The word “spoiler,” when applied only to small-party candidates, is an epithet of political bigotry. It says to people who want to enter the electoral arena and talk about ignored but important issues that they should not do so.
It says the two big parties own all the voters, and they should not be taken away by third-party candidates who can’t win. Nor should these candidates be given an opportunity to build voter familiarity and an eventual chance at winning over several elections.
Many Americans, despite their disgust with the behavior of the two major parties, think nothing of telling people not to run because they'll be “spoilers.” That is equivalent to telling candidates to shut up – a nasty demand that one would not readily use in daily interactions.
Even so, I was surprised that my mere signing of former Connecticut state legislator Jonathan Pelto’s petition, along with thousands of other state voters, to get him on the gubernatorial ballot, made news. After all, giving voters more choices and voices in an election year should be as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July. Except that it isn’t.
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What is someone like Jonathan Pelto to do? Apparently, shut up and get in line with politicians from either major party who together in Congress are registering near single digits in national approval polls.
A deep-rooted syndrome plagues the two-party tyranny that claims third-party or independent candidates are “spoilers.” A recent editorial in the Manchester Journal Inquirer displayed this censorious attitude: “If they cannot have their own way in implementing their own ideas within the two-party system they move to act as spoilers. Their refusal to accept the two-party system as a reality of American life only makes them ineffective in implementing their ideas.”
This is breathtaking duopolistic, autocratic thinking.
What if both parties continually reject even considering cracking down on corporate crimes, crony capitalism or corporate welfare? What if they reject a proven, superior way to educate children? What if they refuse to consider an end to unconstitutional wars or to a grotesquely twisted tax system favoring the rich and powerful – to name a few of the major agenda items not even on the table for discussion by the two parties?
The mentality that smaller party dissenters are “spoilers” starts in elementary schools. Scholastic magazine floods classrooms in presidential election years with materials talking about only two choices from the two major parties. Teachers have complained to me that it is hard to get approved classroom materials that reflect the history of third-party contributions over the years.
A freedom-loving democratic view is that everyone has an equal right to run for elective office. Since all candidates are trying to get votes from one another, they are all “spoilers” to each other.
Perpetuating an entrenched two-party politics, marinated in a corporatism that is voraciously driving our country into the ground, while exporting jobs and industries to suppressive fascist and communist regimes abroad, should not go uncontested.
Aren’t we glad that enough voters split away from the Democratic and Whig parties in 1840 to vote for the antislavery Liberty Party? Or that after the Civil War, voters supported third parties pushing for women’s right to vote and Progressive Era regulations of railroads, banks and other industries to protect farmers and workers? Those smaller parties exposed the rot and ruinous policies of the business-driven politics of the day. The major parties eventually got the message. We are the beneficiaries today.
All voters have the right to a choice of qualifying candidates on the ballot. Lacking that choice, voters should be able to write in a name or vote for a binding “none of the above.” This is how people can start taking on the spoiled exclusionary domination of the Republican and Democratic parties.
Those who throw the charge of “spoilers” need to be reminded that running for public office is the consummate use of the First Amendment – namely, to exercise the right to freedom of speech, petition and assembly.
Remember that the words “political parties,” “corporation” and “company” are not even mentioned in our Constitution, raising the central question of why they are ruling “we the people” today.
Ralph Nader, a Connecticut native who has run for president several times, is the author, most recently, of “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” He wrote this for the Hartford Courant.