In his memoir If You Don’t Weaken (1940), Oscar Ameringer, witty and humane radical from the erstwhile hotbed of American socialism, Oklahoma (it really was!), professed a “rule of never voting for a presidential candidate who had the slightest chance of election. The ballot is too precious lightly to be thrown away on candidates selected and financed by the ‘angels’ and archangels of the two historic old parties which have managed my adopted country into the condition it is in today.”

Oscar’s statute remains sound. We are facing in 2012 the worst Democrat-Republican twosome since, uh, 2008? 2004? 2000? I detect a pattern.

A state’s electoral votes have never been decided by a single popular vote, so as history is our guide your vote for president does not matter.

Choose not between two evils: the candidate of crony capitalism and war with Iran or the candidate of crony socialism and smug anti-Catholicism. Groove instead to the old Prohibition Party hit: “I’d rather be right than president/I want my conscience clear.”

Strategic voting is for Board of Education or City Council elections in which you and your franchise actually matter. As a citizen, you can play a role, even an essential role, in the affairs of your place. But as a subject of the Empire, you count for nothing. You’re not even a brick in the wall in our quadrennial king-making charades.

So cast your ballot to satisfy your conscience. Obey the injunction of John Quincy Adams (whose son, Charles Francis Adams, bolted the Whigs to serve as Martin Van Buren’s running mate on the 1848 Free Soil ticket): “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” That might serve as an epitaph to Ron Paul’s congressional career.

I was born and bred in the cradle of minor partyism, so I suppose the blood—the ichor? the fever?—of electoral rebellion washes through my veins. Besides McGovern in 1972 and Goldwater in 1964, the last major-party candidate I might have voted for would have been Al Smith in 1928.

The nation’s first third party, the Anti-Masons, arose in my backyard in 1826 after a footloose drunken apostate Mason, Captain William Morgan, spilled the secrets of the craft in his book Illustrations of Freemasonry and wound up missing in the Jimmy Hoffa sense. (Some local Masons long contended that the sot Morgan hightailed it to Canada and lived out a bibulous life. His ghost can be seen staggering about the stripjoints which stipple the Canadian side of the Niagara border.)

The first third party I’d have supported without reservation, the anarchist-tinged Liberty Party, was born 20 miles down the road in Warsaw, New York. (Reading a biography of John Greenleaf Whittier, who was forever whinging about his ailments as most poets do, I was amused to see him tell Gerrit Smith in 1840 that he planned to vote for Liberty Party candidate James Birney “if my life is spared” through November of that year. Like most hypochondriacs, Whittier lived forever, finally taking his leave 52 years later and entering the valetudinarian Hall of Fame.)

Why are the men with integrity and honor and courage so often found at the fringes of American political life? I think of Burton K. Wheeler (Progressive Party VP candidate in 1924) refusing to hand down a single sedition indictment as U.S. attorney for Montana during the First World War. Or Eugene V. Debs, five-time Socialist Party candidate for President, going to prison in 1919 for telling an audience in Canton, Ohio, that “the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both.”

Things sure have changed, huh?

Third parties have their share and more of frauds and kooks and backbiters (so unlike the Democrats and Republicans) but even at their meanest and most outré, a vote cast therefor serves as a gesture of protest, however ineffectual: an extended middle finger to the tank bearing down on you. Aaron Russo, the late Hollywood producer and manager of Bette Midler, tried and failed in the 1990s to launch a populist-libertarian party whose message to our overlords, in Russo’s words, was “F— YOU! WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS SHIT!”

Much better than “Hope and Change,” I’d say.

Me, I’m sticking with Oscar Ameringer. My default party in recent elections has been the Greens, but this time I’ll vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian. I want my conscience clear.