Dr. Jill Stein of Massachusetts is running for president as the Green Party nominee. Traditional media ignore her, but she might exceed expectations.
Some progressives support her because they view President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney as “Republicrats” — establishment pols serving special interests.
Most voters will opt for one of the two major party candidates, but many are turned off by “politics as usual” — dishonest attack ads, trivialized issues, corruption and gridlock. Given the increasingly destructive nature of this presidential race, perhaps a surprising number of voters will end up expressing dissatisfaction by voting for an independent.
In non-swing states (like Massachusetts, which Obama is expected to carry handily), people realize that their votes for president won’t swing the outcome. So they can cast a “protest vote” or “conscience vote” without real worry or guilt.
The New York Times reported last month that the Green Party “expects to be on the ballot in at least 45 states.” And Stein “will be the party’s first candidate to have qualified for federal matching funds — a milestone for this 11-year-old alternative party and potentially a major boost for a campaign that does not accept corporate donations.”
I don’t support Stein for president, but I supported her right to be in a televised debate when she ran for governor here in 2010. She did quite well in gubernatorial debates, and deserves to be heard in this race too.
Recently I explained why Bill Clinton, an old “New Democrat,” must be disappointed in Obama’s leadership. Now, to consider why Stein might do surprisingly well, let’s look at Obama from a progressive/left-wing perspective.
How has Obama disappointed progressives?
Obama continued the Bush foreign policy
In “Why Obama continues Bush’s foreign policy,” Prof. Matthew Dickinson wrote:
Obama has expanded Bush’s use of drones as both offensive weapons in the War on Terror, but also in intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance operations. Although Obama purportedly closed secret CIA prisons holding suspected terrorists, he continues the policy of rendition under which suspected terrorists can be sent to foreign prisons for interrogation. He has authorized the use of military commissions to try some terrorists, and — with the courts’ consent — supports the Bush policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely without charge. Despite opposition from both conservative Republicans and many Democrats, he signed a four-year extension of the Patriot act which, among other provisions, provides federal authorities roving wiretap power to listen in on conversations of foreign suspects even when they change phones or locations, and gives the government the authority to investigate foreigners who have no known affiliation with terrorist groups. (To do so, however, requires approval from a secret federal court.)
In some instances, Obama has out-Bushed Bush in the conduct of the war on terror. In Afghanistan, of course, Obama built up the U.S. military presence in order to stabilize a rapidly deteriorating situation there, and thus lay the groundwork for an earlier U.S. withdrawal. To date, Obama appears committed to the withdrawal schedule although his commanders on the ground are fighting a rearguard action in order to extend the U.S. presence there. Perhaps the most notable foreign policy success, of course, was the killing of Bin Laden, which required violating Pakistan’s airspace. And, in perhaps the most dramatic example of Obama’s willingness to push the limits of his authority, he authorized the assassination of an American citizen overseas who was suspected of actively working as a terrorist.
When Obama has sought to step back from Bush-era policies governing the War on Terror, however, he has often been unsuccessful. After months of wrangling with Congress, Obama has implicitly admitted that Guantanamo Bay prison will not be closed, and in fact will continue to hold high value targets who may be caught in the anti-terror campaign.
Obama failed to lead on global warming
A top priority of the Green Party is to take action on climate change. Al Gore, the Democrats’ most prominent leader on environmental issues, declared that Obama has failed to lead on the issue of global warming. The Associated Press reported last year:
In a 7,000-word essay posted online ... Gore says the president hasn't stood up for "bold action" on the problem and has done little to move the country forward since he replaced Republican President George W. Bush.
Bush infuriated environmentalists by resisting mandatory controls on the pollution blamed for climate change, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible. The scientific case has only gotten stronger since, Gore argues, but Obama has not used it to force significant change.
"Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis," Gore says. "He has not defended the science against the ongoing withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community ... to bring the reality of the science before the public."
Gore does credit Obama's political appointees with making hundreds of changes that have helped move the country "forward slightly" on the climate issue, but says the president "has simply not made the case for action.”
He is the second Clinton administration official this month to express disappointment with Obama on environmental issues. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, in a speech in early June, said Obama had yet to take up the "mantle of land and water conservation...in a significant way."
"During the final years of the Bush-Cheney administration, the rest of the world was waiting for a new president who would aggressively tackle the climate crisis, and when it became clear that there would be no real change from the Bush era, the agenda at Copenhagen changed from 'How do we complete this historic breakthrough?' to 'How can we paper over this embarrassing disappointment?'"
Obama failed to challenge the lobbyist-driven system
In an article in The Atlantic magazine, “The Liberal Critique of Obama: Judging the President by His Own Standards,” Conor Friedersdorf wrote:
The left's core complaint is that he (Obama) promised to challenge the political system but worked within it instead, never even attempting important reforms…
I take no position about whether Obama's "change the rules of the game" rhetoric or his "prioritize working within the system toward health care reform and stimulus" actions were the wiser course. It is enough to note that this is a subject of intense disagreement on the left, that Obama explicitly championed liberals on one side of the argument, and that having won them over, he betrayed their trust. It isn't a coincidence that one motivation for the leftists taking to the streets in cities across America is the growing conviction that working within the political system is pointless. Obama helped bring about that feeling.
Obama cracked down on whistleblowers
Mother Jones, a leading progressive magazine, published a blunt essay on June 12, “Obama’s War on Whistleblowers”:
White is black and down is up. Leaks that favor the president are shoveled out regardless of national security, while national security is twisted to pummel leaks that do not favor him. Watching their boss, bureaucrats act on their own, freelancing the punishment of whistleblowers, knowing their retaliatory actions will be condoned. The United States rains Hellfire missiles down on its enemies, with the president alone sitting in judgment of who will live and who will die by his hand.
The issue of whether the White House leaked information to support the president's reelection while crushing whistleblower leaks it disfavors shouldn't be seen as just another O'Reilly v. Maddow sporting event. What lies at the nexus of Obama's targeted drone killings, his self-serving leaks, and his aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers is a president who believes himself above the law, and seems convinced that he alone has a preternatural ability to determine right from wrong.
Obama failed to stimulate the economy
Many progressives fault Obama for not fighting harder for more stimulus spending. And they were not amused when he admitted that his first stimulus didn’t produce many jobs:
"Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected," he joked.
When the new economic stats came out last week, Stein criticized Obama and Romney:
Our economy is indeed floundering. It's not delivering for the American people. Mitt Romney is right on that. But we need to start a serious discussion that goes beyond whether this gives an edge to Mitt Romney in attacking the President. The sickness of our economy is directly attributable to misguided economic policies pursued by Republican George Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, who both consistently favored an economic system that is driving America into poverty.
Obama disappointed on other issues
Some liberals were disillusioned by Obama’s refusal to propose new gun control laws. Some felt dejected because he failed to fight for the single-payer approach on health care reform, and failed to provide true transparency in government.
Some progressives will vote for Stein not only to boost the Green Party agenda, but also to prod Obama to show more audacity if he’s reelected.
But Stein is not sitting idle, hoping Obama will change. She basically says, “We are the change we are still waiting for.” It’ll be interesting to see how many progressives agree.
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.
This program aired on August 9, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.