Jill Stein: Democrats Govern by Fear—That Alone Should Cost Them Your Vote
Truthdig spoke with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in advance of the third and final presidential debate scheduled for Wednesday. The following transcription of the exchange was edited for clarity.Alexander Reed Kelly:
Despite running a national campaign with an established political party, you were excluded from the presidential debates this year, but you’re scheduled to appear alongside Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a Democracy Now! special debate segment later this week. What do you expect from the candidates?
Jill Stein: Truthfully, I don’t expect much that is different from the prior two debates. We’ve had a very enthusiastic response to our forcing real issues and real answers into the debate. There’s a dire need for real discussion here, and the events of even the last week underscore that, now that we have been involved in an exchange of missiles with Yemen. The war is getting bigger and still there is no real discussion of this war, certainly not between Donald and Hillary. Their discussion of the war in the last debate amounted to the question of when exactly did Donald Trump take his various positions about Iraq?
There was no real discussion about the catastrophe that [the] ongoing war in the Middle East has caused, the fact that it’s devoured more than half of our discretionary budget, that it costs you nearly half of your income taxes to support this bloated and dangerous Department of Defense, which is really a department of offense. We have failed states, mass refugee migrations and even worse terrorist threats, and Hillary Clinton wants to start an air war with Russia over Syria. It’s widely understood that she is pushing for a “no-fly zone,” but many people don’t understand what that means. It means we will shoot down other people’s airplanes over Syria. And that means Russia.
Just last week, the former head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, stated that we are at the most dangerous moment in human history now, and one of the candidates would like to start an air war with Russia while we have 2,000 nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert. Is that really what we want? That’s not to say that Donald Trump is not a dangerous alternative, but we need to understand that there’s a danger, not just attached to the sexual predator Trump, but also to the warmonger Hillary Clinton.
Kelly: I know a number of people who agree with you about social issues, but when it comes to this question of war, of the United States as a global empire, of mass surveillance, etc., I often hear that there’s nothing we can do about it. And because these things are supposedly inevitable, Hillary Clinton represents the most we can expect from our leaders. I’m sure you run into this often.
Stein: There are certain circles in which that mindset prevails, but out here on the borderland in Texas—we just came from El Paso, now we’re in San Antonio, talking to everyday people—they are thoroughly disgusted and appalled with both candidates and both political parties, and they are overjoyed to hear that they have another option. So it may be that the pundits and the policy wonks and people in less desperate straits defend the status quo in some way, and may consider that resistance is futile. But I have to say, out here where things are extremely desperate—and I’d say the same in Detroit and Chicago—there was huge enthusiasm for our campaign, particularly among the most disenfranchised and abused sections of the population: immigrants, people of color, and above all, youth. Those who are part of the networks of academia, the networks of the organized nonprofit world, organized labor, the institutions that have been lulled into acceptance … It’s very different out here, where there is no privilege and no attachment to the society and the government and the political parties that are working for the privileged few.
Kelly: The insulating effect of class is interesting. When I point out to the kind of people we’re talking about that there are no laws of nature that make impossible the kind of society that you, the rest of the Greens and Bernie Sanders are talking about, I often hear the reply that it’s human nature or culture or people in general who are the problem. In other words, it’s not physical reality that’s in our way, but social reality. They’re right, of course. But what is remarkable is that they don’t acknowledge their own role in maintaining this reality. They’re talking about themselves. And they don’t seem to know it.
Stein: I couldn’t agree more. It’s a very sort of self-referential set of assumptions. And in fact, it is inconsistent with the actual facts on the ground. The facts on the ground are that the largest political entity now is Independent. It’s not Democratic. It’s not Republican. And the two candidates are the most disliked and untrusted in our history. Seventy-six percent of voters are clamoring for open debates. In another study—I think it was a Gallup Poll two or three weeks ago—57 percent of voters felt we needed a new, independent party, and even the majority of Trump supporters don’t support Trump; they mostly intensely dislike Clinton. And the same is true on the other side. Hillary’s voters are not for her; they are against Donald. Why is it that people say they are constrained by this reality? What is this constraint? The constraint is fear: that if we don’t vote against the candidate we fear the most, we will get that person. There is an actual fix for this. It’s called ranked-choice voting, and it’s in use in cities across the country and around the world. It’s kind of a no-brainer. It lets you rank your choices, and if your first choice loses, your vote is automatically reassigned to your second choice. If we can have that, why do we have a voting system built around fear?
In the first election I ran in, back in 2002, running for governor in Massachusetts against Mitt Romney, we filed a ranked-choice voting bill with the help of a progressive Democratic legislator to be sure that there would be no splitting of the vote. The Legislature refused to let it out of committee, even though they had a Democratic majority that could have passed it in the blink of an eye. You would have thought they’d take it up in a minute if their real goal was democracy and election integrity. Years later, that bill is filed over and over, and it’s still not allowed out of committee. Why? Because the Democrats know they can’t win your vote with the banks, fossil fuel giants and the rest of corporate America calling the shots. If you need formal research showing this, it was well documented in a study by Gilens and Page out of Northwestern and Princeton a couple years ago that the agenda of Washington, D.C., is a big-business agenda. In fact, public opinion has roughly zero percent influence on policies that actually get passed. The Democrats take their marching orders from the economic elite, and they know that if they don’t have fear as a weapon against us in order to extort our votes, then they can’t win our votes. So they are permanently attached to fear-based voting and work very hard to ensure that we remain their captives. In my opinion, that alone is cause for them to lose your vote.
And let me say further that this fear is our worst enemy. We have 43 million Americans trapped in predatory student loan debt without a real shot at getting out of it. There are 27 million Latinos who see so plainly that Republicans are the party of hate and fear, but Democrats are the party of detentions, deportations and night raids. So there is potentially a winning vote with those two groups alone.Last week, Fox did a poll among Independents that showed [the Green Party] going from 4 percent to 12 percent, despite the media blackout, which tells you there’s enormous interest and an enormous revolt waiting to happen if people have the chance to hear about the alternatives they are clamoring for. Only 28 percent of voters have even heard of our campaign. The inconvenient truth for the political establishment is that the American people actually do have the power, the passion and the vision. And if they are given a real democracy, we could see this election turn right on its head. That’s what we deserve.
We not only have a right to vote; we have a right to know who we can vote for, and that means we need to open up the debates. And we can do that by tuning in to our live-streamed open debate and posting it to our social networks so that we have a people’s revolt, a people’s open debate that enables the American people to be the engine of our democracy and the engine of our future.
In this race, we are not only deciding what kind of a world we will have, but whether or not we will have a world, in terms of the climate crisis, expanding wars blowing back at us with no end, nuclear brinksmanship and a generation locked in debt. This is not a future that we can conscience, and probably not a future we can survive. We say forget the lesser evil; fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it. Because they do.
Another point to the people who apologize for the political system and promote lesser-evilism. The use of “lesser evil” as a guiding principle has been a disaster. The politics of fear brought us everything we were afraid of. All the reasons you were told to vote for the lesser evil—because you didn’t want expanding war, a melting climate, attacks on immigrants and the offshoring of our jobs. You didn’t want the massive prison-industrial complex or the growing crisis of student debt, but that’s exactly what we got by silencing ourselves and allowing a lesser-evil party to speak for us. Both parties are marching to the right, and with each election they each become more militarist, more corporatist and more imperialist. So what is the endgame exactly? As we march closer and closer to the brink on the climate, on the next crash of our economy, which appears to be in the works again as Deutsche Bank teeters on the brink and the stock market is wildly volatile, as we expand war and teeter on the precipice of nuclear catastrophe.
When do we turn this around? The greater and lesser evil are not going to turn it around. They’re in a race to the bottom. If there’s any hope of getting out of here alive—and I don’t just mean at the end of the century, I means in the next couple of decades—if we’re to have any hope of survival, we need to begin that turnaround now. It is magical thinking to believe the system is somehow going to fix itself when the unrelenting trend has been clearly established for decades. Even with the inspiration and passion of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the Democratic Party proved itself absolutely impenetrable by the forces of good.
The truth is that most people have woken up. People with some attachment to the system or some degree of privilege or relationship to the Democratic Party are very quick to say, “Be good little boys and girls, everybody. Take your marching orders from the political elite and stay on track.” But most people are not buying that. They tend to be, however, those who are less organized and more disenfranchised, and the challenge is to get the word out and enable the real principled majority to stand up and get us back on track.
Kelly: Say I’m one of these people who tends to believe nothing can be done and I’m having second thought while reading this interview. What can I do specifically to help bring about this change?
Stein: Right now, according to the polls, we are near the threshold for achieving major-party status. If we get 5 percent, we get about $10 million [in general election public funding in 2020] to actually organize on the ground. So people can lend a hand now in whatever way they can to get the word out, and to help us reach that 5 percent threshold. That may be by phone banking, canvassing or just social media networking. People can volunteer via our website, make a contribution or post our debates on their social networks. Any of that makes a huge difference, and as you say, it can be a very liberating moment to see the world as it really is—not according to the political mythology of the moment, which is very hopeless and depressing. In my experience, it’s like breaking [away from] an abusive relationship. It’s very liberating to walk away from a politically abusive relationship and begin to put your life together and build a world that’s really going to work for all of us, as part of a community, as part of a social movement that is actually the majority of people around this country and the world. It’s not exactly united or organized, but there is a lot of movement in that direction, especially in this country. So I encourage people to take whatever steps you can, because we are much closer than the polls would have you believe.
How? Polls tap likely voters, and those tend to be people of relative privilege. Millennials, immigrants and people of color largely don’t get counted. I think it was an NBC poll that had us at, I believe, 2 percent. If you look at who they polled to come up with this number, it’s overwhelmingly professionals, managers, white collar workers and retired people. So it’s an older, established demographic. Three percent of the people in the poll were unemployed. Four percent are students. So this is a poll of people who are clearly leaning towards the status quo, not the disenfranchised who are the agents of change. And these kinds of polls are used to make us feel powerless. And if we feel powerless, then we will feel hopeless. And if we feel hopeless, we’ll just go home and give up.
So that’s what going on here. In another poll that looked at Independents, we were really surging. So we may be closer to a real political breakthrough than the obvious poll data would suggest. It’s really important for us to stand up with the courage of our convictions and push ahead, knowing that we have no other option. Corporate political parties will not give us our lives back on a silver platter, so it really is up to us. Are we going to stand up and take charge or are we going to go quietly into this dark night? That’s the choice we face.