This election is getting so baroque at this point that The Onion and parody Twitter accounts are starting to seem like voices of reason (shoutout to @RealDenaldTrump!). The latest entity to throw its hat into the fray is the Green Party, in the person of Jill Stein, the party's presumptive presidential nominee (their convention doesn't take place until August).
Dr. Stein is particularly active on Twitter, and while she came out campaigning for Senator Bernie Sanders at first, now that she's smelled blood in the water, she's presenting herself as the "Plan B" for disaffected Berners bitter about the outcome of the primary cycle. Pouty that your candidate didn't win? Too misogynistic to vote for Hillary Clinton? Don't worry, you don't have to vote Trump! You can cast your lot with the Greens!
The Greens in the U.S. are a strange entity. Unlike in nations with a functional third party system, they haven't managed to penetrate the upper echelons of government. Green presidential candidates tend to fly under the radar, with the very notable exception of 2000, when Ralph Nader took 2.74 percent of the vote, shenanigans erupted in Florida, and the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George W. Bush.
Nader and supporters claim that he didn't act as a spoiler in Florida, throwing the slim margin of election results in a Bush-ward direction. Critics, including some former supporters, feel otherwise — in fact, foreseeing this outcome shortly before the election, some pleaded with him to back down, including in an impassioned letter from Carl Pope, then Executive Director of the Sierra Club. There's a lot of bitterness swirling around the Greens as a result of what happened in 2000, because many Americans believe Ralph Nader is the reason we endured eight years under an overlord who nearly choked to death on a pretzel, assisted by a man who managed to shoot someone in the chest by accident.
Dr. Stein is trying to put herself in the same position Nader was in: As a bold visionary who offers a viable third party alternative to the effective two party system we live in today. On the surface, this is perfectly reasonable. Our political system would thrive and benefit from being run as a true multiparty setup, and the Greens are involved in a lot of progressive social policy — during her term as the Mayor of Richmond, Ca., Gayle McLaughlin proved a great example of the kind of good a Green Party member can do. Robust political systems are great.
The United States is a free country, and everyone should feel comfortable to vote for whoever they want to vote for, but the fact of the matter is that Dr. Stein has absolutely no chance of being elected president. None. At all. Ever. She also has a very slim margin of getting enough of the vote for the Greens to be eligible for public funding. She just doesn't. This doesn't mean that she shouldn't run, but it does mean that she should be running in a strategically intelligent way — there's no reason she shouldn't try for that five percent of the vote, but she should be careful about where she tries for it.
Because Dr. Stein has the potential to act just as Nader did: As a spoiler who could sentence the nation to four, or eight, years of unmitigated disaster. Dr. Stein is repeatedly and ardently insisting that there's basically no functional difference between Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton, much as Nader did with Bush and Vice-President Gore in 2000.
She is very, very wrong. Setting aside the glaringly obvious differences between them, they have very different policy proposals, not to mention vastly disparate levels of qualifications. Would you rather be led by a failed businessman, or a highly successful Senator and Secretary of State?
Secretary Clinton has been hit hard and repeatedly during this election primarily because she's a woman, and she's a Clinton, and that upsets people. Even as she was claiming the nomination last Tuesday, the media couldn't help but add qualifiers like "despite her flaws" and "although she's not perfect."
Dr. Stein is latching onto the same misogynistic attacks that everyone else has been using, picking determinedly away at everything from Secretary Clinton's fashion choices to what she did or didn't say in paid speeches on Wall Street. She's even joined Trump and Secretary Clinton in juvenile jibes on Twitter, because this is apparently where we're at, as a country.
Which is a pity, because there are legitimate areas of criticism when it comes to Secretary Clinton's record as a policymaker and public figure, and we should talk about those, and we should ask her to articulate whether and how her policy positions have shifted. But the things people are choosing to scream at her about don't really make sense.
It's not a good look for Dr. Stein. She could be running an aggressive but clean campaign and starting actual conversations, but instead she's choosing to go the ugly path of least resistance. She, like Nader in 2000, thinks that winning (in this case, scoring some kind of political point) at any cost is worth it, even if she sets the entire country on fire in the process.
Oh, and Nader's back too, in case you were wondering, goading Senator Sanders on from the sidelines. What Dr. Stein, Nader, and Senator Sanders for that matter are effectively saying is that grand gestures matter more than the lives of actual Americans. That despite the tremendous pain and suffering that lie in store for some of our most vulnerable under a Trump presidency, political ideals are more important than pragmatism. It would be great if we could live in a world where we could vote according to ideals rather than necessity! It would also be great if I had a unicorn!
Dr. Stein likes to talk about how "lesser of two evils" politics is damaging, and I agree, it is frustrating to have to choose between a literal garbage fire and an extremely qualified woman with decades of political experience in November. I can see how that would be a real struggle, and I feel for my fellow Americans at the polls. I can see why the thought of someone who talks big — with no actual solid plans for implementing any of these glorious promises — is appealing. After all, it's why Senator Sanders went as far as he did.
But it's truly chilling that apparently the test of "true progressivism" in the United States is being willing to condemn people to unspeakable suffering to make some kind of bold statement. That speaks of immense levels of privilege, because the majority of the people advocating this way have very little to lose under a Trump presidency, since they're already quite socially secure. For them, this is all an abstract. For the rest of us, it's our lives that are being used as playing pieces in a very dangerous chess game.
Photo: Paul Stein/Creative Commons