By Griffin Edwards ‘17
There’s a great scene in the Russell Crowe film Master and Commander (one of my favorites) in which the officers aboard a Napoleonic-era British frigate are dining together. Captain Aubrey (Crowe) asks his ship’s doctor to choose between a pair of weevils wriggling about on the table between some hard tack. The doctor responds that they’re identical. The captain pressures the doctor to choose one of the two. The doctor chooses one, saying it’s larger and thus superior. Aubrey hits the table out of frustration, startling the doctor. “Don’t you know,” says the captain, “that in His Majesty’s service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?” And the crew erupts in rum-fueled laughter.
Welcome to American Politics 101.
There’s an analogy here. It’s not pretty or watertight, but it’s interesting. Much like the aforementioned doctor, we as citizens of the United States generally have two options from which to choose: Democrats and Republicans. Democrats typically like social freedom but are wary of economic liberties; Republicans typically like economic liberties but are wary of social freedom. And these two parties are just about all we’ve got.
“But Griffin,” you’re thinking, “There are lots of Democrats who like the free market, and lots of Republicans who are pro-gay marriage. You’re ignorant and shouldn’t be writing for a medium as distinguished as St. Olaf’s political blog.”
So, before you start writing me an angry email: EXACTLY.
That’s just it. You can’t take everyone’s ideologies and throw them into one of two camps. America is a diverse place based on freedom of expression; people are bound to have a plethora of disparate ideas. I might even go so far as to say that very few people’s ideologies line up perfectly with one side or the other. Most people would say, “I’m a Democrat except…” or “I’m a Republican except…” Republicans vote Republican because they think the Republican candidates would do a better job than Democrats. Not, however, because they believe the Republicans know what’s “best” for the country, but simply because they might have a “better” understanding than the alternative (disclaimer: the same goes for Democrats).
In fact, many of our best politicians have been those who, although loyal to a party, were willing to compromise and work together with those they opposed. Think Clinton, JFK, Gingrich, Reagan. Put their parties aside, and you’ll still have some effective politicians who did stuff. Party lines fell away as the necessity of serving their constituents became their goal. Imagine what would happen if the party in power actually reflected people’s points of view!
Minnesota is actually a good example of this. The home of the radical centrist Independence Party has actually had governors and statesmen come out of a non-dichotomous third party, and had the candidate perform fairly well.
So, next election cycle, vote for yourself. Don’t pick the lesser of two evils (or weevils). Vote Libertarian, or Green, or Pansexual-Peace, or Whig, or Constitution, or Pirate. If you’re one of the few who conforms totally to Left or Right, vote Left or Right. But express yourself; do some research, spend 5 minutes online, find out which political figure best fits your opinions, and vote for them.
George Washington warned us to be wary of parties. In reality, there’s no reason to fear them so long as they’re doing their job: serving the people. However, that’s only possible if those in office reflect the wishes of the populace.