So Let’s Talk About This Third Party Thing

I tend to stay away from posting anything that’s too partisan (unless one of the candidates is truly terrifying). Given discussions during this election cycle, I’m going to waive this rule just once. There has been increased talk about the viability of third party candidates and how if you don’t like the Democratic or Republican candidates, then you should vote for the third party candidate. On one hand, it is an appealing idea because it goes towards changing the broken two-party system and allows for a diversity of viewpoints to be represented. However, I have two issues with this argument.

My first issue: as an African American voting in this election, I have to be very careful about where my vote goes. This is a right that my ancestors protested for and died for when it was illegal for African Americans to vote and when Jim Crow laws functionally prevented African Americans from exercising that right. It was known then that the African American vote would help to improve our situation and shift some of the power back into our hands. African Americans largely have voted Democrat for the last 50 years and it is for good reason. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were signed into law by Democratic presidential administrations. The War on Drugs, the prison industrial complex, and mass incarceration developed and flourished under Republican administrations. While the Democratic party has not always been the most responsive to our issues, we do realize as voters that they are the party most likely to listen to our concerns and pass policies that at least won’t send us 50 years back.

I frankly believe it is disrespectful for people to assume that African Americans blindly support Democrats. Such a sentiment completely disregards and minimizes the level of political savvy that we have to demonstrate in these scenarios. I also find it problematic that other groups are allowed to vote in their own best interests, but African Americans are not given that same space. It is unfair to expect African Americans to forego the political power they have acquired through our forcing the Democratic party to take us seriously as a voting bloc for a third party that has not demonstrated the same level of commitment to our issues or is not a truly viable option given the political system. I have also noticed that many of the proponents of voting for third party candidates during this election have been seemingly well-off White people. Their privilege allows them to use their vote as a way to prove a point, given the fact that they have the least to lose if their candidate loses and/or a more problematic candidate is elected. They fail to realize not everyone is in the position to use their votes in that way and that this election can have a profound impact on anyone who is not a well-off White heterosexual man. I’m not here to debate the merits of Clinton or Trump, not the point of this, that is another conversation. What I am trying to do is illustrate that the concept of the third party candidate cannot just be taken at face value, which goes into my second issue.

The Libertarian party has emerged as the largest third party entity and their presidential candidate this year is Gary Johnson. I’ve seen and heard quite a few people campaigning for him and saying how he is the alternative to Clinton and Trump. I had never really heard of him before this year, but I finally decided to look him up and get an idea of his views. I went to a number of online sources, but decided to discuss what I found on his official websites. This is to counteract any accusation that my sources are biased against him. Seeing where he stands on issues, I find him to be another problematic candidate. First, his views on education. I’ve provided a direct quote from his website and also have linked the quote to his website as well.

More broadly, Gov. Johnson believes there is no role for the Federal Government in education. He would eliminate the federal Department of Education, and return control to the state and local levels. He opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools, believing the key to restoring education excellence in the U.S. lies in the innovation, freedom and flexibility that federal interference inherently discourages.

Eliminating the Department of Education is a huge problem for me. In college, I was in the Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement program, which is a program designed to train students from underrepresented backgrounds (students of color, first-generation, low-income) for graduate school and beyond. This program is funded by the Department of Education. Eliminating it would put many programs such as this in jeopardy. Programs that are designed to even the playing field and provide access to high-quality education for individuals who may not have had the opportunity otherwise. This also negates the research that the Department of Education conducts that helps to illuminate some of the inequities that exist at all levels of education. The DoE has an Office of Civil Rights which has that explicit goal. As a researcher in education, I find this particular view to be narrow-minded and short-sighted.

I also have a problem with the idea of “returning control to the state and local levels”and his opposition to any attempts to “impose national standards and requirements on local schools.” Such a position is ahistorical. When education was left completely in the hands of state and local governments, we had segregation. The process of desegregation was slowed when Brown II (not the original Brown v. Board of Education case, but the addendum) allowed states to desegregate with “deliberate speed.” This essentially gave state and local governments an out and allowed them to desegregate at their own pace which too often meant not at all. Additionally, some schools flat out refused to desegregate until the government intervened (see Little Rock 9). I understand that people want the government to have limited involvement, but history has shown that state and local government are not always equipped or interested in ensuring the good for all of their citizens. Not all of us are lucky enough to live in states in which they can be trusted to do that. I could ramble on about education, but my other issue with him is his views on the privatization of prisons. This quote is from his official Tumblr page.

It was a serious and urgent problem, and the legislature was unwilling to address it. I explored the available options, and it quickly became obvious that the solution was private prisons that could be operated at significantly lower cost,  meet the standards necessary to get the State out from under Federal oversight, and resolve what was a tremendously costly and, frankly, embarrassing situation. At the time, the “per-prisoner” cost in the state prisons was $76 per day. The cost to house prisoners in the private facilities was $56 per day. Better service, lower cost.

On the surface, it does not seem that bad. He talks about lowering the costs and how the prisons supposedly had better services. For those who have issues with his idea, he had this to say:

Never in that process did I experience any pressure to “fill beds” in the private prisons we built. And if I had, it wouldn’t have worked. It might happen elsewhere, but it absolutely did not happen in New Mexico when I was Governor. Anyone who has actually overseen a prison system and dealt with the politics thereof knows that the real pressure to fill cells comes from the public employees’ unions intent on keeping their jobs. They consistently lobby against sentencing reform and go to war to prevent common sense privatization of inefficient, incompetently managed government services.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. He may not have intended for it to become a scenario that promotes mass incarceration, but he says himself that it could happen in other places that use this strategy. Privatization of prisons feeds into mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex. These two interconnected phenomena have their roots in the post-Reconstruction era. The modern-day incarnation of the prison system was birthed as a method to reintroduce the institution of slavery under a different form. This led to the criminalization of many aspects of African American life through Black codes and Jim Crow laws. It is no coincidence that to this day African Americans are overrepresented in the prison population. Having prisons that are private and for-profit exasperates this because it provides additional financial incentive. This article that I’ve attached helps to explain some of these issues in better terms than I am capable of at the moment. Or go read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. In short, privatization of prisons is not a good look.

My frank and honest read of all of this is that these are people whose interests are only in keeping their money and corporatizing a lot of things. Any aspects of preventing inequalities and promoting social justice are barely secondary, if even a concern.  What gets lost in the third party discussion is that there is an implicit assumption that the third party candidate is automatically going to be better than the two traditional party candidates. It’s actually some level of arrogance. Do the research, don’t let people hype you up to vote for someone who isn’t going to look out for you.

P.S. if you don’t agree with me, please don’t come at me with the “but my Black/PoC friend said”–just no, don’t do that. We are not a monolith nor are we rhetorical devices for you to use to further your own argument and to silence people of color who don’t agree with you. Stop doing that shit.