Democrats Have a Bigger Problem Than Jill Stein
Jill Stein is back in the spotlight.
In the past few weeks, a number of interviews with the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee have popped up—and with them comes the inevitable ire of the Democratic Party.
Stein has faced this wave of criticism before, and it doesn’t seem to bother her. Earlier in June, she spoke with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill on his “Intercepted” podcast to discuss liberal accusations that her campaign took crucial votes away from Hillary Clinton.
“We’ve got to find a reason. We’ve got to blame somebody,” Stein says of the mentality of voters who see her as a “spoiler.”
“That said,” she continues, “it’s really important to stand back and realize that the solution for a democracy on life support is not less democracy. Silencing political opposition is a very dangerous thing to do.”
She expressed similar sentiments in an interview with Ben Schreckinger for Politico Magazine. “I consider it a great honor that the party and our prior campaign for president is suddenly being attacked outside of an election season,” she told him, adding that she doesn’t have any regrets about her 2016 presidential bid.
Stein’s comments in these interviews and on social media have prompted backlash. The left-leaning site Jezebel ran a story attacking her for her “infuriating” point of view. Keith Olbermann, who has a Twitter following of 972,000, called Stein an “imbecile” in a tweet earlier this month. Neera Tanden, president of the policy research organization Center for American Progress, also used Twitter to blame Stein for rising tensions in Syria. Even Schreckinger latched on to the assumption that Stein may have something to apologize for, running his interview with her under the title “Jill Stein Isn’t Sorry.”
Stein is probably used to intense criticism—she faced plenty of it when she was running for president. And as Schreckinger notes, there are some issues, such as her relationship with the Russian government, that may merit a closer look (although she addresses this topic in detail during her interview with Scahill, lambasting the “neo-McCarthyism” currently at play in American politics). But the Democrats’ insistence that Stein is partly to blame for Donald Trump’s election overlooks a more insidious element of American politics: nonvoters, or those who showed up at a polling place in 2016 and neglected to cast a vote for president.
Meagan Day of The Week explains:
There are two categories of non-two-party votes in the contemporary American political climate, and they’re regarded differently. The first is the third-party vote, which, especially on the left side of the aisle, is considered burglary. The second is total abstention, which is considered inevitable, and therefore hardly factors into the mainstream media’s election postmortems. In neither scenario does the losing major party (in this case the Democrats) take responsibility for failing to move potential voters to act on its behalf.
“But,” you may protest, “Donald Trump won by a margin smaller than the number of Green Party votes in key states, particularly the Upper Midwest!” And you’re right, that’s true. Take Michigan: Trump won Michigan by 13,225 votes, while Jill Stein walked away with 51,463 votes. Clearly, if all of those people had voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Stein, Clinton would have won Michigan. (Whether Stein votes ought to be otherwise considered shoo-in Democrat votes is a separate matter.)
If these are the only variables of interest to us — the number of ballots affirmatively cast for Trump, Clinton, Stein, and maybe Johnson — then yeah, the Stein-as-spoiler argument makes some sense. But here’s another number, one that ought to change your perspective: 87,810. That’s how many Michigan voters showed up to the polls, cast ballots, and declined to vote for a presidential candidate at all.
Day goes on to explain that in the swing states of Michigan, Maine, Florida and Arizona, “the undervote total was larger than the margin of victory.”
“And what is an undervote but an intentional expression of distaste for the prospects on offer?” Day ponders. “Apparently these voters found the presidential choices too unappetizing for even a clothespin vote.”
Also worth mentioning, of course, is the problem of low voter turnout. “Nearly three million Michiganders joined the roughly 40 percent of eligible American adults who declined to vote at all last year,” Day writes. “In Michigan, those eligible nonvoters were 200 times larger than Trump’s margin of victory.”
These nonvoters represent a critical problem in both the Democratic and the Republican parties, in that nonvoters tend to be poor or working-class people of color. Day writes:
Nonvoters are far less likely to identify with one of the major parties. And who can blame them? While it’s unfair and ill-advised to completely elide the differences between Democrats and Republicans, the fact remains that neither party has a proven track record of robustly demanding and taking consistent steps to ensure that everyone is paid a living wage, has access to health care, has quality public education — even where the provision of those basic goods and services contravenes corporate or donor-class interests. …
Without a functional safety net, poor and working-class people have a hard time in America, and neither party is truly committed to fixing that.
“The only reason the [minuscule] Stein vote totals matter to anyone is that, deep down, they take the political inactivity of poor people — especially poor people of color — for granted,” Day concludes. And yet liberal media repeatedly utilize its platform to attack Stein for speaking up about poverty, the environment and inequality.
“We need a political process that creates multi-partisan democracy. That’s really where democracies get their best shot at moving forward and solving our crises,” Stein told Scahill in her “Intercepted” interview. “Let’s create the democracy that enables us to choose the candidates that we want.”