The Jill Stein Moment (Or, No Liberal Love For The Far Left)

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Just how unpredictable and unbelievable the 2016 presidential race has become would have been inconceivable a year ago. And yet, there’s a sense in which the torrid and tortured path from then to now has been inevitable. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s nosebleed negatives are partly to blame. But they are merely an effect.

The cause is a deep and broad dissatisfaction with “politics as usual,” the two dominant parties, and perhaps even politics as such. Thus, the very air of modern American politics is charged with frustration as many voters demand other choices.

Here’s Ben Kamisar of The Hill in “Third Party Support Surging” (7/31) on what the electorate wants:

Voters now confronted with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are making something abundantly clear: They want another option.

Surveys over the last six weeks have found a steady but noticeable jump in support for third-party candidates. The biggest beneficiary has been Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who has shot up from 4.5 percent to 7.2 percent in RealClearPolitics polling averages. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has also seen an uptick since June — from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

The surge in support for a third-party candidate is adding a new element of unpredictability into the presidential race. Should voters opt for a third-party candidate in large numbers, it could potentially tip the scales in crucial battleground states.

Pollsters and political scientists say the deep malcontent with Clinton and Trump should give both candidates pause. [Emphasis mine.]

In a climate of dissatisfaction and “deep malcontent,” in which there are experienced alternative candidates who can get a substantial percentage of votes, there may also be what can be thought of as “alternative constituencies.” These voters would be part of the “electoral iceberg” that we don’t usually see, but who emerge to cast ballots every generation or so in numbers that shift American politics towards realignment or dealignment.

They could be registered Democrat and Republican voters who don’t believe that their traditional party allegiances are representative of their interests, and that their political leaders are more concerned with the interests and agendas of elites and corporations. This year they may widen their voting options beyond the Democrats and Republicans.

These variables and uncertainties make polling more difficult. Polls may not capture this volatility, and November’s election could come down to just a few percentage points. Or it could be a blow-out.

Post-convention season, the possibility that the electorate might be more unpredictable than Trump himself explains the increased attention now focused on Dr. Jill Stein.

The latest CNN poll has Stein (5%) and Johnson (9%) at a combined 14% in a four-way race. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast (as of 8/1/16) has Johnson between 4% and 7%. Stein is not even on the board. Still, taking other polls and some rudimentary trend-spotting into account, my guess is that the 100 day slug-fest ahead will result in Stein hitting 5% and Johnson 10%-12%. 15% for him is a stretch, but possible.

The potential of 15% of the vote for third party candidates, the consequence of voter dissatisfaction with the two dominant parties surging over the next three months and more people of alternative constituencies than expected voting, would be a body-blow to “normal” politics.

Be sure that establishment (“liberal,” “corporate,” or “mainstream”) media realizes this, and that it explains the tone and tenor of anti-Stein articles that have appeared since the Democratic convention ended. No one in the liberal media is at all chill about Stein’s single digit potential, and several pundits at high-profile outlets are not afraid to show it. However, they don’t realize that their anti-Jill, pro-Hillary vitriol feeds the narrative that was exposed by the recent WikiLeaks disclosure—mainstream media’s all too cozy relationship with the Clinton political machine.

Though I’d reject a lot of Dr. Stein’s ideas and prescriptions, I’m intrigued by some, such as health and education as rights, and ending mass incarceration. I won’t defend or reject her plans for America here, but my critique would at least be respectful and would take her seriously, as Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post did recently. However, a similar sense of respect is lost on the writers discussed below.

Consider Yvonne Abraham of The Boston Globe in “Jill Stein Hits A New Low”:

“The scary things that Donald Trump says, Hillary Clinton has already done,” [Stein] told NPR a few days ago, “whether it’s massively deporting immigrants, whether it’s threatening nuclear warfare . . . ”

Whoa. Criticize the Obama administration’s record on deportations, or Clinton herself as too hawkish, sure. But making the Democrat’s shortcomings in those areas equivalent to those of a guy who wants to build a wall, expel millions, intimidate the press, revive torture, and have the military commit war crimes, is so ridiculous I feel stupid just typing it.

Oh, and did you notice something else, Greens? Trump is a climate change denier.

But apparently, that doesn’t matter. Not to Stein, who made a triumphant appearance inside the convention hall Tuesday to stir things up, an appearance encouraged by a Fox Business personality who seemed to be running the disruption. WGBH reporter Adam Reilly captured the circus on video, asking Stein whether she was concerned that her opposition to Clinton might tip the election to Trump.

There’s a reasonable case to be made that the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are at least as much of degree as they are of kind. As president, both will, as Congress currently does, privilege the agendas of elites over those of average Americans. This seems lost on Abraham. Her analysis is locked into the view that there can only b differences of kind between the two. The result is a dynamic in which Trump’s absolute wrongness for the presidency is the best case for Hillary Clinton’s rightness. That Clinton and Trump are equally odious to many is unthinkable. Dr. Stein, therefore, is a non-choice because there are only two choices: right or wrong, Clinton or Trump.

Then there’s Jordan Weissmann of Slate, who in “Jill Stein’s Ideas Are Terrible. She’s Not The Savior The Left Is Looking For” writes:

[E]ven by the standards of protest candidates, Stein—whose press team did not respond to an interview request—is an absolutely awful torchbearer for the far left. She’s a Harvard-trained physician who panders to pseudoscience. She mangles pet policy issues. And her cynical retelling of the past eight years has nothing to do with the reality of recorded history.

Let’s begin with Stein’s platform. Some of the ideas, like a $15 minimum wage and free college tuition, are mainstream these days, thanks to the work of progressive activists and Sanders himself. Others, like moving to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 (while ditching nuclear), are deeply unrealistic, if admirable in spirit. And more than a few sound like they were hatched in an old Bay Area commune. Cut defense spending in half and close more than 700 foreign military bases? Sure, maybe after we get done levitating the Pentagon.

Of the pro-Clinton articles covered in this post, Weissmann constructs the most solid arguments against Stein’s candidacy. His critique of her understanding of what the 2008 bailouts were about is illuminating for those who are a little fuzzy about their true function and purpose. (Her campaign should take this critique seriously and modulate her talking points accordingly.)

Still, Weismann also channels Abraham’s condescending tone, some of which I suspect is also condescension of a “far left” that would simply have been “the left” before the rise of “New Democrats” in the 80s and Bill Clinton’s neoliberal turn soon after he won the 1992 presidential election. Consequently, Weissmann’s is the sort of attitude that mainstream media liberals adopted as the Democratic Party moved from the left toward the center.

Closer to the bottom of the barrel, Rebecca Schoenkopf of Wonkette weighs in on Stein with “We Got Canvassed By A Jill Stein Guy! It Was Not Very Fun For Him!”:

And that’s when I said Jill Stein could just be a nice old hippie lady and be like “hey, come be hippies with us!” but instead she had to be so cunty and be calling all the time for Hillary to go to jail and what the fuck was that about, and also fuck her. He said we needed at least an option for a third party, didn’t we? No! We didn’t!

“We’re a Hillary family,” I told him, smiling. (I didn’t check with Rene, but she seemed happy to let me do the talk-yelling.) He started on Hillary being a Wall Street wh… “No, we’re an ACTUAL Hillary family! Enthusiastically!”

In that case, he said, we were the first ones he had ever met. Ever. I think that nice young man was a liar. Sadly, he walked away before I could ask him, or laugh at Jill Stein for pandering to anti-vaxxers or never winning elected office higher than Massachusetts dogcatcher or being a generally miserable cunty hag. “I’M GLAD YOU ARE OUT ORGANIZING!” I shouted to his stiffened back as he walked on down the street, and I meant it! I wish there were more details, but he got out of there pretty quick instead of staying and fighting LIKE A MAN. But seriously, fuck Jill Stein, that mendacious nihilist piece of shit.

Wowzers.

Mixed in with all the harshness explored in this post are some solid critiques. Still, there seems to be a special combination of snark and spite particularly reserved for Dr. Stein, which comes into sharper focus in Marie Solis’ Mic article: “Should You Vote For Jill Stein? Bernie Sanders Has A Warning For Third-Party Voters”:

While “party unity” may have once seemed like a problem reserved for the GOP in this year’s election, Democrats are now faced with the task of rallying voters behind Clinton, before third-party voters inadvertently usher in a Trump victory.

While he admires the Green Party’s platforms, Sanders urged voters to consider the realities of the current political landscape in the United States.

First there’s the recycled Nader paranoia, particularly the tired fear-mongering that third party votes are “wasted” or could be responsible for a Trump presidency. As if Hillary Clinton isn’t as inevitable as we’ve been told she is. As if she doesn’t have enough funding and surrogate firepower to get the job done. And, as if her DNC cronies aren’t so willing to stoop pretty low to sandbag Bernie Sanders.

Then there’s the even more tired “accept the world as it is, not as you want it to be” propaganda at the heart of “consider the realities of the current political landscape.” The speciousness of this sentiment is beyond doubt. And yet, it reveals that the attack on Dr. Stein is really about The Democratic Party becoming less democratic, squeezing out or marginalizing progressives and the far left, while gradually  making traditional FDR / Ted Kennedy liberals more irrelevant. It’s about the Clinton’s true legacy—transforming the broad coalition their party spent 50 years building into a more homogeneous and manageable body politic that affirms identity politics, well-regulated markets, American exceptionalism, and hawkish foreign policy.

Jill Stein is a threat to this vision. She’s the outsider’s outsider who questions the democracy of the Democratic Party itself. Because of this, and regardless of her slim chances, ironically, she has to be crushed by liberal media as quickly as possible. More so than Sanders, the “outsider” who was always “inside,” she exposes Democrat and Republican leaders’ lack of interest in the electorate having more options. Options could translate into votes that they won’t get, which would translate into power that they’d have to share.

This is why third party rhetoric changes its tone as soon as the conventions end. The pro-Hillary Clinton writers in the articles analyzed here have to convince readers that ultimately the system works as it should. If “the system is rigged,” then Dr. Stein gets in the room and causes trouble.

In the end, Dr. Stein’s campaign touches on perhaps the most odious contradiction in American political life—we say we want more choices in national elections, but have stood by as Democrats and Republicans narrow the range of options within their own parties.

Consequently, we hardly pay attention as our representatives do anything they can to make sure that real choice is exactly what we don’t get.

@dexterkflowers

IMAGE SOURCE: By Paul Stein [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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