A false dichotomy view of politics

Voters in the United States have become accustomed to voting for “the lesser of two evils,” that is, the major party candidate they dislike the least in a two-party system. There are a number of problems with the two-party system, including as Howard Zinn pointed out, that “[t]o give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control.”[1] That the system would allow “reform that would not yield too much,”[2] that is, “reform” that does not threaten the elites, in “[t]he Jacksonian idea . . . to achieve stability and control.”[3] The system prevents alternative ideas from being considered, so if you oppose war or neoliberalism, or if you favor serious efforts to protect the environment, you have no candidate to vote for.

In 2016, the problem has become especially pronounced as both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump are extraordinarily unpopular.[4] And so, once again, voters are reduced to voting against the candidate they dislike the most.

People need to stop doing that and to start insisting that political parties supply candidates that they can support. Because in the false dichotomy view of politics, also known as the two-party system, a candidate’s record, principles, or lack thereof are all irrelevant. The only important consideration is that that candidate is not her or his opponent (whose record, principles, or lack thereof are all all-important).

As we have seen with the Democratic National Committee this year, this frees party insiders to disregard their alleged duty to neutrality to ensure that their favored candidate, not necessarily the one who will do best against their opponent, wins the nomination.[5] And so that the two major party choices should both be so awful should be absolutely no surprise.

But that’s what voters get when they acquiesce to a false dichotomy view of politics. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

  1. [1]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), 217.
  2. [2]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), 218.
  3. [3]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), 217.
  4. [4]Dan Balz and Scott Clement, “Poll: Election 2016 shapes up as a contest of negatives,” Washington Post, May 21, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/poll-election-2016-shapes-up-as-a-contest-of-negatives/2016/05/21/8d4ccfd6-1ed3-11e6-b6e0-c53b7ef63b45_story.html; Michael Barbaro, “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Are Winning Votes, but Not Hearts,” New York Times, March 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/us/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump.html; Justin Carissimo, “Too many people would rather see a giant meteor strike Earth than Clinton or Trump as president,” Independent, July 3, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/too-many-people-would-rather-see-a-giant-meteor-strike-earth-than-clinton-or-trump-as-president-a7116691.html; Michael Brendan Dougherty, “The existential despair of Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump,” Week, June 9, 2016, http://theweek.com/articles/628850/existential-despair-hillary-clinton-vs-donald-trump; Nick Gass, “Hillary Clinton’s favorability numbers have gone under water,” Politico, September 2, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/poll-hillary-clinton-2016-favorability-213251; Janet Hook, “Both Parties’ Presidential Front-Runners Increasingly Unpopular,” Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/both-parties-presidential-front-runners-increasingly-unpopular-1460898001; Patrick O’Connor, “Voters Not Happy With Presidential Choices — WSJ/NBC News Poll,” Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/10/21/wsjnbc-news-poll-reveals-an-uninspired-electorate/; Patrick O’Connor, “Poll Finds Lack of Enthusiasm for Clinton and Trump,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/poll-finds-lack-of-enthusiasm-for-clinton-and-trump-1464037289; Emily Schultheis, “Poll: More than half of voters wouldn’t back Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton,” CBS News, April 18, 2016, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-more-than-half-of-voters-wouldnt-back-donald-trump-ted-cruz-hillary-clinton/; Gerald F. Seib, “Voters Harbor Differing Concerns About Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/voters-harbor-differing-concerns-about-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump-1462206229; Seth Stevenson, “Vote Trump, Vote Hillary, Stay Home, Pray,” Slate, March 2, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/03/republicans_against_trump_on_what_they_ll_do_if_he_s_the_nominee.html; Byron Tau, “More Americans Consider Third-Party Options,” Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2016, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/05/24/more-americans-consider-third-party-options/; Matthew Yglesias, “Hillary Clinton will be the most-disliked nominee ever — except for Donald Trump,” Vox, May 2, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/5/2/11565194/clinton-trump-unfavorable
  5. [5]Clare Foran, “Unity Won’t Come Easily for Democrats,” Atlantic, May 24, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton-democratic-party-platform/484067/; Kevin Gosztola, “Establishment Collectively Stunned To See Citizens Reject Rigged Democratic Primary,” Common Dreams, May 20, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/05/20/establishment-collectively-stunned-see-citizens-reject-rigged-democratic-primary; Lauren McCauley, “‘Rigged’ 2016 Election Has Voters Feeling Helpless, Unheard, and Ashamed,” Common Dreams, May 31, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/05/31/rigged-2016-election-has-voters-feeling-helpless-unheard-and-ashamed; Amy Sherman, “Democratic debates set to ‘maximize’ exposure, Wasserman Schultz claims, but evidence is dubious,” Politifact, January 20, 2016, http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2016/jan/20/debbie-wasserman-schultz/democratic-debates-maximize-exposure-debbie-wasser/; Byron Tau and Colleen McCain Nelson, “Hacked Emails Show Clinton Links With Democratic Party,” Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/hacked-emails-show-clinton-links-with-democratic-party-1476315158; Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier, “Was the Democratic Primary Just Manipulated, or Was It Stolen?” Truthout, June 13, 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36408-was-the-democratic-primary-just-manipulated-or-was-it-stolen; Greg Sargent, “It’s on: We’re getting four more Democratic debates,” Washington Post, February 3, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/02/03/its-on-looks-like-were-getting-four-more-democratic-debates/; Steven Shepard, “Democratic insiders give low marks to Wasserman Schultz,” Politico, May 27, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/debbie-wasserman-schultz-democratic-insiders-223631; Wall Street Journal, “Bernie Sanders Gets No Respect,” March 27, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/bernie-sanders-gets-no-respect-1459117222; Katie Bo Williams, “WikiLeaks email suggests Brazile sent debate question to Clinton camp,” Hill, October 31, 2016, http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/303556-emails-brazile-leaked-debate-question-to-clinton-camp; Megan R. Wilson, “DNC rolls back restrictions on lobbyist donations,” Hill, February 12, 2016, http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/business-a-lobbying/269266-dnc-rolls-back-restrictions-on-lobbyist-donations

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