Don’t be Deluded into Voting for the Green Party.
Being a party to discussions among disaffected Bernie supporters or Green Party advocates is like living in an alternate universe. They act as if there is no significant difference between Hillary Clinton and the Democratic program and Donald Trump and the Republican program. And they claim that their vote for the Green Party will make an important statement about their rejection of mainstream politics, thus advancing their vision of a progressive agenda. When pressed on these issues, they often make the claim that if enough of those similarly disaffected can be reached by their campaign, Jill Stein has a chance of being elected. To be quite precise, I heard Jill Stein make precisely that claim at this year’s Left Forum, and Cornell West made the same claim on a recent Bill Maher program.
Besides the evident absurdity of that claim – by any realistic assessment, she would be “lucky” to obtain 5% of the vote, and most likely will be closer to 2-3% — one must wonder at the purposes hidden behind their absurd claim. Cornell, for example, is far too intelligent not to know that what he is saying is absurd. So one can reasonably wonder at the psychological motivations hidden behind his expressed views. But speculation about such psychological motivations are beyond my immediate concern. What could possibly be a rational argument for voting for the Greens? One would have to believe that there is no significant difference between electing Trump or Clinton, or that the Green “protest vote” will significantly influence the future behavior of American politics. But is either position tenable?
One might argue that Nader’s 2000 campaign did influence the future of American politics, but only by denying Gore the Presidency. That certainly did not advance progressive politics, but it did give us the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq war, and the Right-wing Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and the evisceration of the Voting Rights act, to mention just a few of the most obvious results. Just think of the difference in future Supreme Court nominees between a Clinton and Trump administration, to understand the inevitable disaster that could be awaiting us.
As for the United States Green Party providing a progressive alternative to anything, that belief flies in the face of everything that the Green Party has actually done over the last 50 years. They talk a good game, but they do not do anything effective. I have for years watched them operate on Long Island, and they spend their time attacking “the System” and the Democratic and Working Families Parties as “sell-outs” – while rarely ever attacking the Republicans. But they devote little energy to building an effective political party on a day-to-day basis. Only mobilizing energy in political campaigns where they can run a candidate “to the left” of Democrats in districts where the Democrats could beat the Republicans, thus effectively drawing support away from the Democrats. The best that can be said of those campaigns is that they have been historically totally ineffective. Other than that, they engage in random and almost universally random acts of ineffective protest, but have had no significant influence on the political process and are generally not paid any attention to. I can think of no significant policy result to which they have contributed, even the successful opposition to fracking in NYS was accomplished primarily by more “establishment” opposition, such as that of the WFP, Citizen Action, the Sierra Club, etc. I could go on at length about the destructive nation of the Green Party – which talks a progressive game, but only effectively weakens the progressive movement – but I will rather reproduce a recent article from The Nation Magazine which does an effective job in making the national case against supporting the Green Party from one who used to be a member.
Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote
If you want to join a party that has no chance of effecting progressive change, the Greens are for you!
The Nation, SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
If the last three presidential elections are any guide, 75 to 90 percent of those who say that they’re planning to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November won’t follow through. Yes, there are some dedicated Green voters, but much of the party’s support is an expression of contempt for the Democrats that evaporates in the voting booth. I’m a registered independent and a supporter of the Working Families Party, and my disdain for the Greens springs from my own experience with the party. I agree with much of the Greens’ platform, but when I went to Green Party meetings, I found a wildly disorganized, mostly white group that was riven with infighting, strategically inept, and organized around a factually flawed analysis of American politics. There are effective Green parties in Europe, but ours is a hot mess. And while the Greens’ bold ideas are attractive, what’s the point of wasting one’s time and energy on such a dysfunctional enterprise?
The Green Party claims to have “at least” 137 members in elected office. That might sound respectable, but that’s 43 fewer than it had in 2003. And there’s a reason that number is shrinking: The Greens focus the lion’s share of their limited resources on getting their quixotic presidential campaigns on the ballot rather than on building the party from the bottom up. One could argue that running presidential campaigns earns candidates like Stein and David Cobb (for whom I voted in 2004, in a safe state) more media attention, but that hasn’t resulted in a growing number of seats for the Greens. The hyper-local Working Families Party, which backed 111 candidates in New York State alone last year—71 of whom were successful—makes headlines by winning fights over things like minimum-wage hikes and school funding rather than running symbolic presidential campaigns.
The Green Party’s primary pitch to voters on the left is that there still isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. When Ralph Nader made that claim in 2000, there was a kernel of truth to it. Today, that claim requires a great deal of dishonesty to make. By every measure, Democrats and Republicans have moved toward their respective ideological poles since the 1990s. According to Pew Research, since 2011, the most conservative Democrat on Capitol Hill has still been more liberal than the most liberal Republican, based on their aggregate voting records. It’s also true of the Democratic base—according to Pew, the share of Democrats who hold “mostly or consistently liberal” views almost doubled between 1994 and 2014. And it’s true of the 2016 party platform, which Bernie Sanders, among others, hailed as the most progressive in the party’s history. Today’s low-information voter is as likely to be aware of the major-party candidates’ differences as a highly engaged voter was in the mid-1970s.
You might notice that Greens tend to steer the conversation away from the myriad issues—health care, education, abortion, gun control, climate change, and on and on—where the Democrats and Republicans are diametrically opposed, and toward foreign policy and national security, where there really is significant overlap between the major parties’ policies. I agree with the Greens on many of those issues. But they’re not sufficient to substantiate the claim that there’s no difference between the Democrats and Republicans at all.
And the Greens’ critique of the Democrats is often unmoored from reality. Stein goes beyond (rightly) criticizing the Obama administration’s strategy in the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras by charging that then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave it “a thumbs-up.” (Not only did the US oppose the coup, American embassy personnel tried to talk Honduran military officials out of it.) During her 2012 campaign, Stein consistently claimed that the 2009 stimulus plan “was mostly tax breaks for the wealthy.” The truth is that tax breaks accounted for 38 percent of the plan, a majority of them targeted toward low- and middle-income households. That’s not criticism from the left; it’s a dishonest, scorched-earth campaign against the only party that can keep Republicans out of the White House. (And if you think that Stein wouldn’t have attacked Bernie Sanders with the same vigor if he were the nominee, then it’s a safe bet you’ve never attended a Green Party meeting. Remember that the Greens ran candidates against Ralph Nader in both 2004 and ’08.)
Two disastrous wars and a few Wall Street–precipitated recessions have helped push the Democratic Party leftward. Demographic changes in the electorate have made it less reliant on courting white swing voters. But the shift in the party was in large part a result of tireless work by the Democrats’ own base, passionate progressives who pushed the party to change.
Many Greens think that their vote isn’t wasted because it sends a powerful “message” to Washington. But why would anyone in power pay attention to the 0.36 percent of the popular vote that Jill Stein won in 2012, when 42 percent of eligible voters just stayed home? Political parties are merely vessels. The Green Party provides a forum to demonstrate ideological purity and contempt for “the system.” But the Democratic Party is a center of real power in this country. For all its flaws, and for all the work still to be done, it offers a viable means of advancing progressive goals. One can’t say the same of the perpetually dysfunctional and often self-marginalizing Greens.