Jill Stein, running for president as the leader of the Green Party, seems like a lovely woman. But her candidacy does no one any favors. It’s not that I fear she’ll edge us toward a Trump White House, with all the horror that entails. Unlike her Green Party predecessor, Ralph Nader, in 2000, she’s still unknown and unlikely to swing any key state.
My issue with Stein and her supporters goes deeper. The progressives touting a Green candidate, this time as an alternative to Hillary Clinton, peddle a dangerous delusion. Real change doesn’t come from one-off candidates without the depth, skills, resources or coalitions necessary to lead this country. In an election year when outsiders are touted as saviors, both the right and left are pretending that experience and grassroots support don’t matter.
They do, desperately. The Green Party’s appeal is like a catfish Internet scam – offering something wonderful that’s actually a lie.
Stein is no more qualified to assume the presidency than the bully with his fingers already too close to the nuclear button. Voting for Stein is akin to ripping up your ballot, which may be satisfying in the moment but is a cynical act. Like them or not, our traditional political parties, flawed as they are, are still the best training ground for American leadership.
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They cultivate political skills from the bottom up. As writer Dan Savage recently ranted on his podcast, you don’t build a party by failing to crack 1 percent in presidential elections cycle after cycle. It’s within the parties that young people often get their first taste of how to actually make change. Whether it’s a nonpartisan school board or dog catcher, future politicos learn the real “art of the deal” (not the fake one) by thinking hard about real fixes, forging alliances, spending shoe leather on convincing local neighborhood councils and horse-trading to get what you really want done.
It’s at the local level where some of our most talented leaders, including the current president, learned their moves. As a young man, Barack Obama was a Chicago community organizer before getting trounced in a state legislative race. He learned valuable lessons, dusted himself off and eventually persuaded Americans to elect him to the highest office in the land.
Stein and her Green Party are neophytes, without the grassroots experience or support any party needs to realistically energize a presidency. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a long-time Independent, as much as acknowledged this when he chose to run as a Democrat. Unlike the Libertarians, the Greens have no one at the national level and not a single official above the level of city council in the country.
American politics, love it or hate it, remains a two-party game at the presidential level. Every four years, the Greens peddle an “if only” fantasy that fundamentally misrepresents how and why Americans vote and why a candidate like Hillary Clinton has been so successful. The women, minorities and Democratic activists behind Clinton see not only accomplishment and experience, but also a rapier-sharp focus on the hard work of making change. Change may be spurred by screaming at the barricades (and I’ve done my fair share). But you also need those insiders able to navigate and work our democracy, so that change actually has a chance to take root within our laws and bureaucracies.
I’ve got nothing against Stein, a physician who supports many of the same things I do. She’s pro-choice, supports a green “New Deal,” LGBTQ equality and deep changes to our campaign finance system. Plus she’s a woman – Yahtzee! I’m sure her single elective post – to a Town Meeting seat in Lexington, Massachusetts Precinct 2 – taught her a lot about local issues.
But I have no illusions about any “revolution” magically transforming our government. As a human rights advocate, I know too well the likely difference between a George W. Bush presidency versus Al Gore, the actual winner in 2000 but for the Supreme Court. Though we’d need a time machine to prove it, I’m convinced Gore would never have led us into a disastrous Iraq invasion or the “dark side” of torture imposed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Under President Bush’s leadership, our economy almost fell into Depression. And with desperate refugees fleeing places like Syria, we’re still trying to undo the immense damage the 2000 election wrought in human lives.
Do what you will with your vote. That’s every American’s right.
But please think twice before throwing your vote away on the Greens.
Robin Kirk is faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center.