The progressive case for a lesser-evil vote for Clinton – whether in every state (Position 2) or in swing states if the Clinton/Trump race is close (Position 4) – claims that (1) a Clinton victory is a defeat for the right and (2) a Clinton administration will be a more favorable to winning progressive reforms.
I think both of these claims are wrong.
Remember “triangulation”? The history of the Clinton machine is accommodation to the right. Favors for Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods in Arkansas. Dog whistle racism that helped paved the way for Trumpism (Ricky Ray Rector, Sister Souljah, and 2008 campaign surrogates Bill Clinton, Geraldine Ferraro, Ed Rendel, and others messaging that Obama can’t win white votes because he is black). A law-n-order crime bill that accelerated mass black incarceration. Welfare repeal. The NAFTA, WTO, and China trade agreements that radically expanded corporate power. Health care policies that entrenched private insurance and Big Pharma. FCC deregulation for the media oligopoly. Financial deregulation for Wall Street. Aggressive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East. Coups in Haiti, Honduras, and Paraguay.
Clinton will fight progressive reforms. She has already begun. Last week, Clinton appointees on the Democratic platform committee voted down proposals from the Sanders appointees, including a $15 federal minimum wage indexed to inflation, Medicare for All, opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership, banning fracking, banning new gas and oil drilling on federal lands and waters, opposing new oil and gas pipelines, a carbon tax, opposing illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of the West Bank, and reconstruction aid for Gaza.
The case for Clinton in swing states is the same lesser-evil argument that the German Social Democrats used in 1932 to withdraw their own candidate and support conservative Paul von Hindenburg against the Nazi candidate Adoph Hitler. The Social Democrats got what they wanted. Von Hindenburg won the presidency. Then he appointed Hitler the Chancellor. Lesser evils open the door for greater evils.
Is Trump worse? Of course. There’s always a greater evil. One thing we can say for sure about Trump is he’s a Trumpist – he’s for whatever benefits Trump at that moment. The racism is certainly there, historically as a landlord and now as a candidate. But that has never stopped the Clintons and Trump – or the Clinton and Trump children — from socializing together at elite social events, golf tournaments, and Trump’s last wedding.
More fundamental than the obvious problems with Clinton and Trump is the underlying fact that the existing power structure will remain in power whether Clinton or Trump is president. The power elite will continue to rotate in and out of the higher echelons of the biggest banks and corporations and the CIA, NSA, Fed, and Departments of Treasury, State, Defense, and Homeland Security. They will hold business and bureaucratic vetoes over any over departure from economic neoliberalism enforced by U.S. military power.
The left should work for system change, not for a Clinton to defeat a Trump. The left should support its own candidates and program. When the left calls for a vote for the lesser evil, it surrenders its independent voice and power. The left itself disappears as a visible alternative. If the left doesn’t have enough confidence in and respect for its own positions to advocate votes for its own candidates, why would any progressive wavering between a defensive lesser-evil vote and a positive vote for a left alternative take the left seriously?
In this presidential race, if you get the lesser evil you want, Hillary Clinton, you get the corporate militarism of the status quo – more economic inequality, war, and climate change. For the left, it is hard to conjure up a more self-defeating, demoralizing, and dispiriting outcome than voting for the lesser evil and winning! You vote for what you don’t want and you get it when you “win.”
Left support for the Jill Stein/Green Party ticket in every state will make the left will stronger because it will be organizing and speaking up for its own program during the election. Whether it is Clinton or Trump in the presidency, the left will be stronger after the election – including the very practical strength of ballot access in more states – to advance its political alternative in social movements and local elections for municipal, state legislative, and congressional seats.
After the election, the left should use those Green ballot lines to challenge both Democrats and Republicans in local elections state by state. Most districts are effectively one-party districts due to partisan gerrymandering that creates safe seats for both parties’ incumbents. The major party in the minority usually doesn’t contest the majority party incumbent seriously, if at all, in one-party districts. In those districts, a relatively small but well-organized Green Party can quickly become the second party, the real alternative to the status quo, which is generally the Democrats in the cities, the Republicans in rural districts, and one or the other in suburban districts. In 27 states, and in eight more states varying by county, municipal elections are nonpartisan. Left candidates can run in these municipal elections without having to overcome voters’ traditional major party loyalties. It is quite feasible to start winning races, as Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant in Seattle and over 100 Greens currently in office around the country have demonstrated.
The case for Clinton in the swing states is divisive because it is against the Green Party in the swing states. The Greens need a certain percentage of the presidential vote in swing states to secure a ballot line for upcoming elections: Colorado-1%, Georgia-2%, Iowa-2%, Missouri-2%, North Carolina-2%, Ohio-3%, Pennsylvania-2%, Virginia-10%. You can be sure Greens feel attacked by progressives calling for Clinton votes in swing states because they are campaigning against the Greens having ballot access in those states. Position 4 – contextual lesser-evil voting – is no more unifying that any other option.
Howie Hawkins is a working Teamster and Green Party organizer in Syracuse, New York.
# Stephen Shalom
Comment from Steve Shalom
I think Michael Albert makes a compelling case for option 4.
I’d like to discuss another way in which I think option 3 is problematic for the left. There are some who in their enthusiasm to denounce the two-party duopoly say they can’t discern which of Trump and Clinton is the lesser evil. They say things like this, from Jill Stein:
“Trump says very scary things—deporting immigrants, massive militarism and ignoring the climate. Hillary, unfortunately, has a track record for doing all of those things…. We see these draconian things that Donald Trump is talking about, we actually see Hillary Clinton doing.”
Let’s take immigration. Clinton actually has no current role in immigration policy, but let’s assume that the comment actually means Clinton or Obama. Obama has presided over an unconscionable number of deportations. But was there any immigration rights activist who did not want the Dream Act, which was supported by Obama, to be enacted? Was there any immigration rights activist who did not want Obama’s DACA policy to be upheld by the Supreme Court? Trump hasn’t just said “Let’s be tough on immigrants” — in which case, it would certainly be true that what Trump is talking about, Obama/Clinton are doing. He said let’s deport every undocumented person, and that Obama/Clinton are not doing and oppose doing. Those are different policies. With different human consequences.
Let’s take climate. Jeff Meckler (a presidential candidate for Socialist Action) writes “Obama’s administration holds the modern-day record for increasing the use of fossil fuels” and Andrew Smolski writes: “Further, CO2 has continued its exponential increase, with a 1.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature already a foregone conclusion. This fact is written off as frivolous in comparison to imagined, nightmarish Republican attacks. Back in reality, it doesn’t matter who rhetorically accepts climate change when there is no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in either case (i.e. the effects of policy, despite the rhetoric, is the same).” But in fact, CO2 emissions in the U.S. in 2014 were down 9% compared to 2005. (Given that population and GDP have increased, with zero change in policy we might have expected a growth in emissions.) But even if emissions were not down, does it not matter — not just in terms of rhetoric, but in reality — that Obama put forward a Climate Action Plan and Clean Power Plan that Trump wants to repeal (and that various Republican governors tried to block, but failed, in the Supreme Court)? Does it not matter that Trump calls for abolishing the EPA? Does it not matter that Trump calls for scrapping the Paris Climate Agreement, that, for all its limitations, is far better than no agreement at all? If Trump won the election and tried to enact any of the policies he has called for, is there any doubt that environmentalists would oppose him? Would any say, well who cares about abolishing EPA or abrogating the Clean Power Plan or scuttling the Paris Climate Agreement?
Of course the left should denounce the weaknesses and limitations and even grotesquenesses of Obama/Clinton/Democratic Party policies. But if they do that by saying they are no different from Trump and Republican positions, they discredit themselves among those activists who are working on these issues, not to mention among those who would be the victims of Trump’s policies.