The Lesser of Two Evils = Vote Third Party

When both Obama and Romney support policies that create terror abroad, it’s time Americans vote for a third-party solution.

This was previously published on New Plateaus.

President Obama is easily the most likeable president I’ve been alive to see. His leadership capabilities range from inspiring to heart-warming. He’s charismatic and has a great family.

But in areas of national defense and drug policy President Obama has been a disappointment. In fact, he’s been indefensibly terrible. In these days when his supporters are finding it tougher than ever to criticize the President for fear of him losing the election, it makes these realizations all the more important to bear in mind—so that you’re not caught up in election fever and vote for someone enforcing lethal policy. (And this includes Romney, because he’ll declare the same policies.)

The War on Drugs

Yes, law enforcement seizes a bunch of narcotics each year. They take their picture in front of a mountain of drugs and state how kids now aren’t going to get high on the stuff. But we could say the same thing if we captured a Coca-Cola truck every now and again. Never mind that while you’re posing with the seized cargo, twenty other trucks have driven by in the background. That it’s useless, though, is actually one of the more polite things one can say about the Drug War.

The federal government drops a cool $20 billion a year trying to stop people from getting high. This sounds like just another big number coming from D.C., but when broken down per deed and per person hired: officers, surveillance equipment, crop-dusting cocaine fields in Colombia, judges, prosecutors, and building and running the jails, we see that each is money spent on something not helpful to our world. (Oh, it’s also about $600 every second.)

And if drugs are the disease and the Drug War the medicine, it’s the side effects of the treatment that are worse yet.

With no courts to resolve street conflict, things are settled by violence—wherever, by whoever and to whoever that may be, resulting in murder, innocent bystanders, and dangerous people willing to take the opportunity provided by the lucrative trade. Maybe if I provided a story of a single innocent person whose house was wrongly raided or a child who was shot by a stray bullet, this might make more of an impact. Just know that this stuff happens.

And if it’s hard to be cognizant of the harm caused domestically because of the War on Drugs, it’ll be tougher for us yet to care for the death in other countries. But this is something I’m challenging you to do—because deep down, we know that a life lost in Guatemala is as tragic as a life list in Any City, U.S, and this geographically extended War has been erupting in Mexico and Central America for years.

Drug War casualties in Acapulco

In the list of the world’s top ten most dangerous countries, six are Latin American, each fueled for competition for the demand and market of American drug users. It’s led to news such as this: “Twenty-seven farm labourers were decapitated and had their heads strewn across a field one recent night.” read The Guardian’s website on June 28th, 2011.

This is one of many, many examples.

The White House isn’t the pulling the triggers, beheading the victims, or slaughtering the civilians down there, but as a nation supposedly empathetic to the suffering of others (that’s why we were told we got Saddam and Ghadaffi), we continue to instill policy that leads indirectly to these atrocities. And of course, this policy leads directly to the first problems mentioned above.

All this harm and death could be reduced almost immediately with decriminalization, a policy shift endorsed from writers and media across the political spectrum. Even Pat Robertson said we should decriminalize marijuana!

Knowing that the president knows all this, and assuming—which I do—that he personally advocates legalization himself, what’s left are two possibilities as to why he continues the bad fight. And it’s in these that we reveal some big problems: either he’s let advisors pull him away from good policy, or he doesn’t dare come across as being “soft” on the Drug War at the expense of losing public support. The former reveals a lack of strength to do what’s right; the latter that he’s putting re-election ahead of preventing deaths—a lack of something more crucial.

Being disappointed in a politician for putting their career ahead of others’ lives is probably like being disappointed when it gets cold in Minnesota. But it’s hard to accept this—and to be patient for a day when smart policy is implemented—when you hear such terrible stories of pure carnage going on because of this War.

In an election year, it’s easy, to isolate policy such as the Drug War and look the other way. But this isn’t the only issue—nor the worst.

United States’ bombings have become more egregious. Commonly known are the drone missile strikes. These—on their face—are lauded as stealthy and without American casualties. But though quite accurate, bombs are still bombs and mistakes get made. Scores of innocents have been killed, and making it worse, as Glen Greenwald at stated on May 29th, 2012, is that “Obama re-defined ‘militant’ to mean all ‘military-age’ males in a strike zone.” It makes you think twice the next time you read in the press “Five Militants Shot Down in Pakistan” as this literally could mean the killing of five teenage boys at a birthday party.

Sometimes there are no word games when you simply screw up, which is what happened just days ago: “Outrage has erupted in Yemen over the killing of 13 civilians in a U.S. drone strike on Sunday.” —, September 5th, 2012.

Then there are the actions that, using the American definition, cross into terrorist territory: shooting and bombing people who come to the aid of those of the initial strike. This was brought to light in the Wikileaks video a couple years ago and declared as official policy soon thereafter. The New York Times wrote February 5th, 2012: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile”; further, “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.” Yep; bombing people attending funerals.

We need to stop and look at this:

Drone casualty in Pakistan dated September 1st, 2012


This is all very strange coming from a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize, but I have a theory: I think President Obama cares deeply about the country, about its people, and in particular, issues like health care, the environment, race, income equality, women and gay rights, and immigration. But he’s so attentive to these kinds of issues that they’re over-emphasized at the expense of the issues like the ones described above. As a result, the President—as other Democrats in the recent past have done—lets hard-liners define these positions for him and doesn’t hold strong to principled stances of civil liberties and peace.


So while it’s great to champion the causes of women’s and minority’s rights, it’s tragically inappropriate to care more about improving the lives of a given group more so than about the taking of the lives of others. And I write this article as a mirror to show the President’s supporters how they, too, fall into this trap of over-emphasizing certain issues at the expense of ignoring the two biggies mentioned in this article.

A lot of factors keep voters on both sides of the political aisle trapped into supporting these trajectories. The United States has drifted toward bad policy in these areas for years. So people (sometimes admittedly) choose “the lesser of two evils”. Others, while watching the party National Conventions feel great about their support. Meanwhile, the families of the 13 Yemenis lament and moan with grief.

This all might sound like a buzz kill—especially with all the buzz surrounding the election—but the longer we fool ourselves, the more we’ll commit nonsensical support of a candidates responsible for innocent death. And in doing so, we trap ourselves under a moral ceiling when forced to justify and defend our vote by justifying and defending (or ignoring, which is no better) these terrible policies. You don’t have to tie yourself to this anchor. We can demand better.

I know it’s considered “throwing your vote away”, but there’s nothing wasteful about being independent and voting third party when going-with-the-flow is detrimental. There’s nothing wasteful about freeing yourself of the illusion that it’s a victory for the country when either Obama or Romney wins when so many people around the world lose.


Read more on Ethics & Values and  Politics.

Images courtesy of the author

About Brandon Ferdig

Brandon Ferdig is writer from Minneapolis, MN. He shares his personal growth pieces, human interest stories, and commentary at his blog. He is currently writing a book titled New Plateaus in China, a compilation of travelogue, personal experience, human interest, and social observations from China. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @brandonferdig.


  1. I don’t vote for parties. I vote for specific issues. In general, I vote for the candidate who’s anti-war, pro-labor, pro-environment, and anti-Wall Street. If that turns out to be the Democrat, great–he’s got my vote. If not, I vote Green or for another independent.

    And when Democrats lose and complain “We needed your vote,” I reply: “Then you should have earned it.”

    • I agree, Copyleft. A vote for Jill Stein is not a vote against Obama. A vote for Gary Johnson is not a vote against Romney. A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Jill Stein. And a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Gary Johnson.

      • I am morally torn…. I agree with Jill steins’s platform, and realize Obama isn’t perfect and has perpetuated many negative policies…

        But the stakes are high with the supreme court judges being likely replaced within the next four year term… It would seem cruel to force the nation to deal with a overly conservative supreme court, and a presidency that would do much much worse than Obama IMO…. So I am likely to vote Obama in terms of overall utility of my vote, but realize I am relinquishing my principles and values albeit for a good reason. I just wish I didn’t feel bad for doing it…

  2. I do not agree with the drug war.

    However, I am legitimately curious about what Mr. Ferdig thinks we should do about militants that live abroad.

    I was in high school on September 11th, 2001, and lived in northern New Jersey. Seeing the smoke from my house, getting phone calls from people whose parents worked in Manhattan and were still missing, knowing that some just wouldn’t come home at all, it was terrible.

    There are people that hate the US. They will try to kill innocents in the US every chance they get. Foreign countries clearly cannot be counted on to police their own populations (see: Osama Bin Laden living happily just outside a Pakistani military base). So what are we supposed to do?

    • Thanks, Mike. Yeah I liken it to having a snake captive. If we “do the right thing” and let it out, it might bite us. So is it best to keep it caged up? Actually maybe that’s a better metaphor for prison, but hopefully you get my point about how it’s tough to be peaceful in a dangerous world.

      The difference between the snake and the militants, though, is that we didn’t make the snake dangerous, and I argue that the militants hate America not because of who we are, but because of what we’ve done and what we do. You never hear them chant “death to Australia” even though Australia is just as free as we. Our constant presence and bombings in the Middle East can’t be over-stated in their devastation.

      And maybe it’s the way we’re doing it rather than the mission that has me (and them) react. America has sunk to new levels of low by shooting rescue workers and dropping bombs on funerals.

      But regardless, for a solution, I’d recommend getting our troops out of the Middle East. This isn’t to isolate us from the region just as we do business with other regions today without military. Let’s talk with their leaders. Let’s even talk to “terrorist organizations”. We stop funding their enemy, Israel. We help where we can to see that women are treated fairly and the poor get help. And, yes, support our oil interests where we can so we can drive our cars. If a nation is particularly bad, we don’t do business with them.

      We can’t force them to be who we want them to be any more than we could force the Soviet Union to change. We just had to wait for them to collapse and for the resultant, independent satellite nations like Poland, to voluntarily loosen up their ways to open the door to more freedom and prosperity. I think we need to take a more patient, diplomatic approach such as this.

      • Jean Brandt says:

        Brandon, the answer is not with force, but with love. We take away the reason for hate. Radical evolutionary consciousness of entanglement and collective humanity says that we are all in this together, regardless of our differences. So the answer to the parts of humanity that work against the harmony of the whole is not to destroy them, but to heal them. This takes openness of heart, a letting go of being right, and a nationwide movement into the new age of interdependence.

      • J P McMahon says:

        “We can’t force them to be who we want them to be any more than we could force the Soviet Union to change. We just had to wait for them to collapse…” Wow. I can’t believe you wrote that. The primary foreign policy objective of the United States from 1945 to 1991 was to stop the spread of communism, and bring down the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other proxy wars and covert operations (including Afghanistan), as well as aid programs throughout the world for that time period were directed to that goal. The Cold War and subsequent military build up was what ultimately brought them down. VOA beamed “Dynasty” into the Eastern Bloc and the people there wondered why they couldn’t live anything like that. But the Soviets, because their economic system was was so laughably inefficient, couldn’t build tanks and jets, and at the same time build TVs, cars, and washing machines. And once the Soviet Union started to weaken, the Poles and other Europeans realized that the Russian hoards wouldn’t be coming over the border if they did their own thing. Why do you think that those countries all joined NATO as soon as possible? The collapse of the USSR didn’t just happen, and we didn’t just “wait for it”.

        • Thanks, J P, for the history lesson. You are much more learned in this area than I. But we didn’t invade Russia –or even the USSR, we lost Vietnam, and the “Dynasty” promotion all support my idea of how we should/should not handle the present difficulties–not with war but by being great and letting them see that.

          • J P McMahon says:

            “…but by being great and letting them see that.” I think most people in the Islamic world see this more as rubbing it in their face as to how backwards they are. They love air conditioning, cell phones, antibiotics, air travel, the internet, and all of the other technological innovations created in the West. And what have they offered the world in this arena? Nothing. They aren’t even capable of copying it. The great scholars in that part of the world are all over the Koran, but electrical engineering? Not so much. And things we think are great, like our tolerance, and particularly the acceptance of the equality of women, they see as apostasy. The idea that infidels are so much better than believers at so many things, when their world view tells them that the opposite should be the case, has made them extremely resentful. It is almost like God is punishing them. And that has deranged them.

      • Mr. Ferdig,,

        I appreciate the response, I just suspect we’ll have to disagree.

        I do not believe that these populations hate the US because of “our freedoms,” that’s an absurd argument. I believe that what we’re seeing is what we’re always seen: tall poppy syndrome ( ).

        Virtually all of the problems of a nation like Yemen would be solved if the people would organize themselves along democratic lines with some sort of protections for individual liberty (probably in the form of a constitution). Just as you pointed out that these people do not chant “Death to Australia,” I would point out that countries with strong democratic institutions generally do not give rise to popular movements that promote terrorism in the first place.

        Fixing your own country is hard, but blaming America is easy. Regardless of where American troops are or are not located this simple calculus will not change. As a result, I am unconvinced that any action on the part of the US will ever cause militant groups to change their minds; doing so would imply a capacity for introspection that they have thus far been completely incapable of.

  3. J P McMahon says:

    I think a third party, be it green, libertarian, or any political flavor would be welcome in that it would certainly make things more interesting. The problem, is that the third parties out there are shooting for a PhD when they haven’t even gotten out of the first grade yet, thus making their participation in the presidential election nothing more than a vanity project for their candidates. Let’s see a third party run a TOWN, before they are going to run the country. All politics and political careers start at the local and state level. How many assemblymen, delegates, commissioners, mayors, council and board members belong to third parties nation wide? Until a third party can get that going, what they do is pretty pointless.

    • justpassing says:

      maybe you should do research on those third parties before proclaiming them 1st graders.

      Libertarian running for office was republican governor of New Mexico for two terms and was one of only FOUR states who ended up with a surplus in their budget.

      by I’m assuming since they are third parties and don’t have the money to parade their accomplishments in your face, you haven’t heard about them. It’s called Research

  4. Jean Brandt says:

    I voted republican in the primary, hoping Ron Paul would be nominated. He would have stopped the War on Drugs and the overseas occupations. But he was railroaded by his own party. Now I’m voting independent, Gary Johnson.

    • Why would we use the same strategies and guildlines put down hundreds of years ago that was made for a society that has evolved to the point where those same strategies and guildelines no longer work? The republican and democratic ideals haven’t changed. Niether party seems to have separated the ideals of a society from the reality of our current society. Their political ideals haven’t evolved along with our society.
      When people don’t vote for a system that would be benificial to the whole of society but instead vote for whose more likely to win, it becomes a popularity vote; something that belongs in highschool, not in the governing of our country.
      Gary Johnson is a man of character. This man who invites the thoughts and opinions of all of society (even anarchists who, by principle of anarchy, don’t even vote) obviously isn’t hunting for votes in order to win. Sadly many people probably don’t know his name because they’re so used to being “sold to”.

  5. I don't know says:

    Third parties are this country’s only hope. Otherwise, we’re heading for a bloody revolution, crackdown, and an end to the Constitution.

    • J P McMahon says:

      Idk, Read a little bit about “bloody revolutions” in the past. The assassinations, food riots, and mass demonstrations that lead up to that kind of thing are not much in evidence in our country. You could make an argument that the American Revolution didn’t have these factors, but the people they were rebelling against were an ocean away, in sailing ship days. The demonstrations that turned up at the conventions could be called pathetic at best. It’s more like a lot of grumbling, which gets amplified by the internet and social media. No significant number of people is going to risk getting their power turned off, the highways blocked, or no food in the supermarket, let alone go up against heavily armed cops and soldiers who would be shooting real bullets, in the name of any “revolution” in our country today. If I was a hardcore Republican, I would strongly suggest that anyone who supports Mr. Ferdig’s views, vote Third Party this election cycle as well.

  6. AnonymouDog says:

    Did you vote in either major party’s primary Mr Fertig? Why didn’t you post an essay outlining your concerns before the two parties chose their candidates? If you are willing to ‘throw your vote away’ voting for a third party candidate in the general election, why didn’t you ‘throw your vote away’ in the primary by casting your ballot for a candidate who agrees with your concerns?

    The two major parties don’t care about the concerns of people like you, Mr Fertig, because people like you are less likely to vote in their primaries.

Speak Your Mind