Sorry, Jill: I’m not voting Green

You don’t have to have read a lot of Weekly Sift articles to figure out that I’m voting for Obama. Last week I put together the positive case for why he deserves a second term, and I have been a relentless critic of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, the Republican Party in general, and conservatism as a movement.

So when I take the “I Side With” quiz, I should come out as an Obama voter, right? Well, not exactly:

Jill Stein: 96%
Barack Obama: 88%
Mitt Romney 6%

Philosophically, I’m more Green than Democratic. Some of that 12% disagreement with Obama is pretty important stuff: I’d rather have a single-payer system than ObamaCare. I wish we’d start rolling back our military commitments and cutting defense spending. (I still want us to be the strongest country in the world, I just don’t think we need to be stronger than the next five or six countries put together.) I think we should only blow up things in countries we’re at war with.

Most of all (and I’ve been bitching about this since the Bush administration) I don’t believe in the National Security State. I believe in the Fourth Amendment, the one that says the government needs a warrant to search your stuff; and I think the wording of that amendment is sweeping enough (“persons, houses, papers, and effects” constituted everything the Founders could think of that the government might want to search.) that “stuff” includes your cellphone calls, your email, your library records, and just about anything else you would rather keep private.

I think torture isn’t just bad policy, it’s a war crime that should be prosecuted from the torturer to the policy-maker, and everyone in between. And I don’t care if some American citizen has been hanging around with jihadists, as long as he’s not physically pointing a weapon at somebody at the moment, you can’t legally kill him without due process of law. And by definition, due process of law can’t take place entirely inside the executive branch.

So: Obama voter, yes. Totally happy camper, no.

People like me must frustrate the heck out of Jill Stein. “What do I have to say?” I imagine her asking.

But here’s the problem: my 6% agreement with Mitt Romney.

George Wallace used to say there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. And when he said it, it was almost true. My first presidential vote went to Gene McCarthy in 1976 — me and 740,000 other people. Jimmy Carter was running against Jerry Ford that year, and you’ll never convince me that the future of the Republic hung in the balance.

If the Republicans had nominated some 2012 equivalent of Jerry Ford, I’d probably vote for Jill.

In 2000, a lot of people (but not me) thought Bush Jr. was Bush Sr. with a more convincing Texas accent. If that had been true, voting for Ralph Nader might have made some sense.

If the Republicans had nominated some 2012 equivalent of Bush Sr., I might vote for Jill.

I didn’t vote for Nader in 2000. If I had, I would still feel guilty about it. Florida got all the attention that year, but if the Nader voters in my state of New Hampshire had voted for Gore, Gore would have been president.

Nobody can say for sure in what ways history would be different, but I’ll propose two: We wouldn’t have wasted 4000 lives and a trillion dollars in Iraq, and we would be doing something about global warming.

So that’s another way in which I’m green: with envy for that alternate timeline.

This year, the Republican Party didn’t nominate Jerry Ford or George H. W. Bush, they nominated Mitt Romney.

Some people will tell you that at his core, Mitt Romney is a moderate, like Ford or Bush Sr. They point to his record as governor of Massachusetts, and how unconvincing he sounds mouthing extreme-right rhetoric.

But I don’t believe Mitt Romney has a core. I think he’s the very model of a modern corporate CEO: he says and does whatever it takes to complete the deal.

As a Republican candidate, he has needed to take extreme-right positions: for personhood laws that would outlaw the Pill, for “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants, for doing nothing about global warming, for disenfranchising marginal voters, for extreme cuts to Medicaid, massive defense spending increases, and now we find out that his chosen advisers want to bring back “enhanced interrogation”.

Whether Romney actually believes any of that stuff is irrelevant. He needs to take those positions, so he does. McDonalds doesn’t “believe” in apple pockets or fish sandwiches, but if they’ll sell, they’re on the menu.

After he becomes president, his “core beliefs” will still be irrelevant. He’ll need extreme-right support to be renominated, and he’ll court it just as he courts it now. So yes, he really will try to carry out that benighted stuff he has proposed in the campaign. And he certainly won’t veto anything that comes out of a far-right Republican Congress.

And if he does … well, Paul Ryan is a true believer and he’s just a bullet away. I doubt I’m the only person who’s thought of that.

So don’t give me the it-makes-no-difference argument. It makes a huge difference. I agree 88% with Obama and 6% with Romney.

Where I sympathize with Stein supporters is in their criticism of the two-party system, which is failing to give us the choices we should be debating. As Rachel Maddow pointed out last week, we aren’t having a public discussion about the Afghan War or about drone strikes. And how do you express your desire for single-payer health care if you limit yourself to Republicans or Democrats?

In the general election, you don’t. The place for that debate is in the primaries. If you don’t think that works, ask Republican senators like Richard Lugar, who lost his job for being too moderate, or Orrin Hatch, who took a hard right turn to hang on. Primary challenges could work on the left, too, if we built a constituency for progressive policies.

And progressives need to face up to this reality: A progressive candidate who can’t win a Democratic primary has no chance in a general election. Reforming one of the two parties is far easier than winning and governing as a third party. (Ask the Reagan Republicans.)

More generally, you need to ask whether we still want a two-party system. I’d say no. But the way to get that result is to make common cause with right-wingers around some change to the voting system, like instant-runoff voting or approval voting. Splitting the left-of-center vote is just going to get us right-wing rule.

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Comments

  • kewball  On October 1, 2012 at 10:01 am

    “…make common cause with right-wingers”

    I’d be interested in hearing stories about such attempts. I know I’ve pretty much failed, so far.

  • Justin Siemaszko  On October 1, 2012 at 10:06 am

    the problem, most eleoquently explained via animal cartoons: http://youtu.be/s7tWHJfhiyo

  • blotzphoto  On October 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    You know where the Greens could make a big difference and do a lot of good? Local politics. Get some Greens on school boards and city councils. Get some Greens in the state legislature where they can provide a progressive pressure on Democrats. Create a grassroots constituency, not one built out of disaffected Democrats but by active party members. There are plenty of mid sized cities with active third parties, look to them as a model.

    But the Presidency… that’s literally decades of hard work away.

    • HermesParsifal  On October 6, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      This is actually the only kinds of office that green Party members hold.
      http://www.gp.org/elections/officeholders/index.php
      This shows all current green party office holders. We don’t live under a parliamentary system where multi parties are required to work together to form coalition governments. We live in a winner take all system, which is why you can’t elect a 3rd party candidate to the presidency. You want progressive policies , then you need to work within one of the 2 parties to reform it. It was 16 years between Goldwater’s defeat and the Conservative revolution that elected Reagan. That is what it takes. There is no quick fix magic bullet to changing American politics.

  • Leon P Smith  On October 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    blotzphoto, I completely agree. While a token presidential candidate may be worth the effort for media purposes, the real effort by third parties should be focused on local politics.

    Also, state politics (and sometimes local politics) is the ideal level to target electoral reform efforts. I prefer Approval Voting myself, which along with Proportional Representation is a crucial step towards breaking the two-party dominance, in my opinion.

    I would also say that, you can boil this article down to the Favorite Betrayal Criterion. Not voting for your honest favorite can be a rational voter strategy in our First-Past-the-Post voting system. In order to satisfy the FBC, a voting system must never provide a strategic incentive to betray your favorite candidate by insincerely

    Notably, Approval Voting satisfies the Favorite Betrayal Criterion, while Instant Runoff Voting, like FPTP voting, fails it. There is never any rational reason not to approve of your honest favorite under Approval Voting, whereas under IRV, here are situations where it makes sense to strategically rank your favorite candidate somewhere down your preference order.

  • b0blee  On October 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    “A progressive candidate who can’t win a Democratic primary has no chance in a general election.” Good point. This is why I voted for Norman Solomon for Congress, and he came within a hair of knocking the Republican off the ticket.

  • TPWard  On October 1, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Our system is NOT failing to give us good candidates; people like you are. That the media have too heavy an influence on the sheep of this country is hard enough without people like this saying it’s pointless to vote for the most qualified candidate. We will NEVER get out of our quagmire if people continue to blame “the system” and vote for the lesser of two evils. You, sir, are the problem, and you should be ashamed.

  • Daniel  On October 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Regarding the 2000 election, it’s worth remembering that when they finally finished re-examining all the disallowed ballots from Florida, it turned out that more people had voted for Gore. I’m still a little bemused at how little splash that was allowed to make. One take on it: http://www.fair.org/articles/media-recount.html

    Anyway, as with any race that close, we can identify any number of alternate timelines where it would have gone the other way. Nader and Nader voters tend to get blamed as though they had been THE factor that made the difference, rather than one among hundreds. (And tend to counter by blaming Gore, or all the Florida Democrats who voted for Bush, or the electoral college, or Kathleen Harris, or…)

  • avantaknits  On October 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    If I lived in a swing state where my vote could potentially make the difference between an Obama or a Romney victory, I would vote for the Democrats to win the White House. Which is what I’ve done my entire life. But I now live in Alabama, where the top of the Republican ticket could be a coonhound and still win the state (and has done so since roughly 1980). So, I’m more than a little thrilled that, for the first time in my life, I get to vote my conscience and vote for Jill Stein for President, instead of hold my nose and vote for Obama.

  • HermesParsifal  On October 6, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Excellent post. Or as i like to say: The Green Party, helping elect the GOP since 2000.

  • Charles  On October 30, 2012 at 2:38 am

    This argument falls apart as soon as you apply it outside of a swing state. Avantaknits has it exactly right: if your state is purple, vote for Obama. Otherwise, feel free to vote against indefinite detentions, drone strikes, executive executions, the imperial presidency, and Obama’s utter contempt for the inconvenient parts of the Constitution he swore to uphold.

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