Like so many others, I was moved by Conor Friedersdorf’s piece last month here at The Atlantic, titled “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama,” which touched profoundly on some of the great political and moral questions surrounding the coming election. I have been thinking about it for weeks now, knowing that I wanted to respond, but until just a few days ago it hadn’t dawned on me how I could do so in a manner relevant to some public question. I think I’ve figured it out now, my argument against Conor’s cri de coeur.
I am sure I was not alone in thinking, when I first read the piece, of Ralph Nader and his role in the 2000 election. Do I believe that all of the voters who cast ballots for Nader that year were acting in good conscience? You bet. Do I think that their votes helped deprive Al Gore of the votes he needed to win 270 electoral votes? You bet. Do I think that those Nader voters got a far worse deal from their government with George W. Bush than they would have with Al Gore? Yes. In theory, the “protest vote” is noble. In practice, in an imperfect world, it can be calamitous.