by R. Lee Wrights
“The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.”
Now that campaigns for office have come to a close, the political parties start an assessment process that follows every election. It is considered key political strategy to debrief properly after an election to examine how successes were achieved; and, some times more importantly, what caused the failures. The former is easy. Everyone wants to take credit for political victories. Success is claimed by all, from the individual voters right up to the candidates themselves; so, everyone involved is able to declare victory. However, the latter is a horse of a different color. No one wants to take credit for a failed campaign.
Since failure is so distasteful to the political factions of the United States, the leaders of these parcels of political clout often search for factors outside their official structures upon which blame can be placed for their own shortcomings. Thus is born the “spoiler campaign” dodge. In an attempt to relieve themselves of the responsibility of a loss, party leaders of the losing party claim one of the other parties “stole” votes from them; thereby, causing them to lose an office that they evidently believe belonged to them. Isn’t that convenient? All of a sudden it is someone else’s fault you lost; and, a group that you have no control over brought about your demise. Some other party has stolen your seat and spoiled your campaign. Well, at least it was not YOUR fault, right?
Even though both of the strongest factions on the American political stage have used the spoiler excuse for major electoral defeats, the whole idea of spoiler campaigns is based on false logic. The whole concept that blocs of votes are “owned” by any political group is repugnant to anyone interested in a fair and honest electoral process. And yet, everyone has been whining and moaning about what their little “Republican revolution” could have been were it not for those damned Libertarians and their spoiler campaigns. But the math doesn’t support their claim. If Governor Romney had gotten all of Governor Johnson’s votes, he still would lose. The GOP lost the day they nominated Mitt Romney while excluding key supporters within their own ranks.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that votes are owned by individuals. Groups accumulate power by consolidating blocs of voters and persuading them to vote the same way according to issues or any number of other motivations. But nonetheless, those votes are still individual. There is no guarantee that voters will vote for or with a particular group. There is no binding contract between a declared faction and those that profess to follow its particular political philosophy. No group has any moral claim on individual votes; and as a result, there really are no votes that can be stolen. Those individual votes can be given, but in a free society, those votes cannot be taken without consent. Therefore, individual votes should never be taken for granted. Victory should never be as simple as an assumption.
Assumed victory is in fact the ONLY thing being spoiled in American politics. The third-party political movement within the United States is seeking a disruption of the status quo today that cannot help but be categorized as a “spoiler strategy.” All third parties want to do away with the concept that public offices are owned, and divided in some proportion, by the Democrats and Republicans. Every campaign these smaller organizations run is a spoiler campaign as far as the big two are concerned. Republicans and Democrats know that the stronger the smaller parties become the more their stranglehold on American political power wanes. Third parties are trying to spoil what is perceived as a “good thing” by the patrons of the major political factions in the United States; which is, the very power that they now possess.
It is indeed disingenuous for either the Democrats or Republicans to bemoan these third-party activities as spoilers. The big two spent quite a bit of time on ballot access legislation designed to spoil the chances of any parties, besides themselves of course, of ever gaining access to the United States government. Two wings on the same bird of prey, to paraphrase Pat Buchanan, have conspired to limit the American citizens’ access to their own governmental process. They pass new laws in a steady stream that spoil entrepreneurial spirit, degenerate business opportunity, erode individual economy, while increasing statist power vested in parties that have become corrupted by compromise.
Neither of the major parties can be believed any more. They have spoiled themselves. They have said one thing and done another for so long now that even their most devoted disciples no longer really buy into their political rhetoric. It is disingenuous indeed for Democrats and Republicans to stand over the rotting carcass of the American body politic that they have created and cry about third parties spoiling anything. It is time Republicans and Democrats stop blaming everyone else for their failures and using lame excuses like third-party spoiler campaigns to explain their shortcomings. If they were doing even a half-assed job at representing the American people, and actually protecting individual liberties as they have sworn to do, there would very likely be nothing any third party could do to spoil their control of the people’s government.
Empty promises and recycled rhetoric now fall more and more upon deaf ears as third-party, independent, unaffiliated and disenfranchised voters are no longer unusual rarities. Even though most of these groups are divided by philosophy all are intent on one thing. They are united in their desire to spoil the status quo. Each group has identified at least some aspect of American government that they find intolerable which creates a desire to instigate some amount of change. Therefore, their very existence exemplifies a desire to spoil what the Democrats and Republicans have spent scores of decades building. Yes, these groups are spoilers and no one should feel sympathy for the beast Bureaucracy created by the “great spoilers” - Republicans and Democrats.
So, the next time you hear some Republican chatting noggin’ complaining about a Libertarian in South Dakota that robbed a conservative comrade of his/her rightful place at some governmental level, you will know it is nothing more than sour grapes. They did not received the votes they needed for success because they failed to convince enough individual voters that they truly had the constituents best interests at heart. They were indeed spoiled, but not by some third-party interloper. They were spoiled by the arrogance of assumed victory and the “actions-speak-louder-than-words” syndrome your mother always reminds you about. You cannot place a higher priority on growing government than economic relief for the citizens and still claim to be the “Party of Smaller Government.” Compromise has worked its poison on the GOP and caused the conservative movement within its ranks to become divided and confused with the stench of spoiled principles that thickens the air and becomes heavier with each election.
Yes, the next time you hear some Democratic spin-doctor regale you with the woes of some liberal legislative liberator at the hands of a dastardly Green party candidate from the northeast that stole another seat of government, you will know it is just more sour grapes. They were unable to persuade enough voters to gain a majority and they do not want to accept the consequences of their own actions by realizing personal responsibility. They too have been spoiled, and again, a third-party candidate that only serves as a convenient excuse did not cause it. They were spoiled by the arrogance of assumed victory, helped along by poor organizational and motivational skills. You cannot tell voters you are the “People’s Party” and still cater to unions and special interests once the people have given you your chance. When you leap from the Ship of Compromise into the Sea of Socialism you have no one to blame but yourself when you are swallowed in a cesspool of broken promises and empty pockets.
Are third-party campaigns spoiler campaigns? You bet they are. They are trying to be the spoilers of the “great spoilers” - Democrats and Republicans. As a registered Libertarian voter every vote I cast is intended as a spoiler vote. I am quite sure the vast majority of my fellow travelers share my sentiments. We are all trying to spoil the stranglehold of the two-party political system no matter what banner we march under.
However, third parties should not allow this spoiler status to be defined or exploited by either the Republicans or the Democrats. Neither party should be allowed to solicit sympathy unchallenged for perceived thievery that does not exist. They should not be allowed to label third-party efforts as spoiler campaigns because of votes they did not receive without rebuttal from the “spoiler” himself. It is an absurd argument to claim you would have won if only you had gotten a better score and then blame the lack of productivity on someone else on another team.
Third parties must be aware of and prepared for the opportunities afforded to them by the Democrats and Republicans. Do not moan about the “wasted vote” argument that the Republicans and Democrats use to some effect. Use it as another opportunity to point out to your constituency, and possible constituents, that once again the big two assume ownership of their votes and arrogantly declare if you cast your precious vote for anyone other than those that already hold power, you are wasting your time. Exploit the statist propaganda for what it really means and use the opportunity created by the revelation to reach potentially millions of disenfranchised, disgruntled, unhappy voters. Millions of voters that want a spoiler to vote for.
Third parties should pick up the “spoiler” banner and carry it proudly. It is time they claimed their rightful place in American politics and take credit for having at least some small effect on the process of elections in the United States. Face it fellow travelers, if you have both the Democrats and the Republicans bitching because you are spoiling their fun, you must be doing something right. Just be careful not to allow the “great spoilers” to label you a fly in the ointment that only needs to be removed and forgotten. Make your own labels. Never let them forget you ARE the spoilers and they have already admitted it. It may not always look like an impact is being made because sometimes change is subtle. Just continue to give the American citizens a chance to walk into a voting booth somewhere in America in every election and ask themselves as they scan their ballots, “Who are the real spoilers?”
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
- John Quincy Adams
R. Lee Wrights is an editor, writer and political activist living in Texas. He is currently the Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party national committee. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.