I’ve had a lot of people these days ask me about my opinion on voting third-party.  After seventeen hours in the car over the past 48 hours–most of it spent listening to talking heads on the radio– I thought I would muse a little here on the subject.

We’ve had a handful of third-party candidates in the past few elections who’ve had a little bit of success (enough to get their names on the ballot and get a percentage of popular vote, at least).  In a country of Republicans and Democrats, “success” for someone like Ross Perot is just being mentioned in the conversation.

It’s hard for us to remember (there it is again, that American forgetfulness) that our country wasn’t founded with Republicans and Democrats getting together and writing a constitution.  Political parties didn’t exist until 1789.  George Washington HATED the idea of political parties or any small faction threatening the unity of the country.

But… we have them.  It’s a pretty natural thing to do, to organize yourself with others of like mind and support people who think like you do.

Do I like being a two-party system?  No.  I think the country would benefit from several parties, working together in cooperation towards common goals.  I also think the country would benefit from free puppies and the abolishment of DST.

So I don’t like the two-party system, but guess what?  We have it.  And you know what else, ye Americans of forgetfulness?  We’ve pretty much had it as long as we’ve had political parties.  Sure, there weren’t always the Republicans and the Democrats.  But… how about the Federalists and the anti-Federalists?  You see, whenever one group forms in support of beliefs and ideals, another group will be formed by people who believe the opposite.  (The anti-Federalists soon became the “Democratic-Republicans,” I suppose when they realized “anti-Federalist” sounded a bit mean and reactive.)

So here we are, with a two-party system.  What if you don’t like the two parties?  You form another, like Theodore Roosevelt.  After former-President Roosevelt failed to get a nomination for a third (but not consecutive) term from the Republican Party, he broke away and formed the famous “Bull Moose Party.”  The result?  His party split the Republican vote (Taft and Roosevelt together won 50% of the popular vote) and Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had won only 43% of the vote, walked away with victory.

The vote-split argument can also be made about Ross Perot, as people say Clinton only won because of Perot– although the statistics aren’t as clear-cut as they are in the 1912 election.

Third parties are great… but not practical these days.  In times like these, when we find ourselves as sheep among wolves, a very wise Teacher instructed us to be “cunning as serpents, innocent as doves” (Mt10:16).   It is rather shocking to hear, perhaps.  We’re supposed to be cunning?  That sounds like a description of the guys with black hats, not the guys wearing white.

But it’s true.  I’m a very idealistic person, and I see the potential of which America is falling short. That’s why I supported Brownback in the Republican primaries.  But we must always evaluate what is at hand and reassess- always reassess.  So while I’m idealistic, I’d also like to think I’m a little bit practical, too.

The issues that face our country are incredible, even as these last few days have shown us.  [While life issues are obviously at the top of my list, I also can’t ignore the economy.  And I like the fact that McCain co-sponsored legislation in 2005 to keep this housing mess from happening…  whereas Barack Obama is second on the list of politicans receiving huge amounts of money from Fannie and Freddie.]

I’d like to support a third-party candidate.  But I cannot ignore the facts– that third-party candidates split votes.  And I cannot, in good conscience, do anything that would result in Barack Obama moving into the White House.  I’d never be able to live with myself, knowing that the partial-birth abortion ban would be overturned, the “Freedom of Choice” act would be signed into law, marriage would be in jeopardy more so than it already is, the markets would crumble, businesses would falter under the weight of increased taxes, a pull-out in Iraq would result in more chaos than ever before for millions of Iraqis….

I can’t do it.  Not when I can vote for McCain in good conscience.  As I’ve said before, he’s not the perfect candidate.  But he can be worked with, especially with the right advisors.  I think his pick of Sarah Palin was much more than a savvy political move.  If he wanted a savvy political move, he would have picked an experienced woman who appealed to a far broader base, like Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  But he didn’t.  He picked a staunchly pro-life, pro-family, pro-everything-the-liberals-hate woman who might be criticized for her inexperience.  It was not the shrewdest of decisions, and I think it shows that he picked her for more than political reasons.  He picked her because he wants her to help lead America in a new direction.

So, in short, I think supporting a third-party candidate in this election isn’t practical– indeed, is out-right dangerous.  Yes, I want to tell the Republican Party that I would like a more conservative candidate in 2012, but last time I checked, I didn’t get to write an essay on my ballot.  It will just be counted as a tally-mark for a candidate- and as a tally-mark against another.  I will continue to vote in the primaries for the candidates I believe are best for America. But once the primaries are over, we reassess and continue to work to fight the spread of evil- even, I suppose, if that means siding with Russia to beat Hitler. (sigh)