After agreeing to serve as a Senior Advisor to the Veterans for Bernie organization over the past year or so, I have refrained from writing articles about the Presidential primaries here at The BRAD BLOG, so as to avoid any potential conflicts of interest for the site. With that disclosure out of the way, those primaries now behind us, and the general election just months away, it seems an appropriate moment to ring in with some personal thoughts, which may or may not be shared by Brad and the site itself, on the dilemma now facing many long-time Bernie Sanders supporters, including myself.
The Sanders-led "political revolution" has arrived at a political crossroad.
Progressive supporters of Sanders cannot go back. The U.S. isn't Austria. There will be no do-over of the Democratic Presidential primaries.
The road to the extreme right (Donald Trump) is unthinkable. It entails the very real and ominous prospect of the very thing so many fought and died to prevent during World War II --- a fascist America. In turn, unabashed Sanders supporters, such as myself, are left with a limited number of options as we struggle with the difficult choice of how to move forward at the ballot box this November in the Presidential race.
Petulantly standing in place (not voting) is akin to the child who takes his football and goes home because the others wouldn't let him play quarterback. It is not a viable option. A boycott of the voting booth by progressives would serve only to reinforce the goal of GOP voter suppression. It would also betray a core tenet of the Sanders-led political revolution --- genuine (small "d") democratic accountability that can only be accomplished via participatory democracy. "I understand that many of my supporters are disappointed by the final results of the nominating process," Sanders wrote in a newly published Los Angeles Times op-ed over the weekend, drawing stark contrasts between both the two major political parties and their 2016 nominees, "but being despondent and inactive is not going to improve anything."
While some may mistake it as progressive, the Libertarian Party ticket, headed by Presidential nominee Gary Johnson, New Mexico's former Republican Governor, does not offer a progressive alternative. To the contrary, libertarianism amounts to an oblique path that is nearly as right-leaning as the now Trump-led GOP.
As I explained in 2010, in "Rand Paul exposes Libertarian Blind Spots", libertarian philosophy focuses exclusively on individual liberty vis-a-vis the government. Many of its proponents fail to appreciate the threat to individual liberty posed by "the tyranny of a corporate controlled economy." Indeed they equate corporate liberties with the liberties of individual human beings. It was that twisted reasoning that led to the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision. Individual liberty without social responsibility, as many supporters of the Libertarian platform ultimately espouse, knowingly or otherwise, is destructive of community, an equitable economy and the environment. In 1980, David Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers, became the Libertarian Party VP candidate. That selection alone speaks volumes about the party's core values.
With those options out of the way, we are left with either turning to the left --- where one can find a far more progressive platform than that offered by the Democrats, with the Green Party's nominee for President, Dr. Jill Stein --- or, moving directly forward with the now Sanders-endorsed Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, a candidate who openly embraced an extraordinarily progressive Democratic Party Platform and many, but not all, of the core goals of the Sanders-led revolution during her DNC Acceptance Speech.
The path that thoughtful progressives choose should be guided by both their understanding of the scope of the Sanders-led political revolution and the wisdom behind Otto von Bismarck's astute observation that "politics is the art of the possible"...
Breadth of a political revolution
The Sanders-led political revolution was neither confined to a single election nor to the question as to who would be the next President of the United States. This point was embodied in the Sanders phrase "not me, us." Thus, during his Democratic Convention speech, Bernie observed:
During his DNC speech Bernie also underscored that a core goal was not only to secure active voter participation but to encourage progressives to run for public office --- a point reflected by the upcoming August 30 Florida primary where Tim Canova, a professor of law and economics, seeks to replace the incumbent Congresswoman and former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL23). As The Nation's John Nichols recently observed in pointing to the number of progressives who have already secured Democratic Primary victories:
The effort to secure positions for those committed to our democratic revolution is by no means limited to federal office. For example, Tyson Manker, the national director of Veterans for Bernie and a former combat Marine, is the Democratic nominee for State's Attorney in Morgan County, IL.
Principled progressives understand both the breadth of the revolution and the fact that even Bernie did not envision its accomplishment via a single election cycle.
A dose of reality
In terms of substantive policy there can be little doubt that the presumptive Green Party nominee is a superior choice for progressives, especially when measured against the deeply flawed Democratic Party nominee. Many progressives welcomed Clinton's embrace of major segments of Sanders's policy positions during her Acceptance Speech at the Democratic National Convention. Other Sanders supporters, like Norman Solomon, remain skeptics. Citing Hillary's penchant for "triangulation" and the gap between her rhetoric and deeds --- such as the selection of Tim Kaine as VP and Debbie Wasserman Schultz to serve as an "honorary chair" to her campaign --- Solomon openly expressed doubts as to Clinton's sincerity. (Solomon notes that, in a mid-July straw poll of Sanders delegates, 88% regarded Kaine as "unacceptable;" only 3% as "acceptable.")
While Sanders aptly described what emerged from the Convention as "the most progressive Democratic Party Platform in history", there can be little doubt that it still falls well short of the positions contained in Stein's Green Party Platform, especially in the area of foreign policy where Stein offers a position that is significantly to the left of Bernie. She, for example, calls for a 50% reduction in military spending and the closure of more than 700 U.S. military bases overseas. Where Bernie and now Hillary have called for a break-up of the "too-big-to fail" banks, Stein additionally proposes the creation of "democratically-run banks and utilities." Where Hillary agreed to a compromise on healthcare in terms of a public option, Stein, like Bernie, calls for a single-payer healthcare system.
All other things being equal, on matters of simple, substantive policy, Stein is the far more progressive choice. But all things are not equal.
Sanders supporters have a right to be miffed by what took place during the primaries. Many of some 20,000 Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails confirmed what we'd known to be true all along. Operating behind the scenes, a duplicitous Debbie Wasserman Schultz allowed for a sharply tilted playing field by turning the ostensibly neutral DNC into an adjunct of the Clinton 2016 campaign. In particular, Wasserman Schultz, as then Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley charged, allowed for a "rigged process" that imposed severe restrictions upon the number and timing of primary debates. In doing so, she exploited the significant hurdles that were already in place via a hostile corporate-owned media that alternatively sought to marginalize, ignore and then distort the Sanders message.
But there are advantages Sanders enjoyed in the same cycle, because, as I suggested in a 2011 critique of Ralph Nader, Bernie chose to run as a Democrat.
The obstacles that Stein faces are far greater than those faced by Bernie. These include:
1) Where Bernie's name appeared on the ballot in all fifty (50) states, as of July 10, Stein and the Green Party had ballot access in only twenty-four (24) states and the District of Columbia.
2) Where Bernie's campaign was hampered by a constricted debate schedule, in the 2012 general election, Stein was both excluded from participating in presidential debates and arrested when she protested her exclusion. As Stein herself then asserted, "the Commission on Presidential Debates attempts to 'rig elections' in favor of the two major political parties by excluding third party candidates from debates." In light of the recent dismissal of a Green Party/Libertarian Party lawsuit which contested the the right of the Commission on Presidential Debates to exclude third parties, it is exceedingly doubtful that Stein will participate in so much as a single general election debate this year either.
3) As a third party candidate, Stein faces far greater hurdles than Sanders did when it comes to mainstream media coverage. The mainstream media did not provide meaningful coverage of either the Libertarian or Green Party Conventions. And, without debate access, Stein will have few significant ways by which she can pierce the national mainstream media's electronic curtain.
Gary Johnson, who appears to be polling around 10%, at least in national polling where his name is included, has a better shot at meeting the the threshold for debate participation. While the Koch brothers vigorously denied allegations that they've donated to Johnson's campaign, one can't rule out the possibility that either the Koch brothers or other right wing billionaires will see Johnson as an attractive alternative to Trump. If that occurrs, Johnson will have a better shot at piercing the ad money-driven, mainstream media electronic curtain.
Is lack of coverage and denial of debate access to a third party candidate, particularly those on enough state ballots to mathematically secure the Presidency either fair or democratic? Obviously not. The American electorate should have the ability to weigh the substantive policy positions of every such candidate. But such is the current reality.
4) By running as a Democrat, Bernie evaded the very thing that Stein now faces: "the lesser-evil paradigm". During the primaries it could not be said that a vote for Bernie was a vote for Donald Trump. To the contrary, supported by a raft of head-to-head public opion polls, including those on favorability, the Sanders campaign forcefully argued that he would have a better chance at defeating Trump in a general election match-up than Clinton would.
In that regard, it is perhaps useful to heed the thoughts of one of the Left's foremost intellectual --- thoughts that Noam Chomsky expressed long before Clinton publicly embraced many of Sanders' policies during her Acceptance Speech at the DNC:
Intellectually, those committed to the Sanders revolution should pragmatically ask: What is the best way to move the goals of the revolution forward?
Forward not back
While no one would suggest that progressives should blindly trust Hillary to adhere to all of her Acceptance Speech promises, we can be damned sure that the goals of the Sanders revolution would be significantly thwarted, if not permanently denied, by a fascist demagogue who The Nation's John Nichols suggests would take America on a path to madness.
Because the GOP has refused outright to confirm President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland --- and, indeed, with as many as three more seats that could reasonably become vacant during the next Presidency --- it isn't just the White House, but majority control of the U.S. Supreme Court which remains at issue. Swing state progressives might feel good casting a vote for Jill Stein, but if it leads to restoration of right-wing control of a majority of Justices on the Supreme Court, they would do well to heed the words uttered by Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy (D-MA) a quarter century ago during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings:
Kennedy has most certainly been proven right on that point in the decades since Thomas was granted his lifetime appointment to the high court.
And now, the stakes remain are similarly high. While the hashtags #BernieOrBust, #NeverHillary and #JillNotHill may be useful for trending on Twitter, the potential damage that could be wrought by that approach at the polls could be irreparable. Thus, progressives who live in swing states would do well to cast a vote for Hillary while continuing to support genuine progressives like Canova and Manker in their bids to supplant the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.
Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing