In the comments for my last post on McCain, Bootyboy said:
if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you're still voting for evil.
This is at least a more valid argument than Penn Jillette's argument that voting for the lesser of two evils is a spiral to the bottom (it's not, by logic it's a spiral toward the top).
Here is the problem with attempting to not vote for some form of evil, at least by my definition:
If the candidate agrees with me 100%, they can't possibly get elected (they can't even get anywhere near the ticket of a major electable party).
So if I only vote for people I completely agree with (as Penn Jillette argues I should), then I vote for no one (which Penn also thinks is the right thing to do) and other people who disagree with me have all the influence on who is elected.
I feel that Penn in this case (I'm using him because I know his arguments well on this subject) is missing a simple reality about politics:
Politicians and parties do respond when the lesser of evils is voted for.
As an example...if a generally conservative Republican candidate is also a clear supporter of gay rights and still wins a seat, the parties pay attention to that. They register the fact that being pro-gay is not a guaranteed electability killer, and they become more open to pro-gay candidates.
On the other hand, as has happened, if a pro-gay candidate runs and the gay lobby decides they aren't pro-gay enough so they trash them and perhaps run another candidate against them, the vote is split and the initial pro-gay person goes down to defeat and the more conservative gay-basher in the race wins, then the message to the parties is:
"Stay away from this pro-gay stuff, there's nothing but bad down that road; the gays themselves will cut your throat."
So if I want a pro-gay candidate (or, more realistically in my neck of the woods, someone who doesn't simply want to nationalize everything and turn it over to Greenpeace), then I have to vote for someone who at least believes in that, or I have no chance of getting better candidates in the future.
In this case, even a losing candidate can be helpful -- if someone comes close to winning even though they hold an unpopular view, that fact is influential as well.
Much as I love Penn, in my opinion, choosing not to vote because you are "waiting for the perfect candidate" not only is a childish form of avoiding participating in democracy, but is actually directly against your own interests and ensures you will never get that perfect candidate in a viable party.