If there is truth in the old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, it may be fast approaching the time that progressives in the United States need to file a claim to have The Green Party involuntarily committed. Earlier this week, Jill Stein—the Green presidential nominee in 2012—announced on Democracy Now! that she would be seeking the party’s nomination again in 2016 and, should she win it, the smart money would be on writing off any possibility of a Green resurgence next November. This is not to say that Jill Stein isn’t a passionate activist for social justice and environmental issues, because she most certainly is, nor is it a wholesale indictment of the “Green New Deal” that makes up the heart of her platform. It is simply that, given the current political climate and her lackluster performance at the polls last time around, it is hard to envision a scenario where she has a substantially better showing than she had 3 years ago.
As I wrote about in the immediate aftermath of the election, Stein’s campaign was a pretty big disappointment in 2012, ending in a distant fourth place finish behind President Obama, Mitt Romney and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, pulling in roughly one-third of one percent of popular vote in a year when the American left had become disillusioned with the faux-progressive centrism of their Hope & Change candidate and was desperately seeking someone else to get behind. Supporters of Stein will point out that she tripled the returns of the two previous Green Party candidates, an entirely true statement that isn’t worth a whole hell of a lot due to the fact that the 2012 election was the first time in two decades that Ralph Nader declined to throw his hat in the ring. Take out the 600,000 votes that Nader averaged over the previous two elections as an independent siphoning support from the Greens and Stein actually underperformed in 2012, only picking up roughly half of the votes Nader left behind.
That’s not to say that Stein is not an engaging candidate or that the platform she ran on wasn’t a compelling one. As a matter of fact, the “Green New Deal” that Stein promoted in 2012 with her running mate Cheri Honkala, was a bold collection of progressive reforms that pushed for the creation of a new economic bill of rights that would provide a living wage for all Americans and tackle widespread un-and-underemployment with a federally funded, locally controlled jobs bank that would help build up our fledgling green economy. From a policy standpoint, Stein’s platform was the most comprehensive expression of a truly progressive agenda I’d seen since from a presidential candidate in 40 years. The thing is, ideas weren’t the problem for Jill Stein in 2012, nor will they be in 2016. No, Jill Stein’s problem will lie with execution and believability.
It is hard enough in this age of campaign finance reformless, bipartisan inequity for a third party candidate to elicit the confidence of masses, but when you fail to so much as get on the ballot in 14 states, as Stein and the Green Party did in 2012, it’s damn near impossible. Regardless of whether you chalk it up to organizational shortcomings or a lack of popular support, it is simply unacceptable for any presidential hopeful who wants to be taken seriously to not be on the ballot in a single state, much less more than a quarter of them.
Much of Stein’s inability to get on the ballot in all 50 states is tied in with her inability to raise money for her campaign. According to OpenSecrets, Stein and the Green Party hauled in slightly less than $900,000 in the 2012 election cycle, which amounts to 0.12% of what President Obama pulled in during the same time period. Stein’s more successful third party counterpart, Gary Johnson, managed to raise over $2.5 million and, while the cause and effect aren’t crystal clear, it isn’t coincidence that Johnson’s ability to raise 2.85 times as much money as Stein led to his campaign receiving 2.72 times as many votes in the general election. Hell, even The Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode managed to break the $1 million fundraising mark and he refused to accept any donation above $200.
Beyond the monetary woes, the average voter is bound to be uneasy about voting for Stein—if they’re even aware of her candidacy—because she is a physician and activist by trade and has never occupied any political office larger than that of a “Town Meeting Representative”in her hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. Granted, the American public doesn’t hold politicians in the highest regard, but I feel like it’s safe to say most of us would be wary of electing someone as Commander in Chief whose only political experience is representing about 2,400 residents of a wealthy suburb outside of Boston.
Despite all of these shortcomings, I would still seriously consider voting for Jill Stein if the 2016 presidential field was a carbon copy of what we saw in 2012. However, a certain Bernard Sanders has changed all of that. As of this writing, the self-described socialist from Vermonthas gone from trailing Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire by 38% in May to 8% in a poll released this week and is quickly emerging as a legitimate contender for the White House with more than 7 months to go before the Iowa Caucuses. Amazingly enough, the 73-year old Independent Senator and his campaign has shown a dexterity in navigating the mainstream press and social media that is clearly lacking from his more polished and moneyed opponent, and has received the largest proportion of his support from America’s young voters. Sanders has emerged—in the absence of an Elizabeth Warren campaign—as the only candidate running for either of the two mainstream party’s nominations to be a champion of working class Americans, a staunch supporter of green energy reform and a strong advocate for the dismantling of the big banks. In short, he’s a genuine progressive running for the White House and he actually has a chance to win.
In her interviews since announcing her candidacy, Jill Stein has admitted that she has many more similarities with Sanders than she does differences, but insists hers is the campaign to support because she hasn’t kowtowed to the corporate bigwigs in the Democratic Party. As she told Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman, the primary distinction between her vision and Bernie’s is that the Democrats will chuck his vision in the trash if he loses in the primaries, while she is, “running in a party that also supports [our] vision, so when our campaign comes to an end, [our] vision will not die.” The only problem with Stein’s assessment is the fact that the life or death of a political vision is immaterial if no one acknowledges its existence.
After 2012, Jill Stein’s vision might have been alive in the clinical sense, but it ended up lying in the political ICU, intubated and temporarily immobilized. Could Stein get the Green Party’s nomination and lead a campaign to, at the very least, rival Ralph Nader’s 2.73% take in the 2000 election? Sure, but nothing I’ve seen from her over the past 4 years gives much reason for optimism. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is steadily loosening Hillary’s grasp on the Democratic nomination and has a legitimate chance to do what I had, until a couple months ago, not dared to dream was possible: become the first legitimately progressive major party candidate for President since George McGovern.
There are two basic ways to effect change in a nation like America: you can try and change it from within the system or from without. By running for President of The United States, both Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders have chosen to try and change this country from within, and it would appear that during his long and fruitful political career, Sanders has learned one vital truth that Stein has yet to grasp, which is that if you decide to fight the system from the inside out, the aim is to bend the rules of the game, not break them.