Some of our readers have taken us to task for supporting President Obama and the Democrats in the upcoming election instead of promoting other alternative candidates on the left, such as Green Party nominee Jill Stein, or Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, or even Libertarian Gary Johnson. But our job is to tell the truth — not what we wish was the truth. And the truth is that Barack Obama is the most progressive candidate who can get elected president on Nov. 6.
We were told in 2000 that there was not enough difference between the two major parties to warrant a progressive vote for Al Gore. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether progressives who voted for Green candidate Ralph Nader in Florida share responsibility for George W. Bush’s presidency. We think it is clear that Gore would have been a much better president than Bush, who ignored concerns about al Qaeda’s threat to the US until it was too late. Then Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq. And, perhaps most significantly in long-term damage, Bush replaced conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and moderate Republican Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court with John Roberts and Samuel Alito, right-wing ideologues who have joined with Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and increasingly hardline Anthony Kennedy to form a right-wing bloc on the Court that swept aside a century of precedents in 2010 with the Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to engage in political activity. Now the right-wing majority appears poised to enact a laundry list of right-wing initiatives from the bench.
In a recent interview with Sam Seder, Jill Stein said the relationship of Democrats to progressives was abusive. “The lesser evil vote is interpreted as a mandate and will lead to more of the same,” she said. Obama is “able to do much worse than George W. Bush was able to do in terms of expanding the wars, the Wall Street bailout and the attacks on our civil liberties because the opposition essentially goes away.”
But we are not sure that it does much good for the Greens to run a presidential campaign that gets at most a few percentage points of the total vote. If anything, it seems to demonstrate what little support there actually is for the Green agenda.
Ralph Nader had a national reputation as a progressive consumer activist in 2000, when he got 2.88 million votes, or 2.74% of the total, for president. In 2004 Nader ran again as an independent and finished third with 465,650 votes (0.38%) while the Green nominee, David Cobb, finished sixth with 119,859 (0.1%). The Green candidate in 2008, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, got 161,603 votes, or 0.12% of the total.
We don’t doubt the sincerity of those candidates, or of Stein, a physician from Lexington, Mass., but she is virtually unknown outside the Commonwealth, where she ran for governor in 2002, finishing third with 3.5% of the vote, and again in 2010, finishing fourth with 1.4%. She won a town meeting seat in 2005 and 2008 and lost a 2006 race for Secretary of the Commonwealth.
The Greens are on the ballot in 32 states, including at least six “swing states” and hope to be on 40 ballots for the general election. (The Greens got on the Texas ballot in 2010 with the help of a Missouri-based nonprofit corporation with ties to Republican activists which paid more than half a million dollars from undisclosed sources for the ultimately successful petition effort.) Libertarians, headed by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, will be on at least 41 ballots; the Constitution Party, headed by conservative former US Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, is on 21 ballots and the Justice Party, headed by former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, is on 12 ballots, according to Ballot Access News.
(We believe that all those candidates — and any candidate who will be on enough ballots to contest 270 electoral votes — should be included in the presidential debates, which are scheduled for Oct. 3, Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, as well as a vice presidential debate Oct. 11. However, the two major parties set up the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1987 largely to keep aggressive questioners and alternative party nominees out of the debate.)
Losing general election campaigns discourages a movement. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has shown it is possible to run as an independent progressive populist and win statewide. After starting in the 1970s running also-ran campaigns as the anti-war Liberty Union candidate for the Senate and governor, he ran for mayor of Burlington in 1981, narrowly beating a six-term Democratic incumbent. He followed a progressive course that got him re-elected three times. With that local base, Sanders ran for governor in 1986, finishing third with 14.5% of the vote. He then turned his sights on the state’s at-large seat in Congress when Jim Jeffords (R) ran for the Senate in 1988. Sanders lost to Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Smith that year, but in a 1998 rematch Sanders defeated Smith, 56% to 40%, becoming the first independent elected to the US House in 40 years and the first self-described socialist in 60 years.
Sanders was a co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and and has a 100% lifetime legislative score with the AFL-CIO but he has balanced that with the rural state’s native conservatism. For example, he voted against the Brady Bill in 1993 and in favor of an NRA-supported bill restricting lawsuits against gun manufacturers in 2005. When Sen. Jeffords announced he would not seek a fourth term in 2006, Sanders entered the race to succeed him. With the backing of Democratic leaders, Sanders headed off a significant Democratic challenge and went on to defeat a Republican businessman in the general election by a 2 to 1 margin.
In the Senate, Sanders has caucused with the Democrats. He has been a persistent critic of the Wall Street bailout, joined three Democratic senators in opposing the nomination of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and led the successful amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that required an audit of the Federal Reserve. On Dec. 10, 2010, he delivered an 8-1/2 hour speech against the extension of the Bush-era tax rates and other tax credits in a deal that also extended benefits for long-term unemployed workers. The text of that speech was published in February 2011 as The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class by Nation Books.
In his weekly “Brunch with Bernie” radio show with Thom Hartmann on Sept. 7, Sanders noted, “We have to remember where we were when Bush left office and we were losing 750,000 jobs a month.” He said he would like to hear President Obama say how he would put people back to work. “You’re not going to have the kind of economy this country needs and you’re not going to create the millions of jobs we have to create unless we deal with Wall Street,” he said. “You can’t continue to have a handful of huge banks led by JP Morgan and Chase with so much wealth and so much power. In my own view, you’ve got to start breaking up these large financial institutions. At the very least, they need to be significantly re-regulated.”
But Sanders said it was vital to re-elect Obama and keep the Democratic majority in the Senate and regain the House majority. “This really is a pivotal moment in American history,” he said. “If the Republicans win, I fear very much that along with Citizens United and along with the grotesquely unfair distribution of wealth and income in this country that we’re going to he moving pretty rapidly to an oligarchic form of government, where a handful of families — a few hundred families — have significant control of the economic and political life of this country.”
At the same time, he said, progressives need to organize at the grassroots to put pressure on Democrats to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other progressive principles. “Now is not the time to despair and throw our hands up in the air,” he said. “We need to work hard and get in the streets to to make sure the President moves forward in a progressive direction.”
Sanders is up for re-election this year and he deserves your support, as do progressive Dems such as Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Shelton Whitehouse (R.I.) and newcomer Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. And yes, the other Dems are worth supporting, too, if for no other reason than to keep Mitch McConnell from becoming majority leader. — JMC
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