By Robert A. Vella
I’m not sure if anyone goes to stage shows any more, but once upon a time it was the very best entertainment around. From highly acclaimed theatrical productions on Broadway, brilliant comedic performances in smoke-filled rooms awash in cocktails, to back-alley venues where legendary musicians began their careers, The Stage was all the rage in America. I remember seeing Tim Conway open for stand-up insult comic Don Rickles at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room in the 1970s. Conway was so funny he turned the entire audience into a quivering mass of goo, all at the expense of the headliner who suffered a barrage of heckling from inebriated beasts stuffed into formal attire sitting in the high-priced tables before the stage. Back in the cheap seats, we were more polite – though, no less intoxicated – because Rickles couldn’t have heard us anyway.
Politically, I find myself back in the cheap seats once again along with my comrades on the Progressive Left. But this time, the show is neither funny nor entertaining. Centrist technocrat Hillary Clinton, supported by America’s Liberal Left (see: The difference between Liberals and Progressives and why it matters), has finally emerged as the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. She will square-off against the megalomaniac Republican nominee Donald Trump in November. It will be a contest between establishment elitism versus rabid populism, neoliberal globalism versus militant nationalism, and quite possibly black and brown versus white. Progressives, and more importantly young people, will have little choice or voice in this election.
So, where do we go? Here’s our obvious options currently available:
- Hillary Clinton – the untrustworthy, undemocratic corporatist geopolitical aggressor who intends to appease growing populist discontent by only marginally addressing its concerns and suffering.
- Donald Trump – the incoherent bombast who is rhetorically feeding bigotry and racism while frightening the entire world over the prospect of his electoral success.
- Gary Johnson – the Libertarian Party candidate who is trying to convince Bernie Sanders supporters that he and his followers don’t really intend to dismantle the federal government even though that’s exactly what motivates them.
- Jill Stein – the Green Party candidate who idealistically advocates for environmentalism, health care, economic decentralization, democratization, egalitarianism, and institutional justice.
- None of the above – the decision to either not vote for any presidential candidate on the ballot, or to not cast a ballot at all.
The Progressive Left is deeply rooted in its philosophical principles, and won’t be greatly moved by any accommodating actions its political leaders (e.g. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) are forced to take in order to continue their political careers. They understand both the hardball nature of politics and the practical limits of individuals to fight the system from within. Leaders come and go, but their cause lives on.
Of this year’s options for progressives, the last two appear most appealing. Here are excerpts from Juan González’ and Amy Goodman’s recent interview with Jill Stein on Democracy Now!:
“So, let me say first off, this is a problem that could be fixed with the stroke of a pen, this electoral system that tells you to vote against what you’re afraid of and not for what you believe. And, you know, what we’ve seen over the years, this strategy has a track record: This politics of fear has actually delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons you were told you had to vote for the lesser evil—because you didn’t want the massive Wall Street bailouts, the offshoring of our jobs, the meltdown of the climate, the endless expanding wars, the attack on immigrants—all that, we’ve gotten by the droves, because we allowed ourselves to be silenced. You know, silence is not what democracy needs. Right now we have an election where even the supporters of Hillary Clinton, the majority don’t support Hillary, they just oppose Donald Trump. And the majority of Donald Trump supporters don’t support him, they just oppose Hillary. And the majority are clamoring for another independent or several independent candidates and an independent party, and feel that they are being terribly misserved and mistreated by the current politics. So to further silence our voices is exactly the wrong thing to do.”
“But we could fix this right now simply by passing ranked choice voting, which takes the fear out of voting. If you can’t put your values into your vote, we don’t have a democracy. Ranked choice voting says you can rank your first choice first, and if your first choice doesn’t make it, is eliminated and loses, your vote is automatically reassigned to your second choice. This is used in cities across the country. My campaign actually proposed this in the Massachusetts Legislature through a progressive Democratic representative back in 2002 in the first race that I ran. I was running for governor. We proposed that bill, filed it, so that there would be no splitting of the vote. The Democrats refused to let it out of committee. And that tells you something very important: They rely on fear. They don’t want you to vote your values. They need to use the scary tactic of, ‘Oh, the other guy is worse.’ Why is that? Because at the end of the day, they are not on your side. They need you to be afraid of them, because they are not for you.”
“In this race, I’ll just conclude saying, this is a unique moment now. We’ve never been here in history before. What we are facing, you know, is not just a question of what kind of world we want to be, but whether we will be a world at all, the way the nuclear arms race has been re-engaged, the way Hillary Clinton wants to create an air war over Syria through a no-fly zone against another nuclear-armed power—that is, Russia—the climate crisis, where the day of reckoning is coming closer and closer all the time. We can’t keep using this failed policy of silencing ourselves with this politics of fear. It’s time to forget the lesser evil, stand up and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it, because they do.”