Having voted in 15 presidential elections, I have long since become adjusted to the fact that not everybody will vote the way I do. It's sad, of course, and I wish I could help everyone to see the light, but I can't. And that's OK. I don't question the right of each of us to make his or her own political choice, even if I happen to feel that my own choice is obviously the best. I do, however, question the manner in which some go about making their choices. I don't challenge them, but I am puzzled.
There's a discussion group on the Internet that has among its members some highly intelligent individuals. I don't claim to be one of those, but I do join in their conversations. When politics dominates, as it does most of the time, there are several members who declare that they vote for the individual candidate, not the political party. Others express disgust for both our two major political parties and swear they are ready to vote for a third party candidate. Still others insist that if the candidate of their choice is not nominated, they'll sit out the election and not vote at all. They say they refuse to vote simply for the lesser of two evils.
Comments by the "candidate-not-party group" always make me remember my father. He adored his mother-in-law, my maternal grandmother, but didn't care all that much for his father-in-law. He and my grandfather voted the same way, I'm sure, but my dad would sneeringly quote the older man as saying, "I vote for the party, not the man." My dad was a contrarian by nature, and especially so where the older man was concerned, and he expressed great disdain for this view. The candidate was the important factor, not the political party, he insisted. I, on the other hand, as I reached voting age, came to believe the way my grandfather did. And still do. I see little value in voting for a candidate because I think he or she is a fine person, if that person belongs to the party that does not more often than not go in the general direction I believe is best. The President, serving as both chief executive and as head of his or her party, is not likely to charge off in a direction the party doesn't generally espouse.
I fully understand those who are angered by both major parties. Political parties are by nature brawling, chaotic, sprawling organizations with often conflicting internal drives, somewhat united by a central goal, the acquisition of power. But those who choose to support a third party instead should check their history books. We haven't had a successful third party since since oh yeah, not in my lifetime or several lifetimes before mine. We have, however, seen third party efforts hand elections to winners you might not really have wanted to see win. In my opinion, voting for a third party candidate is self-defeating idealism.
Sitting out elections because of dislike of both candidates or both major party platforms is, in my opinion, equally pointless. It seems a little like the kid who takes his ball and goes home if the sandlot team doesn't meet all his expectations, thereby torpedoing his own opportunity to play and hamstringing the game itself. Some of those who take this position tell me they refuse to have to choose the lesser of two evils. I have news for them. We have always had to choose between two evils. I am unaware of any election in which a perfect candidate ran for office. What about the Father of our Country, you ask, the sainted Washington? You mean that slave-holding, whiskey-distilling, land-grabbing aristocrat? No, he was a great man and deserves the honors we heap on him and more, but he was far from perfect. And modern-day candidates mostly fall well short of the standard he set.
So I don't question your right to vote for the candidate of your choice. But if you plan to vote for an appealing individual who is running as a member of a party you don't support, or if you yearn for a third party candidate to run against the two main parties, or if you plan not to vote at all because nobody is perfect, I do question your perspicacity as a citizen.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."