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I Regretfully Decline: Passing on the Green Party's Invitation

Could there be block parties 'bout which I don't know? Maybe they're in neighborhoods where I don't go Could there be all these parties down some little lane With potato chips sitting there and guitar playing? We need more parties in the USA

-Jonathan Richman

This morning I saw my first Jill Stein for President TV ad (above), and although I can't say I found it very appealing, it did cause me to go to the Green Party website, and look at some of the tenets of their platform. As far as lists, go, it's an extremely humane, decent, progressive document, calling for things like non-violence, 'community based economics,' and 'ecological wisdom.'

There is only one problem, but it's the kind that's fundamental enough to hollow out any reason for optimism. They have nominated a presidential candidate who has no depth, nuance, or broad appeal. That's not the problem though; the problem is those flaws match rather perfectly the Green Party's own national identity, at least in the world of presidential elections. Everything smug, hyperbolic and careless about the Left is on full display, every four years, when the Greens bring the cheerful news that this time the country is finally ready for a third political party.

And what a party it is. Like the simultaneously easy and disconcerting evangelical tenet, which grants a one-way ticket to Paradise only on the condition that one 'accepts Jesus as personal savior', so too can you find salvation in leftist politics by faith and not by works. By simply adopting a contempt for people who foul themselves by engaging in the political 'system,' one is given the keys to a kingdom of secular enlightenment. And what does one do there? I have often wondered this about the heavenly Paradise, and still I haven't come up with an answer. But in the case of mere mortal righteousness, I've certainly been there. And it gets boring very quickly.

Plato supposed that any concept of Heaven was essentially a body-less existence, in which the physical cares of the human were finally shed and the blissful business of contemplation could occur without interruption. This sentiment appears again and again in philosophy and religion before and after his time. But in general these highly idealized explorations have decently stayed in the realm of philosophy. It is strange to me, and I hope to you, that a political party should try to capture this airy spirit and think that it's a sufficient answer to very specific questions about our country's very real problems.

If you think I'm being unfair, consider some of the statements made by Jill Stein in a recent interview, in which she simultaneously dismisses and tries to benefit from Bernie Sanders's primary run: “I'm hoping Bernie is still a living, thinking person who can actually learn with experience and maybe his thinking will change here, but it's clear where his revolution will go inside the Democratic Party, and that is to a graveyard. The party does not tolerate reform, and there have been many efforts to do so.”

The one thing which Stein cannot understand about Bernie is the thing which makes him rare, and is one of his main virtues: he was willing to bring progressive ideals into an the arena of the real world, where most people actually are, and to push them as far as they would go. And crucially, at the moment he could no longer credibly make his case for his own ascendancy, he rolled what influence and power he had into the best viable alternative. There is nothing particularly noble about noticing our country's flaws if our only response is to make a list of them (in the form of platitudes, and in the most tiresome leftist Esperanto) and shout them smugly from the bleachers. Stein, who received a third of a percent of the vote in 2012, has got it backwards: the Democratic Party has changed over time, and it's because people like Sanders have tried to influence it directly instead of sneering at it. Who can really believe that the democratic party hasn't changed for the better on LGBT issues, for example? Or that since the 60s it hasn't brought in far more diverse groups of people with differences of opinion on matters of war, immigration, and the economy? Her argument, and the argument of many others, is that it an extremely flawed party. And who could disagree? He DNC e-mails scandal is only a small example of what should be obvious. The point is acknowledging this is not incommensurate with supporting the Democratic ticket with one's vote. If Stein and the Greens were only holding up a mirror to the party, and asking it tough questions, then it would be doing us all quite a service. But by inserting itself into the presidential election, it has made itself most absurd where it is most visible. And for her own part, Stein apparently doesn't mind saying things like this:

"So, the terrible things that we expect from Donald Trump, we’ve actually already seen from Hillary Clinton. So I’d say, don’t be a victim of this propaganda campaign, which is being waged by people who exercise selective amnesia. They’re very quick to tell you about the terrible things that the Republicans did, but they’re very quick to forget the equally terrible things that have happened under a Democratic White House, with two Democratic houses of Congress. It’s time to forget the lesser evil, stand up and fight for the greater good."

Orwell's old dictum comes to mind, which says that although it is often remarked on how both sides in a fight are equally unacceptable, it is almost never actually the case. If one looks hard enough, there is almost always a reason to desire one outcome over the other. In the case of this election, looking hard isn't even necessary. It's insane (or maybe just vanity) for a person who seeks and accepts the leadership of the progressive wing of the country to not see the differences between a Trump or Clinton presidency. Leaving aside their own opposite personalities and methods, the post-election power structure would be quite different. An environment where Clinton wins likely gets the Democrats control of the Senate at least. And a Trump win very likely does the opposite. So much for any centrist tendencies popular legend holds that he secretly has. And that is to say nothing of Supreme Court appointments, which will lead to an opening up of freedoms for everyday Americans or restrict them drastically. To say that the two parties are – in this moment in time – virtually identical, is to admit that you have been talking shop in an echo chamber, or an eight-year seminar of the like-minded. I'm sorry, Dr. Stein. A house with shingles missing is not the same as a house blown over.

In its best form, the Green Party is really just democratic activism. And without activism, no positive change will ever occur. Progressives are on firm footing believing this, and to the extent that activists who are concerned with social justice align themselves with Green or third parties, and to the extent that it works, it will be a force for good. But we shouldn't conflate that general truth with the Greens' lazy presidential project, in which every election they dress up the same dismal lines and candidates as though it were an imminent revolution. By the time we are relying on a single vote for president to bring about the 'revolution,' we have missed the boat by many many months. Jill Stein will not become president of the United States. And if she were to, she would have no one in her party elected to national office to work or caucus with. In the end, she would have to do the unthinkable, and collaborate with the Democrats, because if one decides to deal with the world as it actually is, the need for collaboration becomes a truism. Stein has not indicated that she is interested in anything other than jeering safely out of the purview of power.

Instead of indulging in this whimsy, we should vote for whatever viable candidate is most likely to sign on to progressive policies once it is politically possible to do so, and then try to make it politically possible through established methods of activism. If one takes a look – not even a hard look – at the two people running for president who can actually win – one ought to see how fatuous it is to say they look the same.

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