The Lunatic Fringe of the political spectrum is my favourite hang-out. This month, my nation re-elected a president whose emotional range in tone of voice rivals that of Stephen Hawking. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s vampirian smile kept reminding me of an article I read sometime ago, a gruesome news item about a couple whose pet ferret had nibbled the fingers off their newborn child. Mitt Romney’s furry little weasel-child-nibbling smile creeped me out during the debates as the cameras showed his reactions to Obama’s speech. During the presidential debates, I kept thinking of what a bad choice it is to keep a ferret as a pet, or elect him as a president.
Whom to vote for? I mused. Do I vote for the used car salesman or for Mr. Spock, the pointy-eared Vulcan from the old Star Trek science fiction series? Vulcans cannot experience emotions, and apparently they attack their enemies extra-judically using drones. During those reruns of Star Trek which I watched with a religious zeal, cheesy used car commercials touted the honesty of the dealer, and the bargain-priced vehicles. Every last one of those car dealers were played by some incarnation of Mitt Romney. I was invited to vote for a plastic-faced hairdo or a boring sci-fi alien.
See, I was familiar with the characters; they were straight out of my television-obsessed youth. In those days, we “only” had a few channels to choose from. We were constantly told how lucky we were, living in a great democracy, and how in the Soviet Union they only had one channel, and one candidate, whom you could vote for, or vote “no.” I actually experienced Soviet-style television on my travels to Hungary eight years before the demise of Communism, and, sure enough, one channel played six hours of agricultural programming. It was enough to make one read a book.
This election, I decided to change the channel. For me, the candidates were so similar, agreed on so many issues, that any change from the status quo seemed superfluous. I decided to vote for a third party candidate.
To enter the world of the third party candidate in the United States reminds me of how far we still have to travel before we can claim that we live in a society where choice among candidates is a reality. All we have is a choice between candidates, the grammatical distinction being a question of number. When you only have a choice of two, then it is a choice between. Right now, that’s where we stand. The choice the American electorate was given like Coke vs. Pepsi. It’s the same darn drink, people: Pepsi is blue, Coke is red, but essentially, they’re the same drink. We are marketed these saccharine libations as if the differences were a matter of great importance.
The fringe politicos, including Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate who garnered one percent of the vote, represent a completely different choice, as if someone were to say “Coke or Pepsi?” and I answered, “steak”! Unfortunately, we were bombarded with ads here, very expensive ads that touted the merits of either Obama or Romney. Negative Republican ads only criticized Obama, and negative Democratic ads only criticized Romney. By my calculations, for every vote they received, a presidential candidate, regardless of party, spent about two dollars per vote. The two richest parties, backed by huge donations and liberalized laws that allow even more anonymous donation, could simply buy more votes.
Honestly? If I only had a choice between Coke and Pepsi, I might just not drink at all. And in this presidential election, over 46 percent of all eligible American voters stayed home. The disenfranchised “None of the Above” vote, if counted as a group, would have come two percentage points from defeating Mitt Romney, and four percentage points from winning the election.
So, did I go to the polls? And if so, for whom did I vote?
I voted for the candidate no one had heard of. On his own merits, I thought Gary Johnson would make the best president. He grew a business from a one-man enterprise to one of the largest in his home state of New Mexico. He successfully ran for governor of New Mexico as a Republican. Term limits in New Mexico prevent a governor from being re-elected more than once, so by law he could only serve eight years. By the end of those two terms of office, under Johnson, New Mexico was one of only four states in the US without a deficit. In fact, when Johnson left office, his state had a $1 billion surplus. Johnson had generated this surplus without laying off any state workers.
Fiscally, he was pro small business, but did not advocate for corporate welfare, government bailouts, or special privileges for large corporations. His name was on the ballot in every state, but he was so ignored by the press that when a third-party debate was held, Al Jazeera and C-Span were the only major media outlets to cover it.
He was also, by the way, an Iron Man Triathlete, who regularly runs 26.4 miles, then swims 2.1 miles, then bikes 112 miles in the annual competition in Honolulu, In 2003, he broke his leg in a paragliding accident, and, getting the all-clear from his orthopaedic surgeon a few weeks later, climbed Mt. Everest.
And yet, he couldn’t even get one percent of the vote.
Why? Because while other nations can repress information through intimidation, the United States has evolved to the point where candidates are only taken seriously if they spend enormous amounts of money. It’s a kind of a reverse Darwinism, survival of the least frugal. Less well-funded candidates who do not hold the promise of advertising dollars for the networks will not find their way into the news coverage. No matter how great a president the candidate would make, it’s not profitable for networks to cover candidates that will not be paying for ads.
In the case of both our nations, the same fundamental question hangs in the air — how democratic can any system of government be which relies upon the established power structure to set up the rules of engagement? On the other hand, what choice do we have but to rely upon the pre-existing power structure?
The answer lies in the nature of democracy itself. Thomas Jefferson once said “The price for liberty is eternal vigilance.” We, as individual citizens, must hold our governments accountable by inventing the means by which we can be assured that our voices will be heard. More than ever before, we have the technological tools to help us raise our voices.
And even though I voted for Gary Johnson, I was not at all vigilant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m OK with President Obama; I would have been fine with President Romney, but it still bugs me. With a few clicks of a keyboard, I could have made a bigger difference for my candidate, and I didn’t.
Perhaps, somewhere, out there among you readers, is one man or woman with the vocation to lead Bangladesh. Your opponents will place roadblocks in your path; that’s the nature of politics the world over.
If you are called to lead, declare your candidacy, and by all means let me know! Begin your campaign, claim your right to represent your people! Quixotic notions are often necessary at the onset of a political career.
If you have decided to run for something, or to support some long-shot candidate, I would love to interview you. After all, if you’re reading my column, it’s the least I can do. You may be penniless, powerless, and your family may never have held a political office. It may be an uphill battle, but I enjoy candidates who climb mountains, and birds that fly on broken wings. You may not get CNN, but at least one writer will notice you…
Welcome to the Lunatic Fringe!
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.