You may have thought 2016 was bad. It wasn’t just that the country elected Donald Trump to the Oval Office, though that was pretty bad to be sure. Rather, it was that American liberalism — always a treacherous force — took a sharp turn to the right, due to a confluence of two factors.
First, when the “out of touch” campaign of Hillary Clinton went down in flames, the ace mathematicians of the Democratic Party figured out that in several key states, the Green Party slate of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka had scored enough votes to either have cost Hillary the election, or enough votes to be within a hoot and a holler of costing Hillary those states. The Green Party may be small, but it is no longer a joking matter.
Secondly, what with Trump thinking a nuclear war with Russia might be bad for business (always the bottom line), Democrats left and right took up the Neocon battle cry that Trump was an agent of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and that Putin had invoked his magical powers to tilt the election to Trump. Thus liberalism took to the streets waving the banners of the bipartisan Neocon establishment.
After years of Barack Obama shredding the social safety net, further crushing the unions and doubling down on Mass Incarceration, now Trump’s every misdeed, every murdered Palestinian baby and all, was ascribed to collusion between Jill Stein and Vladimir Putin. Opposing Trump became synonymous with supporting the anti-Russian Neocon agenda. Very neat.
The most agonizingly exquisite moment came when thousands of Democrats around the country took to the streets in orchestrated outrage, protesting the firing of arch-reactionary mass incarceration hero Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had not closed down the Muellergate farce that was exposing the Russian plot to “destroy our democracy.”
At the same time, there are turbulent developments within the Democratic Party. Figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are emerging, figures who hold great promise for independent politics, provided that the Green Party is able to both “stick to its guns” and extend a welcoming hand to such forces moving left. As I wrote back in 2015, “the substance of independence is better understood as the actual relationship of an individual or group to corporate power.” And the color of independence is Green.
It is in the midst of this maelstrom that on November 9, in a coordinated fusillade, the New York Times and the Tampa Bay Times blasted away with both barrels at the Green Party for, well, daring to exist. Posting from the city where the streets regularly explode from leaking gas mains, NYT columnist Gail Collins shouted:
And so she did, taking us on a familiar jaunt down Memory Lane:
“It ain’t easy going Green. …
“Wow, the elections. I understand that in Florida people are planning recount parties that involve sitting around and drinking until January. How would you say the whole process worked? Well, it would be nice if every American had a right to vote that didn’t involve standing in line in the rain for three hours. Also, we’ve learned that voting for third-party candidates is a bad idea. It’s sort of sad. Voters like to register dissatisfaction with their real options by checking off an attractive-sounding name. Like Green, or Libertarian, or Paper-Trained Puppies.”
Sick burn, Gail! But let’s be clear. The target of such ill-disguised venom is not third parties in general. Her very specific target is the Green Party. Since Gail Collins is nothing if not a scholar, she quotes another expert:
“ ‘A third party will always be a spoiler one way or the other,’ said Sean Wilentz, an expert on American political history at Princeton. In the end, Wilentz said, people who vote for a third party often wind up helping the candidate they’d least like to see win. …
“If we talk about this long enough we will have to go back to the 2000 election where Ralph Nader’s third-party run gave Florida to George W. Bush. I have talked with Nader about this a number of times, and he still feels O.K. about it. He refrained from running in 2016, but he didn’t vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
“Two years ago, many Americans thought Trump was a lunatic and Hillary Clinton was a depressing rehash of everything that was uninspiring about the Democratic Party. In Michigan, 51,463 of them showed their disapproval by voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Trump won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes by 10,704. Same basic story in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. …
“Take the Senate race in Arizona [in 2018]. On election night, it looked as if Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat with a history of supporting environmental causes, might lose because the Green Party siphoned off about 2 percent of the vote. … Either way, nobody forced Arizona voters to decide that, in a critical and hard-fought battle for a major office, they’d ignore the actual contestants and just go for Green/Green.”
Collins even bemoans “a 34-year-old independent with a campaign war chest of $7,000 who nevertheless got 14,474 votes” to place last in the Florida gubernatorial contest. Nonetheless, Collins is a positive thinker.
“[A]bout third parties. There are ways to deal with them without totally discounting a lot of votes. Maine has come up with a system where everybody can rank their preferences on the ballot. If nobody gets over 50 percent of the first choices, the last candidate gets tossed out and her supporters’ next preferences come into play.”
The Green Party offers Ms. Collins our humble thanks, but perhaps she can find an “expert” to inform her that the Green Party of the United States is already one step ahead. Its platform calls for — in addition to proportional representation — just such a system:
“Enact[ing] Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) for chief executive offices like mayor, governor and president and other single-seat elections. Under IRV, voters can rank candidates in their order of preference (1,2,3, etc.). IRV [which Australia has been using for 100 years–Ed.] ensures that the eventual winner has majority support and allows voters to express their preferences knowing that supporting their favorite candidate will not inadvertently help their least favored candidate.”
Collins actually queries, “Why didn’t anybody think of this before?”
The bind lies in getting IRV adopted in the U.S. Given that the powers-that-be are the beneficiaries of the winner-take-all system, those powers might just use their advantageous position to spend some small fraction of their billions of electoral dollars to thwart IRV’s adoption. IRV cannot be widely won in the absence of a broader struggle for independent power. Australia itself only adopted it after a third party (the Country Party) began impacting elections. (Sez the carny barker, “Go away, son, you bother me.”)
Yet nobody can say that Gail Collins isn’t a class act.
On the other hand, nobody can say with a straight face that Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times is ANY kind of a class act. Coming from the state where people go to a local watering hole, see a sign “No swimming! Beware of Alligators!” then jump right in and get eaten by alligators, Ruth jumps right in:
“… so the next time somebody says their vote doesn’t count, feel free to hit them with a custard pie. Which brings us to my lifelong fantasy to be king of Florida for just one day.
“There are many ways I could abuse my power, like issuing an edict requiring the Tampa Bay Bucs to play all their games wearing court jester costumes. Wouldn’t that be oh so ‘Dilly, Dilly!’
“Instead, I think I would use my one day on the throne of Tallahassee, which is really an old Seminole term for ‘Can you believe we just did that!?!?’, to ban all third-, fourth- and fifth-party candidates from completely blowing up elections in this state. Consider that Ron DeSantis won the governorship by about 43,000 votes out of more than eight million ballots cast. Fair enough.
“However, nearly 100,000 Floridians with gruel for brains also voted for a litany of fringe candidates running for governor who had less chance of getting elected to the parliament of Fredonia, much less the top job in state government. …
“People have the unquestioned freedom to be dumber than a sack of mold spores on election day.
“Why do people willfully self-disenfranchise themselves? And yet we see this amazing sight every election cycle, as various libertarians, Green Party types, Watchagot grumps and all the rest of the Whitman’s Sampler of political comic relief gadflies pop up like weeds to run for something or another.”
Ruth doesn’t get better with age. But somewhere in his lizard brain, he really does get it.
“They accomplish nothing. They get elected to nothing. They leave behind nothing, except just enough gullible voters to potentially influence the outcome of a close election.”
It’s just that he doesn’t like it. And the Democratic Party doesn’t like it either. Read the Collins and Ruth diatribes more closely. Once you get past the schoolyard taunting, there is an actual focus. Nader 2000. Michigan 2016. Arizona and Florida 2018. In the last two, the independent votes didn’t tip anything. But our columnists wax hysterical that in Florida and Arizona, an independent MIGHT have made a difference in the final outcome. And could in the future.
Ruth denounces “Watchagot grumps,” etc., etc., etc., “to bring to light some pet cause.”
Collins invokes the “Paper-Trained Puppies” party. The issues are deliberately trivialized. Not a single real issue is raised by either.
So we get to the point. These double-barreled diatribes are opening moves to crush independent politics — particularly Green Party politics — in 2020. We can expect that the coming attacks are going to be the most vicious in at least this century.
But it gets complicated …
How do we look at the more left developments within the Democratic Party? It might help to take a closer look at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Timothy Cama writes on the November 24 edition of the Hill:
“Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made waves on her first day in Washington after being elected by participating in a protest to demand a ‘Green New Deal.’
“Ocasio-Cortez has garnered support from progressive groups and a handful of Democrats for her proposal that sets a goal of getting 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy sources. …
“Central to her proposal is the goal of working toward using nothing but renewable energy for electricity generation. That would mean wind, solar, biomass and geothermal are in, while coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power are completely out. … The plan calls for transitioning to renewables within 10 years of passing Green New Deal legislation. … The proposal also would consist of a nationwide build-out of a ‘smart’ electrical grid and mass energy-efficient building upgrades. …
“The Green New Deal isn’t only a renewable energy policy. It also would guarantee jobs for unemployed people who want them.”
Cama’s piece is riddled with potshots, mostly carping on financing:
“A back-of-the-envelope calculation by Christopher Clack, a physicist who has studied rapid deployments of renewables, estimated that building out the generating capacity alone would cost at least $2 trillion.”
Still, Alexandria, welcome to the fight! Just for the record, Jill Stein had made the Green New Deal a central part of her presidential campaign back in 2012. In 2016, she wrote:
“The Green New Deal will convert the decaying fossil fuel economy into a new, green economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically secure and socially just. The Green New Deal will guarantee full employment and generate up to 20 million new, living-wage jobs, as well as make the government the employer of last resort with a much-needed major public jobs program.”
Although the Stein version goes into much, much greater detail, the Stein and Ocasio-Cortez proposals are very similar in the broad strokes. But the Ocasio-Cortez plan, dare I say it, is completely unrealistic. It simply doesn’t deal with either the financing or — more importantly — the kind of force that would have to be generated to win it in the face of “die in their tracks” opposition from Corporate Power.
Stein attacks the financing issue head-on:
“The Green New Deal includes a major cut in federal spending on the military (including the Pentagon budget as well as expenditures on war, nuclear weapons and other military-related areas), which would free up from roughly $500 billion per year. The $1 trillion in current annual United States military spending is equivalent to the rest of the world’s military budgets combined.
“A 50% cut would leave us with a budget that is still three times the size of China’s, the next biggest spender. U.S. military expenditures have doubled over the past decade without improving security. At the same time, the shift towards a policy of ‘full spectrum dominance’ and expanding American empire has proven counterproductive to peace and security.”
“Cut the Pentagon? You must be mad!” Yet as Stein explains, according to the emerging broad consensus of scientists around the world:
“Our nation — and our world — face a “perfect storm” of economic and environmental crises that threaten not only the global economy, but life on Earth as we know it. The dire, existential threats of climate change, wars for oil, and a stagnating, crisis-ridden economic system require bold and visionary solutions if we are to leave a livable world to the next generation and beyond. … It is not just a question of what kind of world we want, but whether we will have a world at all.”
So we say, “Not cut the Pentagon? You must be mad!”
Nobody said it was going to be easy.
Just who are the realists, after all? Who is being practical? Still, as a practical matter, a political movement must be built that can actually win that fight against Corporate Power, a movement that must harness the aspirations of the mass of humanity, and the one-percent be damned. So in the first of her “Four Pillars of the Green New Deal,” Stein demands an Economic Bill of Rights:
- The right to employment through a Full Employment Program.
- Worker’s rights including the right to a living wage.
- The right to quality health care through a single-payer Medicare-for-All program.
- The right to a tuition-free, quality, federally funded, locally controlled public education system from pre-school through college.
- The right to decent affordable housing.
- The right to accessible and affordable utilities.
A Bill of Human Rights, to be more exact. This will require a sophisticated political balancing act. It can only be performed by keeping our eyes on the actual social movement that is even now driving events.
A dry gulch in the desert can turn from arid rock and sand into a flash flood in minutes, it being the natural path the raging waters flow into before they overflow their banks. So in times of social movement, the Democratic Party is the “natural” path that social movements first take. The task of the Green Party is not the futile one of trying to hold back the waters, but rather the task of redirecting them as they overrun the banks that Corporate Power has set up to contain them.
That can mean going with the flow at one moment, but being among the first to go over the banks at the next. Alliances with honest liberals at one moment. Running against them the next. The corporate parties steal the ideas of independents in order to undercut the independents. It works, or so they think. They maintain ostensible control — in other words, their candidates still get elected. But they “win” at the price of having to inject formerly marginalized ideas into the mainstream. So while Ocasio-Cortez can win under her version of the Green banner, at the same time she is further legitimizing the Green Party itself.
Finally, there is a limit to how far the corporate parties can play this game — given who they really are — before Green waters are flowing over the banks of the two-party gulch. The clock is ticking.
Movements build from the bottom up. History books tell us over and over how this movement or that “came out of nowhere.” But movements never come out of nowhere. Given the rigidity of the U.S. electoral system, electoral results are the last place for fundamental social change to manifest itself. The powers-that-be even have a vested interest in keeping themselves blind — until the tumbrils are rolling.
As the “remember Ralph Nader” chorus reaches fever pitch, the worst thing we can do is try to act innocent. Reassure our Democratic friends that we are really quite harmless. We don’t mean to cost them any elections. That would be a lie. We fully plan to grow as a party. That means that our growth will at some point cost liberals their seats. But the contradictions faced by progressives now casting their fates with the Democratic Party will become irresolvable.
It is a very practical matter, really. Tick, tick, tick
— Jeff Roby
November 28, 2018