Every four years, progressives are lectured and berated by left-leaning pundits, who have varying degrees of allegiance to the Democratic Party. Any consideration of a third-party candidate, especially the Green Party’s presidential candidate, is deemed reprehensible. Now that Hillary Clinton is officially the Democratic Party’s nominee, that moment in the election cycle is upon us.
Some of the very same people behind the attacks on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters are behind the first volley of attacks on Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, including the concerted effort to smear her as a crank who does not believe in vaccines.
These commentators do not care whether an alternative to the Democratic Party is built in the United States. In fact, to borrow a phrase from Aldous Huxley, they treat us to their “excruciating orgasms of self-assertion” because they have a deep-seated contempt for those who dare to dissent and meaningfully challenge Democrats.
None of the commentators acknowledge the corruption within the structures of power, which brought us to the point where neoliberal politics fueled by President Barack Obama’s administration sowed the seeds for the rise of a right-wing demagogue more commonly referred to as Donald Trump.
Comparisons between Clinton and Trump by those willing to vote for Stein infuriate these columnists, who accuse them of equating the two candidates. However, if one does not like yellow fruitcake or mincemeat muffins, it is not automatically presumed that person thinks the two have identical features. They obviously could dislike these bakery treats for very different reasons.
Many of the rants against Stein lack context. The methods by which the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) undercut and worked to stifle the Sanders campaign is fresh in the minds of Americans who supported Sanders.
Clinton engaged in dishonest attacks against socialist and progressive policies Sanders supported. Sanders appointees on the Democratic National Convention’s platform committee struggled on behalf of working class Americans and global human rights, but Clinton and DNC appointees rationalized corporate power and blocked a ban on natural gas fracking, Medicare For All, and clear language on opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
When hectoring progressive voters who will not vote for Clinton, pundits avoid the issue of how movements under Clinton will guard themselves against efforts by her administration to neutralize their pressure. Progressives are told Trump will create a hostile climate for movement building, but the reality is anyone involved in the Occupy Movement or the Movement for Black Lives has already endured hostility from both the left and right.
Another argument made is progressives who want to support a third-party have to wait and build a viable political party after the election. These people are nowhere to be found between elections when it is important to support the groundwork they urged.
Let’s dig into a few examples.
Sifting through his post, it would appear New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait was in the middle of a Facebook status update about what he heard Stein say on the radio when he thought, “What if I just put this up at my column and hope people don’t find it entirely amateurish and incoherent?” So, he did, and the post was published under what Chait probably believed was a clever headline, “Jill Stein Explains Her Plan To Stop Trump By Electing Him President.” Yet, there is nothing astute about Chait’s commentary.
What’s most fascinating is that Stein does not try to downplay the danger of a Trump presidency. Instead, she likens it to fascism and Nazism (a comparison that I actually think, for all of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, goes too far). And yet, proceeding from her premise that Clintonism will lead to fascism, she concludes that she must “stand up to” both Donald Trump and the only candidate who can prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidency, in equal measure. “Neoliberalism” — the left-wing term of abuse for liberalism — leads to fascism, so we might as well skip the neoliberalism step and go straight to the fascism.
Except, Chait clearly did not understand what Stein said. She did not argue a Clinton presidency will lead to fascism. She believes Trump is a phenomenon that is the result of the policies pushed by President Bill Clinton’s administration and corporate Democrats over the past twenty to thirty years, including NAFTA, which led to deindustrialization, and the repeal of welfare benefits.
Here is what Stein said:
What we know from history, and what we know from the current situation, we are seeing a rise in right-wing extremism, not just in the United States, and it’s not just Donald Trump, it’s also throughout countries in Europe. What is driving this? It is policies like NAFTA, like globalization, like the dominance of the banks, like the Wall Street bailouts, like the Wall Street meltdown thanks to deregulation. Who gave us those policies? The Clintons were leading the way on those policies! The answer to neofascism is stopping neoliberalism. Putting another Clinton in the White House will fan the flames of this right-wing extremism. We have known that for a long time ever since Nazi Germany. We are going to stand up to Donald Trump and to stand up to Hillary Clinton!
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Like a schoolyard bully, who distorts what an unpopular student said for attention, Chait wrote, “To whatever extent it can be ‘known’ that a Clinton in the White House leads to right-wing extremism, it certainly was not known during the Third Reich—which occurred several decades before the first Clinton administration, at least according to the standard neoliberal calendar.” Yet, anyone listening to her remarks would know she meant Nazi Germany taught the world neoliberalism leads to neofascism, and because of this lesson, she believes letting Clinton rule the country for any period of time will lead to more right-wing extremism.
Unfortunately, Chait is not the only commentator to address Stein spitefully. This is the level of discourse among commentators, when it comes to the issue of third-party politics and democratizing elections so voters have more voices and choices.
Yvonne Abraham wrote for The Boston Globe, “Stein can’t honestly argue Trump and Clinton are equally harmful to the causes she holds dear. Doing so advances her own political fortunes at the country’s expense.”
“Gee, that seems familiar. Maybe if Stein is looking for someone to compare to Trump, the mirror would be a pretty good place to start,” Abraham concluded.
A letter to the editor from Thea Paneth of Arlington, Massachusetts appropriately responded to Abraham’s priggishness.
“If the Democrats lose in November, it will be because the party is failing voters, the nation, and the world, not because of the Green Party, which is not even on the ballot in all 50 states. Our nation is divided, and fractured, in many ways and has been for decades. About half of eligible voters do not bother to vote at all,” Paneth argued.
“The Democrats have stepped up to wage and expand Bush’s wars; to commit extrajudicial murder by drone, complete with a presidential ‘kill list’; and to move toward modernizing nuclear arsenals. In the last eight years, we have seen immigrants deported in astronomical numbers and have failed to find solutions to the economic and racial divisions in our nation,” Paneth added. “Smearing Stein by comparing her political voice to the racist hatred volubly expressed by Trump is a new low for Abraham and The Boston Globe.”
Finally, Duncan Hosie, a Hillary Clinton “super volunteer” whose Twitter header is a photo of him with Bill Clinton, is not just afraid that Stein will siphon off votes from Clinton. He proclaimed in an article for the Huffington Post that the bigger problem is “Jill Stein doesn’t share our core progressive values.” He went on to suggest that she “traffics in fear and paranoia,” which is basically what Hosie is doing when he hyperventilates about Stein “spoiling” Clinton’s chances in the election.
What are these “core progressive values,” which Stein lacks? Stein does not support the Affordable Care Act, and like Sanders, she favors a Medicare For All system. Stein also talks about Obama waging “illegal war,” which does not “elevate the dialogue.”
Progressives should not talk honestly about Democratic presidents, whose administrations are responsible for war crimes, and they should definitely not support policies, which would be horrible for the health insurance industry as well as pharmaceutical companies. After all, some executives in health insurance and pharmaceutical companies have been very loyal to Democrats over the years, something Clinton will not forget if she is elected president.
Both Clinton and Trump are two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in the history of American politics. Reuters polling, as of July 25, showed 56 percent of people support Clinton because they do not want Trump to win. As of July 19, 44.5 percent of people support Trump because they do not want Clinton to win. The New York Times reported only 9 percent of the American population voted for Clinton and Trump.
Americans are extremely discontent with the two most prominent political parties. Citizens increasingly do not vote because they do not think the system represents them. They seek alternatives yet face scorn when they break from corporate political parties, which bear responsibility for their poverty and daily struggle.
Commentators like Chait will be perfectly fine after the election. They will go on blaming the left for failing to be pragmatic enough to advance progressive causes and pretend they never would have told Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he did not know the correct way to fight for change. But no matter who wins the election, the poor and working class will lose. It is the poor and working class who need leaders willing to step out into the political wilderness and forge new paths toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice.