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Lesser Evil and Independent Left!


First, thanks to Howie Hawkins, not for myself or for the nine signers, but I would say for the whole left writ large, for concluding his recent entry in the election strategy debate – “Lesser Evil or Independent Left” – with a call to engage as allies and not as enemies. Hopefully his appeal for mutuality will be more effective than the nine signers’ effort was. I will certainly seek to abide by it here, and always.

In his article, “Lesser Evil or Independent Left,” Hawkins addresses points I raised in our exchange, not the original letter. He takes issue with my suggesting that the Greens could perhaps, in 2020, run a Green candidate in all safe states, but “in swing states,”as he summarizes, “go in to campaign for the Green program” – and I would add to support down ballot candidates and to build support for on-going activism – “but then say vote for the Democratic ticket.”

Reacting to that, Hawkins says “most people who hear that will wonder why the Greens are even bothering to campaign if they want us to vote for the Democrat.” Well, why would that be hard to answer? Why couldn’t the candidate, going to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, or whatever turn out to be swing states, tell audiences that he or she is campaigning to support other Green candidates, to advance the Green program, to argue the need to fight on after election day – and to urge voting for Sanders, hopefully, but even Biden if need be, because beating Trump is essential for society to have the best prospects of survival and effective positive change?

Hawkins says, “Media commentary will make fun of it. Safe-states messaging in the battleground states will also undermine the Green campaign in the so-called safe states. Why vote for a Green candidate in this state who is telling people in other states to vote Democratic?”

I don’t follow this reasoning either. Why can’t the Green candidate explain how voting Green is generally good because we need an independent third party but doing so in swing states risks aiding Trump, and aiding Trump is a horrible risk to take? Perhaps I am wrong, but I think this approach would actually get the Greens a whole lot more coverage in media and thus more opportunity to makes its case. I even think this approach would display such clear concern for affected populations and such accurate awareness of the importance of the election, that it would actually attract support that would otherwise turn away.

Hawkins says, “Albert even suggests that Greens should work for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.” Indeed I do, and why not? Isn’t that key to winning the best result we can for society? In fact I would bet a good many Greens are already working for Sanders, and more will as time passes.

Hawkins says, “The Greens have their own primaries and ballot access petitions to do. They are busy with ongoing issue campaigns. It is not the job of the Green Party to help a candidate in another party win that party’s nomination.” Well, I agree that it is not their job. But I think it is a wise course for them. If, instead, the only thing that matters in an election is upholding one’s own party’s established allegiances and structure, well, isn’t that what Republicans and establishment Democrats do, and isn’t it what AOC and Sanders and other dissident Democrats are rightly rejecting?

Hawkins says, “Albert argues that electing a Democratic president, even a Biden or a Bloomberg, is needed to stem the rising authoritarian right around the world that Trump is very much a part of.” In response, Hawkins eloquently establishes that the Democrats – at least other than its now growing left side – are themselves culpable in all kinds of horrendous behavior. But I agree with that. It is not where we differ. Rather I also think it is obvious that as bad as the establishment Democrats are, they are far less bad, and would do far less damage to humanity, and would be far easier to pressure for actual positive gains, than a triumphant Trump.

Hawkins says, “Voting for the lesser evil does not stem the greater evil; it legitimizes it.” In some cases it could, I agree. But in this case, I guess I disagree. As much as I can’t say anything good about Clinton, I think four years of Clinton would have done a whole lot less to unleash greater evil than four years of Trump has done. And this time around, I think the difference is much greater due to the much enlarged cumulative dangers of Trump, not to mention, if the Greens among others were to help Sanders win the nomination, the immensely greater good he could do in office.

Unlike Hawkins, I think the newly increased attention to the need for a Green New Deal owes mainly to activists all over the world, researchers, left campaigners, and in the U.S. Sanders, AOC, and some other Democrats, and then the Green Party – not vice versa – and I think the Green Party contribution, by all means important, has virtually zero to do with running in swing states.

Hawkins says voters won’t know what state is safe versus swing. But we are talking about potential voters for the Greens, and actually not even that. Rather, we are talking about the Green candidate, who will surely know and be able to make it known.

Hawkins says, “Telling progressives to vote for the lesser-evil Democrat is telling them to vote against their values and the policies they want. It is telling them to vote against the Green left alternative.” Well I guess I just have to disagree. I think a Green candidate urging potential Green voters in a swing state to vote Sanders or even Biden to block Trump so as to be better able to then advance the Green Program which they should do not just by pulling a voting booth lever, but by their on-going activism, is and would be understood to be consistent with Green values.

Hawkins finally says, “Voting for what you want works.” Well here’s the difference between Hawkins and me. Hawkins thinks voting for what you want always works, while I think it works sometimes. I think it worked in his gubernatorial run. I think it worked in 40 odd states in 2016, and I think it will work in 40 odd states in November 2020. But when you think it works everywhere, then you think it worked in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2016, and that we should even judge it as working if Trump gets re-elected on the basis of a single vote in 2020, in a state where the Greens were able to secure 50,000 votes. I don’t consider it working to give four more years to someone intent on going backwards on climate policies, backwards on white supremacy, backwards on peace in Palestine, backwards on Gender, and backwards on much much more. And note, judging by his comments, I think Hawkins would not only think his approach worked if it led to Trump prevailing over Biden, but even if it led to Trump winning over Sanders.

And so I have to ask Howie, am I wrong about that? What is the fundamental basis for your commitment to having a Green candidate run in every state and to thinking Greens working for Sanders now is a bad idea? Suppose Sanders wins the nomination. Suppose he is running against Trump. Suppose neither one can win without winning a bunch of swing states. Would you favor running in those states anyhow? If so, with all the respect in the world for your lifetime of activism, all the arguments about how bad the Democrats are really disappear. In that case do you believe the Green Candidate should run in all states because that is the job of a party’s candidate? Or do you think that the Green candidate should run elsewhere for the platform and to accrue support for the purpose of on-going activism, but, in swing states should campaign for Sanders as hard, or arguably even harder, than he or she campaigns for him or herself, elsewhere?

1 comment

  1. Peter Straus May 8, 2020 9:12 pm 

    Dear Dr/ Albert:

    Thank you for your great work!

    I’m starting to study the Middle East. A comrade in my Veterans For Peace chapter suggested I read Tim Anderson’ “The Dirty War Against Syria,” very pro-Assad. Can you please recommend a progressive, anti-Western Imperialist link?,

    Thanks!
    Peter Straus
    Oakland, CA

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