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Friday
Nov042016

Why Jill Stein and Her Supporters Have Failed

I regard myself as a progressive. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. I am in favor of cutting the military budget, I’m against the death penalty, I’m in favor of higher taxes on the rich, I am against TPP (though not against global trade or all trade deals), I’m for Medicare for All, I think our greatest danger is global warming. But now I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for President. A third of my “Facebook friends” are backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein. I’m flooded with arguments from friends and even relatives about why it violates their consciences to “choose the lesser evil” or “vote out of fear” by picking Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. To judge by my Twitter and Facebook accounts, the country is about to be astonished by a massive show of support for Jill Stein and the Green Party on election day.

But Jill Stein is running at 2% of the vote in virtually all of the polls.

Obviously there is a disconnect between many of my friends and the rest of the populace. But more importantly, there is a disconnect between the progressive movement in this country and the rest of the country. Why? In a year when Bernie Sanders came close to winning the Democratic nomination for President, why has the progressive movement now faded into the distant background?

One possibility is that it hasn’t. When Politifact compared the four political candidates (Trump, Clinton, Stein and Johnson) on their positions on the Middle East, Immigration, Health Care, Taxes and Gun Control, there was only a slight difference between the positions of Stein and Clinton on any issues, and no difference on most. Clinton was pushed to the left by Sanders’ candidacy and the effort to corral his supporters for the general election. She changed her mind on issues such as the TPP and the Keystone pipeline, adopted Sanders’ plan for tuition free public college, at least for low and middle-income families, and his goal of a $15 minimum wage. She has consistently supported higher taxes on the rich and less on the poor, immigration reform with a goal of citizenship for undocumented immigrants and criminal justice system reform. Her position on gun control is identical to Stein’s and more restrictive than Sanders’. If, and it’s a big if, the Democrats can control at least one of the houses of Congress, then Clinton may even have a chance of achieving some of these goals.

But the progressive movement and many of my friends simply reject that a candidate from one of the major political parties is truly supportive of progressive objectives. They point to Barack Obama’s presidency, which seemed to hold so much promise for progressive goals, but failed to achieve many of them (discounting such accomplishments as legalizing same sex marriage nationally, achieving a peaceful agreement with Iran to halt their nuclear program, removing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, providing health insurance to more Americans, and securing the Paris Climate Agreements). The progressive claim is that failures to put in place a single-payer healthcare system, inability to completely empty Guantanamo, involvement of wars in Libya and Syria, failure to jail bankers responsible for the 2008 economic collapse or reinstate Glass-Steagall, and support for the TPP are all due to Obama’s collusion with big business, which he has allowed to continue to control the U.S. political system.

The progressive movement is rigid, paranoid and plays upon fears as a central theme in its message. Obama’s successes have been ignored because they either didn’t go far enough to satisfy the far left or because they were offset in the far left’s mind by other mistakes or dangerous policies. Difficulties passing legislation with a hostile congress were ignored as real problems and instead, failures were attributed to ulterior motives of satisfying the wealthy elite who control the system. Similarities, even identities, between Clinton and Stein in their goals are dismissed as mere politicking on Clinton’s part, who is as deeply distrusted and demonized by the far left as she is by the far right. Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, who has referred to Obama as a “war criminal” and a “tool of the capitalists”, has referred to Clinton as “the queen of corruption,” a “warmonger” and “ a militarist an imperialist and a corporatist.” Progressives on social media are more extreme, calling Clinton, “Killary” or “Shillary,” calling for jailing her and routinely predicting that she will bring on World War III, if elected.

Progressives appear to be united in opposing GMOs (Stein wants a moratorium on their use until they can be "proved to be safe," although all studies about food safety are probablistic, not certain, and science works by disproving things not proving them), fracking, charter schools (despite good evidence that they produce better educational results with poor Black and Latino students and English learners than do public schools), and anything related to Israel. They also appear to demand that anyone whom they support must share all of these views, and in fact, any tendency to examine such views instead of endorsing them is regarded as disqualifying a candidate from their support.

When a political party or candidate restricts itself to a narrow set of views that it insists must not be violated or even questioned, it narrows its base to those who are true believers, a small minority who resist considering any options other than their own. The Tea Party has gone down this path, but Donald Trump expanded their influence by cherry-picking those parts of their message that appealed to a large portion of the population, while widening the message to bring in more moderate conservatives. The progressive movement has resisted any widening of their message, particularly for the purpose of enlarging their numbers or influence.

Instead of attempting to widen its base, progressives have denounced those who have not toed the strict progressive line or who have supported Hillary Clinton. Their attacks on Bernie Sanders after he endorsed Clinton are an example of this. And their national political candidates, Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, as well as many of their high-profile supporters such as Cornell West, have doubled down on attacks on Clinton, claiming that they see no difference between a Clinton and Trump Presidency. Meanwhile, Stein and Baraka have engaged in activities, such as illegally spray-painting graffiti on bulldozers at the Native American protest in North Dakota, which have immensely pleased their supporters, while appearing in the words of Politico Magazine, “kooky” to the country at large.

Progressive values are real, they are my values and I want to see the American political system embrace them. Some of the positions I support are ones that deserve debate. In fact, I would prefer to hear both sides of the issues, supported by whatever facts are available, discussed intelligently on such things as GMOs, charter schools, the extent and way we need to support or change our support for Israel, how to deal with malevolent entities such as ISIS, how to address the issue of determining the U.S. responsibility in accepting Syrian refugees, how to become energy independent while ending our dependability on fossil fuels, how to address global trade, etc. I have positions on each of these issues but I don’t have any special ownership on the truth about them, since I think each of them is complex and there is much information I do not know and arguments with which I am not familiar.

Rigid, name-calling progressivism, which condemns any positions but its own and the people who hold those positions, while aiming only to please its own narrow base, will never secure mainstream support. In a democracy, the mainstream is what determines the direction in which our country will move, and it is the obligation of those who want their support to try to convince them, not to insult or alienate them or simply oppose everything they espouse or do. In this election, the progressive movement has failed to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

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