Rebuttal To Sam Seder’s Insistence That Voting Third Party Would Setback the Progressive Cause
Sam Seder recently invited veteran activist and Naked Capitalism Contributing Editor Matt Stoller onto his radio show to discuss his recent piece on Salon, entitled “The progressive case against Obama.” The discussion turned a bit testy as they battled around the logic behind voting for a third party Presidential candidate. You can listen to their debate HERE (begins around the 12th minute).
As a follow up to that debate, Seder posed the following question to Stoller, Chris Hedges, and everyone else who believes that the best way forward for progressives is to support third party candidates:
How does voting for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson speed up the building of a movement that is a counterweight to corporate power?
Seder contends that progressives became more conscious of the struggle between the people and corporate powers under a Democratic President (Obama) than they had under a Republican one (Bush). That these 99% vs 1% lines were essentially drawn BECAUSE we had a Democratic President, and that another term for Obama would only help to grow this populist movement. He adds that if Romney were to become President the “economic injustice” movement would just transform into an “anti-Republican” one.
I disagree with Seder’s arguments. I would contend that the party of the sitting President was irrelevant to the occupy movement. Rather, the timing of the movement was driven entirely by the economic pain, as it spread across the entire industrialized world.
It makes perfect sense that the movement formulated during Obama’s term, because the financial meltdown occurred in the final months of the Bush Administration. During those last few months, Hank Paulson terrified Congress into signing TARP, and the monthly unemployment numbers skyrocketed in a way not seen since the Great Depression. And as State tax revenues began to dry up shortly thereafter, severe austerity measures were imposed at the local level — resulting in laid off school teachers and other government workers. I.e. It took a couple years for the economic pain to spread and manifest into that progressive populist movement.
Though this movement against economic injustice would have happened regardless of which party occupied the White House, if there had been a Republican President, the crowd numbers would likely have been even twice as large. Why? Because THERE ARE many Democratic partisans whose entire socioeconomic POV fits nicely and neatly within the Democratic-Republican paradigm. These types would protest for any liberal cause — just as long as a Republican President or Governor could be linked to the blame. Many of these Democrats belittled occupy’s efforts BECAUSE they couldn’t co-opt the movement for Obama. This would have been a mute point if a Republican were in power.
For proof, one must look no further than the hundred thousand protesters who stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol under Republican Governor Scott Walker in protest of that Republican-dominated state legislature’s assault on collective bargaining.
As far as Seder’s central question: “How does voting 3rd party speed up the building of a movement that is counterweight to corporate power?” — what he refuses to acknowledge is that the populist ‘movement’ he speaks of has NO political representation in Washington. NONE. ZERO.
In fact, many in support of the movement he cites actually helped to usher Obama into the White House in 2008, and are now fully cognizant of the fact that Obama has been 100% complicit in the destructive policies that have rewarded moneyed interests off the backs of the American people.
The important question — the one that Seder does not want to ask — is how does a movement go about making a non-representative government more representative? Especially, when the party traditionally allied to that movement’s ideology — the Democrats — now operate with the understanding that there are no voter repercussions for anything they do — an understanding spawned by Seder’s very own “lessor of two evils” mindset.
Take Obama’s entire first term. He broke promise after promise — selling out to corporate interests, degrading our civil liberties, declaring war on whistleblowers, etc — BECAUSE of the calculations he made with regards to progressives having nowhere else to go. So, if voters reward Obama for having made this insidious calculation against them, how would that actually work to change his or future Democratic Presidents’ behavior?
It would achieve the very opposite by reinforcing the idea that Obama’s strategy in deceit is not only a winning one, but actually minimizes political risks. Why? Because unlike voters, the entrenched corporations — with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal — do have somewhere else to go. Republican, Democrat, … makes no difference to them.
The message an Obama victory would send to all future Democratic Presidential Candidates is: run and win on a popular progressive platform, and then, like Obama, pull a ‘bait and switch’ — with the goal of building up your campaign war chest in corporate money, and with impunity since progressives have nowhere else to go.
So my question to Seder would be: How successful can any peaceful populist movement be if it remains completely loyal to a political party that feels free to cavalierly ignore their wishes, while reaping tens of millions of dollars in political donations for having done so?
Politicians must be conditioned to understand that there is a political price to be paid for selling out the voters’ best interests. This underlying principle is the essential cornerstone for all representative democracies. If the voters are too timid to punish the politicians for betraying their interests — as Sam Seder argues they should be — then politicians will naturally continue to betray their interests.
Seder’s strategy of voting Democratic, no matter what, trades away all long-term progressive opportunities for little more than a slight reduction in speed of this nation’s rightward acceleration. Like a CEO forever focused on meeting next quarter’s earnings estimates, while paying no attention to the overall degrading health of the organization he runs.
Voting third party is a strategy that works to re-align the interests of elected officials with the interests of the people, by making them understand that progressives do in fact have somewhere else to go. Governments which believe themselves to be unaccountable to the people they govern are not democracies. And that is the crisis we face.
VIDEO: Green Party’s Jill Stein: Romney Is A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing, Obama Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein sits down with RT America to discuss the current state of the nation and the systemic forces that work against all efforts for real progressive reform. The video proceeds the following transcript highlights:
Stein explains how the 2-party political establishment works to marginalize all political opposition:
RT: You’re going to be on ballots but not in all states. Can you explain what it is in the system of the US that makes it so hard for a third party to break into this two-horse race?
JS: Exactly. The American system is designed to eliminate political opposition, like some of the dictatorships we criticize that have rigged political systems. In many ways the American system is also rigged, but in ways that are not so straightforward.
You have to actually see what it takes to get on the ballot if you are not already on as one of the big machine parties. Each state has its own set of rules which are very demanding, very detailed and bureaucratic and require lots of signatures in order to get on the ballots.
For the most part you need a lot of money, many millions of dollars, to buy your way on to the ballot, basically by hiring signature gatherers and people to keep track of this.
Stein explains that beyond their rhetoric, the 2 establishment parties are virtually one in the same:
RT: The Green Party often describes itself as the party that represents “Main Street” versus Wall Street. In what way do Barack Obama and Mitt Romney represent Wall Street that is against the interests of the American people?
JS: You know, Mitt Romney doesn’t even pretend to do anything other than advance the economic elites’ agenda. He has a track record which is to advance the likes of his own to acquire enormous amounts of wealth by tearing down other companies and businesses, firing workers and off-shoring jobs, gobbling up the profits themselves.
He’s got a track record which is pretty clear and he has a pretty straight-ahead Wall Street agenda.
With Barack Obama and the Democratic Party it is a little harder to see clearly what they are about because they do talk a populist line, but to actually look at their record – it is pretty clear who their allegiances are to.
George Bush provided about $800 billion in bailouts for Wall Street. But under Barack Obama it has been many trillions, some $4.5 trillion worth of bailouts that has already been dispersed and there there are many more trillions worth of loans and emergency loans and guarantees and quantitative easing through the Fed. All kinds of backdoors to basically funnel either out-and-out bailouts or free money to Wall Street.
So Mitt Romney is a wolf in a wolf’s clothing. Barack Obama is a wolf in a sheep’s clothing, but they both essentially have the same agenda.
How the establishment has worked to stifle and silence the Occupy Movement:
RT: Can you talk a little bit more about your involvement with the Occupy Wall Street movement? Has the movement been big enough to make a tectonic shift in the US politics?
JS: I believe that that tectonic shift is happening and Occupy is one of the indicators it is happening. It is happening because one out of every two Americans is either in poverty or low income. Americans are really hurting and are desperate for solutions which they are not getting.
There is a rebellion that is in full swing. Occupy speaks for that rebellion. We saw in polls early on that a substantial majority of Americans was very sympathetic and supportive of the Occupy agenda.
RT: With the majority it is kind of a silent rebellion.
JS: Exactly. We are silenced. I believe it is not silent but our voices are continually muzzled. Through all kinds of ways. We cannot speak out politically. The media is very much in the hands of big corporations.
RT: The Congress approval rating is 11 per cent, so people are unhappy – but it is silent.
JS: Yes, by design. So that people have to work very hard to break through. And Occupy got the critical mass by assembling in our public squares, and they were very effective in breaking through – until the public relations campaign began to be conducted against them.
And we saw that, because that PR campaign actually got leaked. It was a many many hundreds of thousands of dollars campaign that was constructed even before the counterattack began. So you have both a media counter attack and than you had a counterattack by way of police brutality and suppression of our civil liberties as people were brutally attacked.
Stein describes U.S. foreign policy over the last decade as a failure, and how Barack Obama embraced George W. Bush’s policies:
RT: Let’s talk foreign policy. What is at the basis of the US serving as the world police? Would you carry on with it as a president?
JS: This world police policy is bankrupting Americans. We’re spending about $1 trillion a year on the military-industrial security complex. That budget has roughly doubled over the last 10 years, and we’re certainly not more secure for it.
We’ve spent trillions of dollars in Iraq. When we withdrew from Iraq how did we do it? We withdrew from Iraq in the dead of night, on a secret undisclosed date, because we were afraid that we would be ambushed in the process. How many friends exactly did we make in this war? What kind of a stable democracy did we make in Iraq? Iraq continues to tether on a brink of a civil war. It has certainly not become a straunch and reliable ally for the US, or for democracy, or for women’s rights, for that matter.
The barrel of a gun has not been an effective diplomat, and we need to heed that and take a lesson from it.
Unfortunately, President Obama basically embraced George Bush’s militaristic approach to foreign policy. On his third day in office he intensified the bombings in Pakistan, then went on to spread the drone wars into Somalia and Yemen. He surged the troops into Afghanistan. We still have about twice as many troops as we had under George Bush. It has certainly not made Afghanistan a safer and more secure place. We’re not in a better position to withdraw now and declare victory than we were years ago.
We know that when you have the kind of civilian casualties that you have with drone bombing, you’re simply aiding and abetting those very terrorist organizations that you’re trying to go after in the first place.
RT: What makes you concerned with regards to Mitt Romney’s foreign policy plans – if anything?
JS: His plans are basically, “let increase the military budget.” He has a lot of machismo and bravado when he beats the war drum. He wants to really flex muscle against Iran. But so too does the Obama administration, though they are less warmongering about it. But they are basically in agreement about coming down very hard on Iran, and holding no options off the table. So, they both threaten to use war where we should be using diplomacy.
On the 2-establishment parties’ financial dominance over third parties:
RT: We talked about money in politics. Everyone knows that campaigns are not cheap. You’re a physician. Your net worth is probably far from Mitt Romney’s $200 million. Your party is financing a lost cause at this stage. What is the real goal at this stage?
JS: In my view to say it is a lost cause is to say that our economy is a lost cause. It is to say that it is inevitable that we’re going to crash.
I mean the uphill battle for our election is identical to the uphill battle to rescue our economy.
We are a real political party. We’re not just the storefront that looks like it is main street, but is actually funded by Wall Street – that’s what the other political parties are. They pretend to really have the public support, but what they really have is the support of this 1 per cent. They have a propaganda campaign going on and intensive public relations and psychological warfare that is intended to convince people that they don’t have any options.
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