Due to Donald Trump’s unpopularity and Democratic voter enthusiasm, polls leading up to the closely-watched August 7 special election showed a tight race. As with the April victory of Democrat Conor Lamb in a Republican district in Pennsylvania, O’Connor’s win would signal to Democratic voters in other pink and red districts that their votes might actually matter this fall. A win would also make O’Connor the favorite in the fall election, putting the Democrats one seat closer to control of the House of Representatives next year. Control of the House would allow the Democrats to check Trump’s insidious agenda, release Trump’s tax returns to the public, investigate Trump’s pre-election collusion with Russia and other acts of political, personal, and financial corruption, and leak the findings from these investigations to the press, reducing the likelihood that Trump would be re-elected.
The lead swung back and forth on election night, but O’Connor had a big disadvantage—the presence of Green Party candidate Joe Manchik on the ballot. Through much of the evening, it was clear that Manchik could cost O’Connor the race by siphoning just enough left-leaning votes to put Balderson over the top. Manchik, a political novice who had speculated that he might have come from an alien race, expressed no concern over possibly helping elect a Republican, since O’Connor was part of the “corporate-capitalist and corporate owned Democratic-Republican Duopoly Oligarchy Party cabal of evil and greed and wars for oil that is driving our country off the road and deep into the ditch of fascism, oligarchy and plutocracy and onto the path to World War III.”
As it turned out, Balderson won by a few hundred more votes than Manchik received, robbing Manchik of the opportunity to be a spoiler, but the possibility that this purely token candidate would play a pivotal role in electing a right-wing Republican made me wonder, yet again: why would any rational, informed, liberal American vote for a Green Party candidate in a winner-take-all election of any consequence?
Green Party officials have long wheeled out the claim that they present an alternative to the Democratic Party, but how realistic of an “alternative” is a party that has barely ever cracked 10% in a federal race and is as likely to send a candidate to Congress as rope a herd of purple unicorns?
Yes, many Democratic office holders’ policy positions aren’t that far left when compared to progressive politicians in other developed countries, but the U.S. is decidedly more conservative than its first world peers. Liberals only make up about one-fourth of American voters; in order to win outside of deep blue districts, Democrats have to appeal to suburban soccer moms, blue-collar Joe Six Packs, and independents.
And despite ideological accommodations to electoral reality, the Democrats are worlds better than Republicans on a long list of issues, including but not limited to access to birth control and the protection of a woman’s right to choose, financial aid and loan forgiveness for college students, access to healthcare, prescription drugs, and prescription drug price control, consumer protection, immigration, environmental issues, drug laws, regulation of Wall Street and other business interests, support for unions, workers’ rights, and worker safety, the minimum wage, investments in infrastructure and social services, progressive taxation/income inequality, LGBT rights, civil rights, voting rights, gun control, net neutrality, campaign finance, support for stem cell research, science, and empiricism, the separation of church and state, protection of Social Security, and a whole host of foreign policy issues stemming from the stark difference between a long-game multilateral approach and an impulsive unilateral approach with little concern for international treaties, norms, or relationships.
Yes, many races are so lopsided that a third-party vote won’t make a difference, but what about close elections? Given that the two major parties are very different at the federal level (see above), why is it that a small number of Americans are willing to empower—knowingly or otherwise—the very same forces they claim to oppose?
American Greens had their first real world impact in 1997, when Green Party candidate Carol Miller helped elect Republican Bill Redmond by three-thousand votes over Democrat Eric Serna for Santa Fe, New Mexico’s congressional seat. As usual, the Greens showed no remorse for playing a key role in putting someone in office who undermined most of what they stood for, as Redmond became a generally reliable foot soldier for Newt Gingrich, the extremist House speaker. Greens reprised their spoiler role the following year in two Albuquerque, New Mexico races, when their candidate Robert Anderson helped Republican Heather Wilson defeat Democrat Phil Maloof in both a special election and the 1998 general election; as then-head of the New Mexico Conservation Voters Alliance said, “The Green Party has been one of the greatest electoral boons to the Republican Party in the history of the state of New Mexico.”
The 1997 and 1998 congressional races were but a dress rehearsal for the 2000 presidential election. Though Democrat Al Gore was far more progressive than Republican George W. Bush and one of the most qualified people to ever run for president, while Bush was one of the least, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader engaged in an extended exercise in false equivalence, calling Bush and Gore “Tweedledee and Tweedledumb” and “two heads of the same beast,” implying that the candidates were so similar that it wouldn’t much matter who won.
On election day, Nader received 97,000 votes in Florida and 22,000 in New Hampshire, in both cases exceeding the narrow margins by which Bush won the states many times over; had Nader not been in the race, Gore would have won both states and become president.
When Bush took office in 2001, Nader’s theory that the parties weren’t that different was put to the test. Nader claimed that Gore’s loss was a “cold shower” for the Democratic Party, but it ended up being a cold shower for the whole country, as Bush assaulted nearly every progressive value in sight.
Worst of all, in the run-up to the 2002 mid-term election, Bush and his top advisors manipulated the fear engendered by 9/11 and the faith placed in him by the American public to lie us into the invasion of Iraq, which would turn out to be one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history. Helped along by the Bush Administration’s flagrantly dishonest media offensive (which played to the Republicans’ perceived strength on national security) and Green Party Candidate Jerry Kaufman, Mike Cox—who would later be part of a GOP lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act—became the first Republican attorney general in Michigan in fifty years. Other beneficiaries of the Bush Administration’s scare tactics were several victorious Republican senatorial candidates who collectively contributed to the GOP wresting control of the Senate from the Democrats, which then guaranteed that Bush’s right-wing judicial nominations would be fast-tracked.
Among these judges was Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh, best known for illegally leaking investigation-related information to reporters during Ken Starr's $70 million witch hunt of Bill Clinton, was called “the youngest, least experienced and most partisan appointee to the court in decades" when he was first nominated.
Kavanaugh sat on the District of Columbia Court through multiple election cycles. In 2004, Nader’s vote total dropped off precipitously as (most) Green voters grasped the dangerous folly of wasting their vote on a third party, but it was too late, as Bush had become a wartime leader with all of the advantages of incumbency. Gore looked pretty goddamn good as first-term Bush not only lied us into a blood-soaked, staggering failure of a war but brought the country to the brink of fascism with the Patriot Act, semi-constant hints that opponents—including media—were anti-American, and color-coded fear alerts he sought to manipulate for political ends. Second-term Bush let New Orleans drown, birthed the worst recession in 80 years by ignoring warning signs in the overheated housing market, took us from a record budget surplus to a record deficit, and left Barack Obama with a colossal mess to clean up.
In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won by such large margins that the Green Party couldn’t do any damage, leaving their candidates to do what Green candidates usually do at the federal level—languish in complete obscurity, contributing exactly nothing of value to the political process.
Then came 2016.
As in 2000, Democrats were up against the eight-year-curse, with Republican voters hungry to get into the White House after two presidential terms in the wilderness. As in 2000, Democrats put up a technocrat with stellar qualifications for the job, while Republicans chose a man of privilege embarrassing in his ignorance, lack of experience, and profound unsuitability for the toughest job in the world. As in 2000, due to the deeply conservative, even reactionary nature of much of the American electorate, the presidential race was close; every (swing state) vote counted.
Enter Jill Stein.
Stein, like Nader a millionaire likely to face no negative impact from the election no matter whom was elected, and sporting shady connections to Vladimir Putin, exhumed Nader 2000’s false equivalence narrative in which a vote for the highly-qualified, vastly superior Democratic candidate was a vote for “the lesser of two evils.” Though the Democrats put up their most progressive platform ever and Clinton pushed an aggressive proposal to regulate Wall Street endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, Stein attacked Clinton as beholden to corporate interests, helped legitimize dubious GOP talking points by chiding Clinton over her email server, pimped the ridiculous claim that Clinton might start a nuclear war with Syria, even at one point mimicked Trump’s attacks on Clinton’s health, suggesting she drop out of the race.
The notion that Clinton and Trump were offsetting penalties, that the result of the 2016 race wouldn’t much matter, was belied by mountains of evidence, but Stein’s message took hold among a crucial number of ideological purists, uninformed young people, and Bernie Sanders supporters who were still angry over the results of the 2016 Democratic primary. No matter that Hillary had won not because of the DNC, but because she had consistently clobbered Bernie among Democrats of color. No matter that Hillary had voted with Bernie 93% of the time they were in the Senate together. No matter that Bernie himself had said Hillary “on her worst day is infinitely better than any Republican candidate on his best day.” No matter that Bernie campaigned for Hillary after the primary, reiterating at rally after rally how important it was to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
Had Clinton won, we could have easily forgotten Stein, just as we’ve forgotten every single federal Green Party candidate other than Nader, but fate intervened. Eleven days before the election, while Clinton had a six-point lead in national polls and appeared destined to become our next president, Republican FBI head James Comey made the completely unprecedented move of sending a letter to Congress announcing that he was re-opening the investigation into Clinton’s email server.
The weekend before election day, Comey said that his new search had turned up nothing, but the damage had been done. Comey’s letter gave life to the overblown and hypocritical Republican talking point that Clinton was “crooked,” which swung not only fence-sitting independents but enough Stein supporters in the pivotal states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
The results are plain to see. James Comey fired for looking into Putin-Trump collusion in the 2016 election. A major coarsening and dumbing down of our political discourse, to the point where up is down and black is white for tens of millions of ignorant and confused Americans. Hate groups so emboldened that they no longer feel a need to hide, with right-wing extremists shooting up a synagogue, killing a black couple in cold blood, and trying to bomb high-profile liberals—all in the last week. An aggressive rollback of Obama’s measures to protect the environment and regulate Wall Street. Children separated from their parents at the border. LGBT rights under assault. 1.5 trillion dollars of taxpayer money pissed away on a tax cut for the wealthy. The Paris Climate Accords and a historic agreement to stop Iran from going nuclear in tatters, a landmark nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia on life support. A fraying of our international alliances and a plunge in America’s image abroad. And a long-term assault-in-the-making on all of the domestic matters above—and long-established precedents for rule of law—through Trump’s record number of judicial appointments, chief among them new Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Thanks to the Green Party, right-wing extremist Kavanaugh became a federal judge in 2006 due to the elevation of Bush and could now determine the fate of Roe v. Wade. Women unfortunate enough to live outside of California, New York, and other deep blue states could soon be forced to drive—or fly—thousands of miles to exercise their reproductive rights, or, lacking the time and resources, put their health and safety at risk with self-administered coat-hanger abortions. Choice is only one casualty of the ideology-first Green Party voters, as our far-right Supreme Court gets ready to lay waste to one liberal bedrock after another these next couple decades, effectively eradicating big sections of 20th Century progress.
The lower courts could stop or slow some of the erosion, but as long as Republican Mitch McConnell runs the Senate Judiciary Committee, appellate and circuit courts will continue to lurch further and further right. Among the small handful of close races that could decide control of the Senate this election cycle is the Arizona contest between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally. Sinema, a former social worker and the first openly bisexual, non-theist Senate candidate in American history, is steering a moderate pro-immigrant, pro-LGBT, pro-gun control direction, while her opponent is a conservative Republican who has the distinctions of voting with Trump 97% of the time and accusing McSally of committing treason for a single sarcastic comment she made on the radio 15 years ago.
The distinctions between the candidates are clear, the stakes of Senate control are obvious, yet the Green Party is fielding a token candidate in the race, a mortgage broker with zero political experience, Angela Green. Green’s web URL is yeswewillmakeadifference.com, but ironically, the only impact Green may have is to get just enough votes to put McSally in office, which could potentially tip the balance of the Senate.
One of the Green Party voters’ favorite slogans is “vote your hopes, not your fears,” a variation on the warm and fuzzy catchphrase that to vote Green is to “vote one’s conscience.” The underlying belief is that voting is most significant as an internal process, that it is primarily about the individual, how they feel about their vote. The problem with this view is that it ignores adult concepts like trade-offs and compromise and the real-world impact of voting; true progressivism is and always has been about selflessness and helping others, not helping ourselves through purely symbolic, narcissistic acts that can ultimately hurt the most disadvantaged among us. As the radical activist Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
More political writing by Dan Benbow:
10 reasons Barack Obama is clearly
the best president in my lifetime
178 reasons Hillary Clinton is infinitely better
than Donald Trump (even on her worst day)
10 reasons Barack Obama is clearly
the best president in my lifetime
178 reasons Hillary Clinton is infinitely better
than Donald Trump (even on her worst day)
The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens
are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush