Does Jill Stein have vastly better policy positions than Hillary Clinton? Of course. Would having President Stein be better than having President Clinton? Certainly. Clinton is not just worse than Stein, but abysmal, and is not just better than Clinton but really good.
More, isn’t the duopoly party system, mainstream media, corporations, the legal system, and all other defining features of our society intrinsically producing and defending injustice in the U.S. and throughout the world? Absolutely.
So what do the above truths imply about election 2016?
To decide, we should note that however often Stein says she is in it to win it – she is at about 3% and is not going to win it. We all know that and she undoubtedly knows it too. But we should also note that winning isn’t the only reason sensible people vote for a candidate.
For example, won’t more people voting for Stein display greater popular support for progressive change? Won’t more Stein voters help generate more left organizing while also elevating a third party? And aren’t these excellent reasons to vote for Stein? Yes, they are, but what logic makes these reasons so excellent?
It is not that we like Stein a lot. It is not that we hate Clinton a lot. It is also not that we hate the duopoly party system a lot, nor that we like the Greens a lot. It is, instead, that a higher Stein vote will increase the likelihood of more people fighting for change after Election Day. A higher Stein vote will reveal greater numbers, readiness, and willingness of progressives which will in turn inspire additional support. And a higher Stein vote will help the Green Party grow and challenge the current electoral system.
But what if some of our votes for Stein would not have only those positive effects but would also have some serious negative effects? Then what should we do? Well, if that were the case, then being true to progressive logic, we would have to carefully weigh implications to see if “vote for Stein everywhere” or “vote for Stein almost everywhere” was the more productive option.
In that case, we should ask, could voting for Stein in contested states lead to a Trump presidency? Could voting for Clinton instead of Stein in contested states help beat Trump but also, as a cost, reduce the prospects for people voting for Stein elsewhere, or reduce the likelihood of contested state voters later opposing a Clinton Administration?
Here are two points that bear attention when considering how to vote.
- Trump implementing policies would be vastly worse for humanity both now and later. Trump winning would also be vastly worse for turning the desires revealed by the Sanders campaign into sustained activism, and even for strengthening the Green Party itself. And Trump winning would distort future activism by orienting it toward warding off Trump’s reactionary programs instead of toward winning positive gains.
- Stein could tell her supporters in closely contested states, in a closely contested election (should that situation confront us in late October), in a way that would not hurt but actually help the Greens, activism, and the country and world: “Please, hear me. We need to build the Green Party. We need to defeat the duopoly hold of the mainstream parties. We need to win the various policies I have been advocating. However, in the regrettable situation we face, to best help with all that, for the ten minutes it will take on election day, I urge you to hold your nose and vote for Clinton to stop Trump here in Ohio (or Florida, or wherever it makes sense). But the minute you leave the voting booth and overcome your angst and anger at society being in such a condition that you have to do such a thing, please prepare to join me and all those who vote for me in safe states, and to join many more people as well, to fight for justice against corporate and government opposition, whether against a Clinton or a Trump Administration.”
Notice, point 1 says not one positive word about Clinton, Democrats, the two party system, or other aspects of current society. It merely claims that in the current context each reason for voting for Stein in a safe state like Massachusetts, say, is a reason to vote for Clinton, however painful it may personally be, in a contested state like Ohio, if in fact Ohio is up for grabs and the election is in doubt too, comes November.
Likewise, point 2 raises no objection to the Greens, does not criticize Stein, and does not praise Clinton. It only claims that a particular choice by Stein and the Greens would be beneficial, if context requires it, for the country and for the Greens as well.
It ought to be evident that advocating that Stein and the Greens adopt the proposed strategic voting/campaigning approach it says precisely nothing about being either more or less radical, or even more or less in favor of growing the Green Party, than does advocating voting for Stein everywhere. Advocating strategic lesser evil voting/campaigning reveals nothing about degree of radicalness, or degree of revolutionariness, or degree of opposition to duopoly, or degree of opposition to the Democratic Party, or degree of support for the Green Party. The only thing being for strategic lesser evil voting/campaigning evidences is one’s assessment of all the varied debits of a Trump victory as compared to the debits of Stein seeking less votes in a few contested states.
Too much debate so far has focused on what is not in question, and not about enough on what is in question. For example, who has asked what the impact would be if Stein did as suggested above in Ohio or Florida or some other contested state? Who has asked whether Stein doing that would have even a minor adverse affect on the Greens, or would save them from having to defend themselves against outraged criticism?
Who has asked whether Stein saying her supporters should vote for Clinton in a contested state in a contested election would diminish the likelihood of those voters appreciating Stein and the Greens after the election? Who has asked if it would reduce votes for Stein and Greens in safe states and would diminish the likelihood of people working with Greens after election day in contested or safe states?
I do not see why Stein adopting such an approach would have any of the assumed negative effects to any serious extent. Saying it would is, to my ears, saying that Stein supporters can’t make a simple strategic choice in a difficult context and then move forward without jettisoning their commitments.
On the other hand, could Stein urging strategic voting where it is needed be necessary for stopping Trump? Not only could it be, Stein wouldn’t have any reason to do it unless that possibility was in play.
Viewed this way, the issue becomes can we have a progressive candidate with some nuance? On the one side we have a progressive campaign that offers policies we can support. On the other side, we have a possible danger of catastrophic dimensions. Can we pay attention to both? Can we have a progressive electoral campaign that understands that its priority isn’t to maximize its vote tally on election day, but is, instead, to facilitate the best situation the country, as well as for activism, after the election? If that means it should a campaign should seek votes everywhere, great do it. But if it means it should forego votes somewhere, fine, do that.
Are the Greens and Stein offering an accountable, transparent, totally honest approach to elections that is attentive to issues beyond one’s own immediate focus when they claim, while polling at 4% or less, that they are going to win? Are they offering a new approach when they say that all that matters is Stein’s total number of votes? Are they succumbing to bad election dynamics or pursuing better new ones when they put what may even be a mistaken assessment of Green interests ahead of all other possible interests without even entertaining a path of compromise designed to address all costs and benefits and not just those old style election logic says are alone central? Is it innovative, new, and a model for the future when many Stein supporters act like concern about Trump makes one an apologist for the status quo?
To those who have found themselves dismissing people like myself and so many others as “sheep herding,” not least including Chomsky and Sanders, because we all think that the most constructive approach to the ten minutes of voting on election day is, only where necessary, strategic lesser evil voting – I would request taking some time to reassess. To those who are saying that somehow, in their view, saying to vote for Clinton in contested states and only in contested states reveals that we have all along been closet allies of the Democratic Party or that we are in favor of preserving rather than altering society, I would ask you to think twice about that conclusion.
Indeed, I wonder what could cause you to so quickly and easily decide that anyone who disagrees with voting for Stein everywhere – is, simply on that account, bereft of radical and/or revolutionary desires? What could cause you to celebrate people and their views one day, and not just to disagree with the same people, but to ridicule and revile them the next day, as if you had previously been duped, or some such thing?
Is what has given you the confidence for such a sweeping dismissal of others that you have studied the role of the Democratic Party, the role of third parties, the dynamics of organizing, and the logic of society’s defining institutions more carefully than those you dismiss? Is it that you have long been more astute, more committed, more openly and avowedly critical, and for that matter more openly and uncompromisingly supportive of well conceived alternatives for society so it is just the last straw of a long simmering difference that is now causing your anger? Or is your anger more recent and less admirable?
There is time, still, to set aside the personal dismissals and judgements – by people on both sides – so that this discussion can resolve into choices that not only stop Trump and get lots of votes for Stein, but that also avoid arriving at a point of horrible need for activists to either stand by their degrading assessments of other activists, or to apologize for nasty things they have said about other activists.
Can we all pause to reconsider?
Yes, it is true that some people advocate voting for Stein everywhere without careful thought. But there is no point in lesser evil strategic voting advocates harping on that. The thing to do instead is to address the logic that serious Stein advocates offer for their stance.
And yes, it is true that many liberals say don’t vote for Stein anywhere, vote for Clinton everywhere. But there is no point in Stein advocates harping on that. The thing to do instead is to address the logic that serious lesser evil advocates offer.
To proclaim “I am right,” no matter which side of this dispute one is on, while ignoring the substance that is at stake and while hurling non sequitur attacks at those you disagree with, will achieve nothing positive. Let’s say goodbye to that. Let’s take contending views seriously. Let’s take serious activists seriously.