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Don't Vote Buchanan to Protest Bush Blundering

By Matthew H. Hersch
Opinion Editor

My campaign for the Democratic nomination has not been going well, or, as my media consultants say, has a lot of room to grow. I can understand why few vote for me -- after all, even if I win, my youthfulness prevents me from assuming office.

What I can't understand, though, is why more people have voted for Pat Buchanan than me. Unlike Buchanan, I am not an idiot.

Buchanan gained national exposure as the resident moron on NBC's political discussion program The McLaughlin Group, where he was allowed one stupid comment per show. There he achieved notoriety among his fellow commentators by blaming the "Israel lobby" for everything, remaining largely indifferent to the changing world around him, and, in the summer of 1991, earning the famous quote from the show's host, "What is it with you, Pat?"

What shocks me even more, though, is that people who don't want Pat to get the nomination still voted for him. In some states, I am told, as many as 25 percent of Republican Party primary voters chose Buchanan to "send a message" to Bush, even though they don't actually support Buchanan as a candidate.

Many realize that Buchanan's "America First" campaign -- loosely based on the 1930s American Nazi movement of the same name -- is a crock, that Pat has no platform, no life, and no political experience outside his stint as an adviser to Richard Nixon. But they voted for him nonetheless, to protest the inadequacies of their fallen hero, George Bush. They really want George Bush to be re-elected, but insist that he stop screwing up and return to his conservative roots.

This "protest voting," though, is immature and irresponsible. Voters who exercise a protest vote can inadvertently force their real favorite candidate out of a primary race, or even worse, elect the protest candidate by mistake. In addition, far better ways exist to send a message to an incumbent candidate who needs guidance.

American elections, particularly presidential elections, are always very close -- so close that differences in vote shares of more that a few percent constitute landslides. If enough people think that their votes are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and purposely vote dishonestly, the whole outcome of the election can be shifted. The same applies to party primaries, in which unsuccessful candidates wind up dropping out after a few weeks.

Primary elections in particular offer many ways to show a candidate that he is treading on thin ice. Purposely voting for the wrong candidate, though, only corrupts the democratic process. Plans to use protest voting to "send messages" and intimidate people can easily backfire -- and attempts to use voting for this purpose are unethical.

In many states, voters have the option of writing in candidates of their choice, or even registering for the opposing party on the day of the primary. Voters can indicate their real preferences in this way, or show their dismay with an equally stinging "Undecided" vote. There is really no need to vote for the wrong candidate, especially for dubious candidates like Pat Buchanan who count on protest voting as an evil engine which will carry them to the White House.