If you love your country and want to devote your life to improving it but can't bring yourself to identify with either the Democratic or Republican parties, here's a suggestion: Don't run for office. Forget what your 4th grade teacher told you in civics class — just because you can grow up and run for president doesn't mean you should, especially if you want to do something that matters. If you run for public office as a third-party candidate on the state and especially the federal level, your efforts to improve the nation will be wasted, and you will have squandered time and money you could have spent actually making a difference.
Consider the cases of Ralph Nader and Kevin Barrett, both of whom are currently running for federal office and have just received enough signatures to appear on Wisconsin's ballot in November. Nader first made headlines in 1965 for exposing the automobile industry's utter negligence of basic safety features, spawning the mandated safety regulations that still exist for the entire industry today. From there he helped found a massive public interest group that investigated what he believed to be the threat of government corruption, and founded over four dozen non-profit organizations dedicated to fighting what he saw as the dangers posed by large corporations. However, his active campaigning for president since 2000 — running in opposition to what he sees as the corporate-dominated Democratic and Republican parties — has done little more than make a vague political statement that grows weaker with each passing election. The time he spends gallivanting across the country looking for votes could, as his track record before the last several elections shows, be better spent elsewhere.
Kevin Barrett, though not quite as good an example as Nader, is another irrelevant political hopeful who used to make great strides toward addressing what he thought to be a major issue in the United States. Several years ago, while holding down a job as assistant lecturer at UW-Madison, Barrett caught the nation's attention by suggesting that the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 was engineered by our own government. Whatever the truth to his theory (none whatsoever), he sparked a national debate on academic freedom and consequently brought an enormous amount of publicity to his cause. However, Barrett, ravenous for attention, is trying to force his message further into the public sphere, making a complete ass of himself in the process and contributing nothing to his cause. In the middle of conservative writer David Horowitz's guest lecture last semester, Barrett stood up, rudely interrupted Horowitz with a totally irrelevant question about 9/11, and was subsequently booed out of the auditorium. Now he is running as a third-party libertarian candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District, and doesn't have a prayer of winning. How will a fruitless run for Congress prove his conspiracy theory or convince the public that he's not a grade-A wacko, instead of doing just the opposite?
The true tragedy lies in what these two campaigners could accomplish in the time it takes them to gather enough signatures to appear on the ballot (a tragedy in Nader's case, anyway — Barrett's case is tragic primarily for himself). While it is unfortunate that most elections in this country are limited to two parties and candidates with gobs of money and connections — that is simply the way our system works — and no amount of complaining or acting contrary to convention will change that. But persist anyway, to assume that only a president or a congressman can truly solve problems is childish, on the level of a 4th grader still learning civics. And if they really don't expect to win some petty election, why are they in the race at all? Are they trying to shove their cause further down our society's throat — to force us to pay attention to their campaign by thrusting the question of to vote or not to vote for them upon us? Do they really believe this will support their ideology, achieve their ends more effectively than working within an already established public interest empire to hold corporations accountable, or consulting actual scientists to review the site and gather more convincing evidence?
Nader and Barrett's desperate attempts to grab the public's attention instead of working within their means to solve their own personal crusades speaks of oversized egos crying out for the public spotlight to shine on them, not their causes.
Jack Garigliano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in history and English.