9 02 2020

Once again, we Greens are being told that “the stakes are too high” for us to risk “spoiling the election for the Democrats.” Progressive activist Michael Albert wrote an “open letter to Howie Hawkins and The Green Party,” asking us not to get in the Democrats’ way, and then got a number of other writers and activists to sign on to it, including luminaries Barbara Eherenreich and Noam Chomsky. Hawkins wrote an impressive, eloquent, detailed response. Here’s my two cents on the question. It’s an expanded version of the response I submitted to Truthdig, one of the sites that published Michael Albert’s letter.

This article displays such ignorance of the facts of the matter, from the vote results to the Green Party’s strategy, and so blithely accepts the US media/electoral system as if fair, that I am surprised and disappointed that Prof Chomsky and Ms. Ehrenreich, both of whom I hold in the highest respect, would put their names to it.

In his letter, Albert accuses the Greens of depriving Ms. Clinton of the votes she needed to win the election. Let’s look at the numbers: in 2016, just under a million and a half people voted Green. Approximately seven million people switched from voting for Obama to voting for Trump, and ninety million potential voters stayed home. Even more stayed home in the 2018 midterms. To focus on the one and a half million out of that ninety-eight million who voted for the kind of radical change this country needs, as the ones bearing the onus for the Democrats’ loss, is a peculiarly biased way to write recent history. The Democrats spent a billion dollars in their effort to elect Ms. Clinton. We Greens spent three million on the Stein campaign, which may sound like a lot but is 0.3% of what the Democrats spent. And somehow their loss is our fault? That’s right up there with a few amateurish clickbait ads from a Russian source being the problem. In other words, The Greens are not the Democrats’ problem. (Howie Hawkins wrote an article by that title, but I didn’t know it when I wrote that sentence.)

Albert’s letter repeats the readily-refuted canard that “the number of people who voted for Jill Stein in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan would have given Hillary a win in those states if they had voted for her.” In Pennsylvania, 50,000 voters chose Jill Stein, while nearly four million didn’t vote at all. In Wisconsin, 31,000 voted for Stein and nearly a million and a half stayed home. In Michigan, 51,000 voted Green and about 2.75 million stayed home. In the face of such massive voter indifference, the Biblical phrase “straining out gnats and swallowing camels” comes to mind. The camel, in this case, is that in all of these states, and a great many others, more people declined to vote than voted for the “winning” candidate. The message here, I think, is that our established political parties each inspire only about a quarter of the voters, leaving a large plurality of the voting public feeling unrepresented. Something is missing from our political spectrum, and to attempt to suppress those who are trying to advocate for the missing ideas is to miss the point. Perhaps those who are deeply committed Democrats or Republicans are not missing the point so much as refusing to acknowledge it.

Albert also attempts to characterize The Green Party as merely an environmentalist party. That is a very incomplete portrayal. Yes, we urge greater respect for the environment of the only planet we have to live on, but we see that the way to do that is to change our society’s economic relationships from the hierarchical, patriarchal, autocratic capitalist system to a co-operative socialist system, which practices “democracy at work“–the citizens who are involved with businesses and services, whether as workers or customers, are the ones in control of their working conditions and the business overall. Under capitalism, the demands of money and property, and those who “own” them, are paramount. Under socialism, the overall good of the society–including its nonhuman members–is paramount. The Democratic Party, as its leadership has repeatedly demonstrated and publicly avowed, is a capitalist party. We Greens are socialist. We can make common cause around certain issues, but there is a fundamental difference of approach.that runs far, far deeper than our respective parties’ degree of  “environmentalism.”

I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to put the “Greens should have voted Democratic” shoe on the other foot, and point out that, by that standard, Libertarians “should have voted Republican.” Doing that math gives Trump clear victories in all three “swing states,” and about a one million majority in the popular vote nationwide. Democrats should just shut up about this logical fallacy, but inasmuch as the party seems as firmly committed to illogical conclusions as the GOP, I doubt that logic and facts will change many minds. Trying to reason with somebody who is firmly committed to being illogical will get you nowhere.

Albert accuses The Green Party of drifting from its original strategy of being locally based. We are organizing locally as best we can, in the face of a heavily corporatized media landscape that seems determined to ignore, distort, or trivialize us and all the many others who work against corporate interests, and a political system devised by  both Democrats and Republicans with the apparent aim of excluding any possible competition. The way the electoral rules are set up in this country, a party has to run candidates for statewide and national office simply to get on the ballot. Unless a political party arises as a breakaway faction of an existing party, and thus comes into existence with experienced office holders in place, this puts new parties in the awkward position of running candidates who, whatever good qualities they may possess, are patently lacking in the kind of experience usually associated with being a governor or a senator, or holding any other statewide office.  In addition, there are numerous onerous, costly hurdles to getting on the ballot and staying there.

For example, here in Tennessee, we Greens would have to come up with around fifty thousand valid petition signatures, a number far beyond what volunteers could reasonably collect, at a cost of around two hundred thousand dollars, and then run a gubernatorial candidate who receives more than one hundred thousand votes to stay on the ballot–or have spend another two hundred thousand dollars to get on the ballot for the next election. These barriers to electoral participation are lower than they once were in Tennessee, but the fact remains that, in the nearly sixty years these laws have been on the books, no political party has mounted a successful petition drive. When we got on the ballot via court order, we encountered a media blackout on covering our candidates, and did not win enough votes to stay on the ballot. The Green party of Tennessee spent nearly ten years trying to overturn this. Our effort has been in vain. Meanwhile, many other states are making it even more difficult for new parties to get on, and stay on, the ballot.

And speaking of the US electoral system, this country has neither ranked choice voting nor proportional representation, two simple mechanisms that are common in other democracies, that make it much easier for new parties to compete and show what they are capable of. Neither term even appears in Albert’s article. Those who think the Green Party is responsible for the Democrats’ failure to inspire the voting public enough to win elections would be better advised to campaign for changes in the US electoral system than to act as if suppressing The Green Party would solve their problem.

This move to suppress The Green Party leads to another aspect of Democratic Party consciousness that I find distasteful–a high-handed authoritarianism that presumes to  tell other people what to do, and has no qualms about smearing anyone who doesn’t get with their program. For example, check out the phony moral outrage over various aspects of the Sanders campaign, or Ms. Clinton slandering Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein–who is not even running for President this year.

Finally, I have been a Green for twenty years, and in every national election we have heard that the stakes were too high for the “distraction” we represent in the eyes of the power brokers of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has increasingly become the party of the corporate elite and unquestioned American imperialism. It’s not that there was “no difference between Clinton and Trump.” I’ll admit there’s a difference: the Republicans want the spoils of empire to go only to straight, white Christians and Jews who are willing to keep the occasional abortion on the downlow, while the Democrats are willing to advance anybody, regardless of national origin, race, creed, or sexual orientation/identity, and openly provide abortions to whoever wants one, as long as those to whom the door is opened show their gratitude by supporting the empire and the right of the wealthy to sit at the head table. Clinton was offering more of what Obama had brought us, and Obama was such a disappointment that a thousand electoral posts held by Democrats were lost by them to the Republicans while he was President. The Democrats have brought their defeat on themselves and need to face what they have become and change, and quit blaming the Greens or the Russians. The Democrats’ attitude is the moral equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

I think it’s also helpful to look at US politics in the context of what is happening in other democracies. All over the world, “centrist” parties like the Democrats and the pre-Trump Republicans are losing ground  to parties that are more right-wing, with leaders like Trump, or more left-wing, with leaders like Sanders. Since the US system is intolerant of the kind of multi-party pluralism common elsewhere, Trump has had to take over the Republican Party to succeed, and Sanders is attempting to do the same thing on the Democratic side, where the DNC is doing everything it can to keep him from being their nominee. Recent events in Iowa only make that clearer. If the DNC fails to stop Sanders, and also fails to saddle Bernie with a poison pill VP, I think there would be a reasonable case for Greens to vote for him. If, however, the DNC succeeds in defeating the Sanders movement and installing a corporate shill as the nominee, I could not, in good conscience, ratify such a corruption of the democratic process.

Finally, let’s look at the claim that electing Democrats advances the causes of ecological, economic, and social justice. The corporate Democratic Party was in power for sixteen of the twenty-four years before Trump’s election. In that time, they did not do what it will take to even begin to solve the climate crisis. they did not do what it will take to even begin to solve our overconsumption problem. The corporate Democratic Party did not do what it will take to solve our income inequality problem. They did not undertake the process of restoring our hollowed-out manufacturing sector. Given the chance to create a better medical and insurance system, they took quarter measures that leave all the bad actors in our health care system extortion racket still in power, and have left the United States in the position of being the country with most expensive, least effective health care system in the developed world, and the only country where “medical-expense related bankruptcy” is even a thing. The corporate Democratic Party did not solve our imperialism/militarism problem, and the corporate Democratic Party did not solve our corporate domination problem. In fact, they made all of these situations worse. The Green Party may be woefully under equipped to clean up the massive train wreck that is America at this point in time, but the Democrats have repeatedly demonstrated that they are out to save the rich, not the world,  and thus are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Maybe it will take a gang of amateurs to clean up the mess the professionals have made. The notion that electing any Democrat in will be better than Trump is a very unhelpful delusion, and one that I will not be Green-shamed into going along with.

I’m sorry, Prof. Chomsky. I’m sorry, Ms. Ehrenreich. I believe you got it wrong this time. And shame on you, Michael Albert, for propagating such nonsense.

And….I hear Donald Trump used this song, but my use of it here is in no way an endorsement of the Golden Golem of Greatness.

music: Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”   



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