Archive for February, 2017

Let’s Talk About Third Parties

I’m a liberal independent. By the time I started voting in 2004, the Republican Party had drifted so far rightward that I’ve never once voted for a Republican in my life. I frequently vote Democrat, and occasionally independent when the independent candidate has a enough support to have a chance at winning and better aligns with my values. Rarely, I’ll vote third party, with the same conditions on which I’ll vote for independents.

In practice, this means Democrats nearly always get my vote. And these days, the Republicans are so crazy that I’m willing to let the Democrats do the bare minimum because the alternative is to let the Republicans destroy decades of progress in our country.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa?!” you exclaim. “What about third parties?”

My answer is that they are not a viable alternative. Not right now. If you’re a third party supporter, you likely don’t like that answer. I don’t even like that answer, though some of my reasons are likely different from yours. But that is the answer. Don’t believe me? Look at the two biggest third parties since the year 2000, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Libertarian Gary Johnson won 3.28% of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. Green Jill Stein won 1.06% of the popular vote in the same election. They’re not anywhere close to winning, despite any claims they make to the contrary. In fact, when they make claims to the contrary, they make their position worse because then they seem like they’re out of touch with reality.

Third parties need a plan. They need a real, believable plan backed by data and presented with a compelling narrative to convince people it’s time to jump ship from one of the major parties and support a winning third party that is the real deal. I would love to begin voting for the Green Party. They’re more in line with my political views than the Democratic Party is (with some exceptions for liberal Democrats, but they aren’t the norm). But I’m not willing to hand the country over to the Republican Party on principle when the Democratic Party is passably capable of governing. It takes more than a wish and a prayer for a third party to win, and all third party candidates and supporters need to get on board with this fact.

Using the Green Party as an example, there’s a lot I need to know from them.

If a large swath of liberal voting Democrats starts voting Green, effectively splitting and killing the Democratic Party, what is the interim plan to prevent Republicans from causing even more harm in the country until the Green Party achieves enough power to seriously challenge the Republican Party? How do we stop them from passing abhorrent laws, repealing helpful laws, or stacking the Supreme Court? Even if I prefer single-payer health care, I like Obamacare better than no health care plan at all. I also like environmental protection and allowing our national scientific organizations to share real, scientific data and facts with us.

What is the plan for achieving this power, and realistically, how long will it take? Are you planning to supplant and replace one of the existing parties? Open up election law and process through ranked choice voting and other reforms to make third parties viable? How will you do either of these? How likely are you to be successful? Back up these answers with real data, facts, and understanding of our political system.

Why should I risk giving Republicans power to destroy decades of progress when I can get 50%-75% of what I want out of Democrats, and maybe 70%-90% of what I want out of the Greens? I know a lot of people talk about how awful the Democrats are, or say they’re just the same as the Republicans. There are times I wish the Democrats had more of a spine, and stood for more liberal values. There are also times where they don’t do enough to protect those who need protecting. But on the whole, they do a reasonably good job, especially in light of Republican obstruction that was rampant through President Obama’s terms as president. And the Democrats are light-years ahead of the Republicans when it comes to governing well and supporting the disadvantaged. Why should I throw that away on the hope the Greens will be better when they haven’t even convinced me voting for them is a risk worth taking? Because again, if the Green Party succeeds enough to split the vote between Democrats and Greens, but not enough to win, then the Republicans win. I’m okay with the Democratic Party winning. I’m not okay with Republican Party winning, not as their party stands today.

In short, if you’re a third party candidate and supporter and want my vote and support, provide me a solid, realistic plan that gets you into power while minimizing the harm caused in the process. Back it up with real data and knowledge of the political system. If you do this, and my values align more with yours than the other parties you’re running against, you will win my vote. Until then, I’m stuck with the Democrats and the occasional safe independent and third party candidate.

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Facts Matter

So after my last couple posts at the end of last year, I’ve been gathering my thoughts and trying to make sense of President Trump’s presidency and his ignoring or denying of facts. I’ve also been deciding how I want to move forward from here. I’ve decided to start simple, with a reminder that facts matter, facts are real, and denying facts, even if you’re the president, doesn’t make them any less real.

More important than this, though, is the idea that we all need to educate ourselves beyond sources that reinforce our beliefs. Now, I’m not suggesting liberals read Breitbart or conservatives check out Truthdig; in fact, I encourage you not to and won’t dignify either site with a link. But it’s important to find reliable sources of news that present viewpoints that don’t mirror your own for many reasons. I suspect most reasonable people will get this already, or at least consider this once it’s laid out.

First, exposure to differing viewpoints will force you to reconsider your own views. Either your views will withstand the arguments of others, or they won’t and you’ll either need a better argument, or it may be time to consider refining your point of view.

Second, if your view does withstand the arguments of others, you’ll be able to gain an understanding of why people who think differently than you think the way they do. Maybe it’s different priorities, different moral beliefs, interpreting the facts differently (this is different from ignoring the facts), or a host of other reasons. But understanding this will better enable you to see them as people with a wide range of views instead of reducing them to the craziest people on the other side.

Third, when it comes time to debate or discuss politics with people you disagree with, you can demonstrate that you have some understanding of where they’re coming from and build some goodwill with them. Also, because you have a better understanding of their view, you can empathize with them even if you don’t agree with them. By discussing politics in this manner, you have a better chance of swaying someone to your side, and you become more open to changing your own mind when presented with a good argument and solid evidence.

Finally, reading high quality news from sources with differing points of view helps you see where the common ground is, where everyone basically agrees on things, and this can help you sort out facts, opinions, and complete fictions when consuming news from other sources. And this is important because, as noted in the title of this post, facts matter. This assumes, of course, that you’re already reading the news. If you aren’t, then also consider being informed about politics and world events another benefit of this.

There’s another reason it’s important to get news from high quality news sources, and it’s a little less obvious than the ones above. The reason is to support the people and organizations that do quality reporting and produce high quality news. If they don’t get support, in the form of page views and ad revenue or in straight up purchases, donations, and cash, then they lose the ability to do what they are doing, and we lose an important part of the media that does everything they can to keep us informed. And it’s worth noting that there is no “free news.” Good reporting costs money, and someone has to pay for it somehow.

News aggregators don’t do original reporting, nor do many opinion sites who report on other people’s reporting while providing their opinion on it. This very site is not news, as when I ramp up, I’ll mostly be writing opinion pieces based on news I’ve learned from other sources and my own personal beliefs and moral compass. While I think it’s valuable to express opinions on and debate the news, this value is different from the value of news itself. And without quality news reporting, these kinds of opinion pieces wouldn’t be possible.

So, this means if you know an organization doing quality reporting, including investigative journalism, interviews, research, and other forms of reporting that require digging up information from original sources to bring new information to light, you should support them however you can. Buy a subscription, click an ad, make a donation, read their stories and spread the word, whatever you can do. Because the media needs this support to survive.

Why should you care about this, you may ask? Because we need the media. The media gives us information so we know what our government is doing, what is happening in the world, and often through the opinion pieces they also help provide us with a solid base to build further viewpoints on, or to understand other viewpoints (see, there I go talking about understanding again). Without the media, we wouldn’t know about illegal government surveillance, abuses in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Watergate, and a whole host of other problems. It also required sacrifice from others, but without the media to report on the information these others provided, this information simply wouldn’t have made it all that far. The media also provides important day to day information, so we know what people in positions of authority are telling us meshes with the facts. Importantly, this also tells us when those same people are giving us false information, and helps us gauge how much, if at all, we should trust them.

Now above, I’ve also emphasized the importance of getting news from quality news sources. Aside from wanting good information, supporting quality news sources does something else important; it shows the demand for quality news is higher than the demand for dumbed down, heavily biased, sensationalist, or even completely fake news. Higher demand for quality news will translate into more outlets providing quality news.

I’m beginning by making a concerted effort to get more news from a larger variety of good sources. I don’t yet know the best way to vet news sources, so I’m currently relying on other people along with some intuition to get me there based on what I already know. As time goes on, I hope to get better at this and be able to do better vetting on my own, but I have to get started somehow, and this is how I’m doing it. I’ve also included links to sources that so far seem to provide quality sources of news on my sidebar in the links section. I encourage you to dive into their news and politics sections. Check out a few, even those who don’t mesh with your current viewpoints. As I read more, I expect to grow the list of news sources I’m linking to, and hopefully refine it as well.

Also, because I believe in sources, I think it’s only fair to point out that I started this list of links after talking with friends and acquaintances about where they get news and using this InfoGraphic:

Because I care about methodology and accuracy, here is an explanation from the creator of her methodology for putting it together:

Her view on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, BBC, and NPR is pretty well calibrated with my own, and so I decided to start there. This doesn’t mean she’s accurate. But it at least seemed like an ok place to start for me, until I learn and understand more.

So, that’s where I’m at now. I think it’s time for me, and for many others, to expand our consumption of news and aim for the best quality news we can find expressing a variety of viewpoints so we can become as well-informed as possible. I hope you’ll join me in this, whether you’re starting out in the same place I am, or from a level of more or less experience.

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