I finally cracked. Well, no, I should not use that term. Rather, I finally had an epiphany. Al Gore’s use of the terms “public school choice” and “cultural pollution” – normally only heard on Christian Coalition-friendly radio stations – took him one step too far.
So now, I plan to vote for Ralph Nader for president. When I told some friends that I had switched allegiances, my Republican friends were pleased that Gore had lost a vote. My Democratic friends were none too pleased and tried to scare me back into the fold with mentions of Supreme Court appointments and environmental disasters (not to speak of the destruction of the English language by one man who is unable to pronounce either “missile losses” or “subliminal”).
On the surface, these arguments hold a lot of merit. Pragmatically, this election is a choice for the lesser of two evils. Simply because I abhor “W” so much, the Democratic Party expects me to swallow my ideological pride and vote for Gore. It’s true: I’d much rather see Gore inaugurated than Bush on Jan. 20, 2001. Nonetheless, that is not, nor should it be, why I vote for a candidate. I vote for my favorite candidate (aside from his spotty anti-globalization, neo-socialist economic views), not my least hated possible victor.
The fundamental question is paramount to the future of our democracy. If we believe politics is, has been and always shall be a zero-sum two party system, then the “lesser of two evils” pragmatism is correct. If, however, we believe politics is, should be and can be about ideology, vision and definition of the American will, then pragmatism must lose out to idealism.
Honestly, barring some sort of disaster (or, rather, a miracle), Ralph Nader will not be the next president. So is my vote then a waste? Practically, no: with only five percent of the popular vote, the Green Party candidate in 2004 (probably Ralph again) will receive federal funding for the election. In addition, with a strong showing, Nader will have even stronger case to be allowed in the next presidential debates (as though he needs it after the pathetic race to the middle we had on Tuesday).
But to me, little of this matters. Last Tuesday, Gore did not make any new policy statements that would provoke my progressive ire any further. For some reason, watching them debate let my idealism burst through a wall of cynical pragmatism blocking me from abandoning a party that had long ago abandoned my views.
Idealism. Isn’t idealism fomented in college? Aren’t we college students supposed to be rallying to causes, protesting and philosophizing, making bold and rash statements and generally hating the status quo? Throughout my months of supporting Gore, I believed I was an idealist who was swallowing his bitter medicine. It was never a comfortable feeling.
It never should be. Pragmatism, incrementalism (no matter how much my “Presidential Politics” reading may argue for it) and compromise are not important values on which I vote, especially as a college student. Now is the time for us to contemplate and create a new vision of our college, our country, and our world.
We have more than ample opportunity to accomplish these goals, the easiest of which is the Nov. 7 election. I am very proud that idealism and ideology comprise the basis of my personal electoral decision. If someone has an ideological reason for voting for Bush (as impossible as I find that to believe) or Gore (see last parenthetical sarcastic comment), then they are doing a service for our country with their vote. If, however, pragmatism trumps ideology, then we will never live in a vibrant and exciting democracy of ideas and optimism, rather a bleak and dreary poll-driven middle of the road, status quo democracy that will fulfill few peoples dreams and only make a naturally cynical people even more so.
And that is why I will be proud, barring another bizarre Gore turnaround, to vote for Ralph Nader as a protest vote. I am protesting pragmatism.