For decades the Democratic Party’s mainstream has used the spoiler argument to keep itself in power. We’ve all heard it by now: any vote that is not cast for the DNC’s select candidate is in effect a vote for a much worse Republican, and we can therefore kiss any last hope for progressive politics goodbye. A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump, a vote for Kucinich was for McCain, Nader was for Bush, and so the rant goes all the way back to the early 1970s when enormously popular Eugene McCarthy was shouted down by his fellow Democrats for having the nerve to campaign for president on a platform opposing the Vietnam War. Their bluster serves to marginalize anyone who is not well groomed and sprinkled with DNC holy water. And it preys on our fears of things like the further deterioration of the Supreme Court, or the alarming passage of reactionary legislation like the Patriot Act. But more to the point, the spoiler argument belies history.
Independent or third parties have always played an important role in progressive American politics and movement history. Bottom up movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have always involved outside parties such as the People’s Party (aka Populist Party), the Progressive Party, and others that spearheaded real and lasting progress and basic rights: women’s suffrage, labor rights, anti-trust laws, social security, initiative and referendum reforms, environmental protection, and the list goes on. To the extent that Democrats or Republicans signed off on any of these reforms was largely bandwagonism.
Aside from LBJ’s “Great Society” initiatives—which were pushed through by the Civil Rights movement, not the Democratic Party—a vote for Democrats in the 1960s was a vote for mass slaughter in Vietnam. After the Supreme Court decided that bribery was “speech” in 1976, voting Democrat became a vote for big business. And since the 1990s, it has been a vote for NAFTA, the WTO, corporate neoliberalism, the worst health care legislation imaginable, and pure bulls&@t like “clean coal.”
Yeah, yeah, Trump is worse. Bush was worse. Nixon was worse. Yet the discernible trend remains that the more we vote for the Cercei Lannisters because the Ramsey Boltons are worse, the more we all start to look and act like Ramsey Bolton.