Later this month, I’m going to be a superdelegate. At my party’s political convention in Denver, I’ll cast my vote for our 2008 presidential candidate.
It’ll be even more exciting because I’ll probably go into the convention not knowing who our eventual nominee will be.
“But wait, Seth,” I hear you say, “I thought only important people were superdelegates; and isn’t the convention in August?”
I’m not talking about the Democratic Convention, though.
I’ll be a delegate to the Libertarian Party’s national Convention, to be held in Denver in just a few weeks. Since Libertarian delegates aren’t “pledged” to a presidential candidate, but are free to vote however they want, we’re just like the Democrats’ infamous “superdelegates.”
It promises to be an exciting convention. Never in the history of the Libertarian Party have there been as many serious contenders. Among them are a number of longtime party activists: Mary Ruwart, a biologist from Texas; George Phillies, a physics professor from Massachusetts; and Steve Kubby, a marijuana legalization activist from California.
Within recent months, two former members of congress have also thrown their hat in the Libertarian ring: Bob Barr, a former Republican Representative from Georgia, and Mike Gravel, a former Democratic Senator from Alaska.
Never in its three decades years of existence has the Libertarian Party earned more than one percent of the vote for president.
Why should I bother choosing a candidate for a party that every political analyst says stands no chance of winning?
Both our winner-take-all elections and our Congressional system (as opposed to a parliamentary system) mean that it’s very unlikely that we’ll have more than two strong national parties.
What’s the point, then?
Standing with a third party means that you don’t have to compromise your principles in supporting a candidate.
Many Democrats are frustrated that Barack Obama doesn’t support marriage rights for gays and lesbians; many Republicans are upset that John McCain isn’t tougher on illegal immigration.
But those on the far left who join the Green Party don’t have to sacrifice their unequivocal support of civil rights; those on the far right who join the Constitution Party can take a consistent stand for a border policy tougher than none.
And those who back the Libertarian Party stand steadfast against the growing torrent of infringements on personal freedom and personal choice.
When there are just two parties, candidates will battle only for the votes of independents and centrists — those in the middle of the political spectrum.
This ensures that candidates will pay attention only to the concerns of a fraction of voters — the small number who help them win their party’s nomination and then the small number of swing voters in the general election.
Third parties expand the debate, though — they allow for more voters and a wider cross-section of the public to be represented in political discussion; their existence also means that major party candidates must address their issues or risk losing even more votes.
Most importantly, third parties are the conscience of American politics — that small voice taking consistent, principled stands.
There’s a lot of temptation in third parties to pick a “big name” candidate who’ll bring in lots of votes, but who doesn’t really align with the party’s core message.
When third parties water-down their message, they lose what makes them unique in our political system, and lose much of their value.
So I’ll vote for the candidate at the Libertarian National Convention who I feel can best take a principled, uncompromised Libertarian message to the larger political arena.
He or she may not come close to becoming president, but they will expand the debate, ask a few badly needed questions, and, most importantly, they’ll make our democracy just a little more vibrant. That’s what I’ll be doing with my “superdelegate” vote.
Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.