how power is delegated. A stronger state government could free up the national government to focus on, you know, national issues. The establishment of an actual state government could also make national corruption more difficult as a result, which isn’t a shabby side effect. But we’re drifting into effusive Libertarianism here.

Have you ever had something important to say, only you couldn’t say it because it would have to be phrased almost too delicately and perfectly, in order to not upset the entire room? Of course you have. It’s almost a virtual certainty when politics come up at a house party. A conversation between two people is supposedly an argument waiting to happen. Maybe the partygoers aren’t even arguing in the first place. Doesn’t matter. The drunk dude by the fridge and the lonely girl by the beer pong table see it as an argument and someone’s going to try to shut it down. A conversation between three people with three different viewpoints, however, is a defused bomb. One person approaching three or four people and asking them to stop their even-keeled conversation is laughable. And it should be laughable in the first scenario, but perception allows it. I don’t understand it, but I understand that it has to change.

For fuck’s sake, shouldn’t we be allowed to talk about what matters?

If none of this appeals to you, at least try to imagine the improved quality of discourse. Imagine the debates. It probably seems like a pipedream for four men and women from different parties to get up on stage and make a strong case for what they believe in. It probably seems more impossible for the news to not discuss ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. I submit that it’s not that far-fetched.

A cable news recap of a three- or four-party debate under a modern microscope would look like this: “Candidate A’s first point was better than Candidates B and C, but what about Candidate D? And was D really that much better than B? He was far worse than C, but probably on par with A. B outperformed C and D, but pretty much underperformed overall. So, Candidate C was worse than A and B, but better than Candidate D. Candidate B successfully dismantled Candidate A’s logic, but his argument wouldn’t really hold up against C or D. Then again, Candidate C… ah fuck it.” Quite simply, the model defeats the analyst’s ability to treat politics like a football game. At some point, you stop trying to win and say only what you feel needs to be said, not unlike the bong circle of a house party, especially when the candidates aren’t solely seeking to disprove each other in the first place.

Agreeing or disagreeing with a party’s stance on an issue does not mean you have one of your own. It means you have accepted or rejected someone else’s opinion. What the third party can do, whichever one it may be, is open an avenue to critical thinking. Neo took the red pill and chose to leave the Matrix, but in doing so, he aligned himself with another movement. He fought a machine-run world by fulfilling a destiny that someone else had for him, a destiny that someone else told him about and he chose to believe in. The only time that Neo was truly ‘free’ in The Matrix was when he spoke with The Oracle. She had no dog in the fight and, not so coincidentally, she was the wisest character in the movie.

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About the Author

Chris O'Toole (Colorado State '12, Chapman '15) recently finished a Screenwriting MFA. He has written for Livestrong, CBS, and other publications. Love, hate, and job offers can be sent to: