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Self-immolation and the Left: The Greens Do it Again!

john.halle's picture

(Comments appreciated. Not everyone will agree, and that's fine, of course.)

Even in the age of extreme reality television, nationally broadcasted suicides remain a blessedly rare occurrence. And so the suicide which occurred during a Huffington Post sponsored debate on third party voting probably should have received more attention than it did.

The act in question was that of Green Party campaign manager Ben Manski who, objecting to condescending and impertinent remarks from the moderator and other participants, stalked off the set, leaving the floor to Matt Stoller, an anti Obama former Democratic Party operative by no means favorable to the Greens, conventional Democratic Party hack Emily Hauser, and, mainly, to Daniel Ellsberg who was recommending a vote for a Obama in swing states.

This should be described as a suicide because in objective political terms it was precisely that. It is, after all, the job of a campaign manager to acquire votes for the candidate from whatever quarters they are forthcoming. What seems to have been lost on Manski was, first of all, that Ellsberg, while voicing some strategic reservations, had, in fact, stated that he would vote for Manski's candidate Jill Stein in his home state of California.

Second, much more important than this retail political calculus is that, as a few seconds' thought will reveal, the wholesale logic of Ellsberg's position was overwhelmingly in favor of Stein. For the other side of the coin of strategic voting recommended by Ellsberg and others is an explicit endorsement for Stein in the great majority of instances, namely in safe states.

Should progressives actually listen to Ellsberg (and other influential leftists such as Noam Chomsky and Jeff Cohen), Stein could be assured of millions of votes in undisputed states such as New York, California and Illinois. Or in states such as Texas, where Romney is a sure winner, a small percentage but large aggregate numbers of votes would go Stein's way. The result could be the Green Party achieving the holy grail of 5% qualifying them for $20 million in federal election funds, potentially helping them to establish themselves as a viable, and not merely symbolic alternative.

But rather than trumpeting Ellsberg's endorsement, Manski and Stoller chose to ignore it by focussing on the divisive and comparatively insignificant question of whether swing state voters should deliberately "send a message" to Obama by increasing Romney's chances to win. Stoller went further, doubting whether a Romney victory should be a cause for any particular concern, as there are areas where Obama may turn out to be worse. Regardless of the merits of this position, it is necessarily a speculative one, as no one can predict with any certainty how Romney or Obama will govern.

What is certain is that the votes to be gained in swing states are far fewer than those available to the Greens in safe states. Should the Greens capture these and achieve their 5%, this could, combined with serious organizing at the municipal level, constitute the seeds of an actual left alternative to the Democrats. The development of an electoral wing of the now dormant but hopefully reviving protest movement would constitute, as has Syriza in Greece, a serious threat to the neo-liberal regime-much more so than the defeat or one of its two hand-picked candidates in a national election.

Finally, Manski could have pointed out that an explicit endorsement of a Green represents a significant concession for many among the left agenda setting media. Neither Ellsberg nor Chomsky, has, to my knowledge directly endorsed voting for a third party presidential candidate, even in the typically highly qualified and unenthusiastic form in which Chomsky couched his support for Stein this year. For Cohen, who, in a recent interview on the Real News network, defined strategic voting as voting for Obama in contested states and for Stein everywhere else, this was a much bigger step. A founding member of the Progressive Democrats of America, Cohen had both in name and deed, committed himself to reforming the Democratic Party as the only possible vehicle for progressive change. The change of allegiance to the nominally non-partisan "Roots Action" is indicative that the Democrats can no longer count on this contingent for its critical, but effectively largely unconditional support as in the past.

It is the catastrophe of the Obama administration which has led to this fracture and it is likely to be among the first of many cracks in Democratic Party edifice which has imprisoned within it leftists, and worse, stunted the left imagination for generations. The best hope of the left is to continue to allow the Democratic Party to undermine its own foundation as the Obama administration turns on and consumes its most loyal supporters-those whom the President's good friend and chief of staff charmingly referred to as "fucking retards."

At the same time, for it to pick up the pieces left by the near total delegitimation of the existing party system, the left needs to be ready with a serious, unified and viable political party capable of competing for and exercising state power .

By contemptuously rejecting Ellsberg's safe states proposal Ben Manski, and others who adopt his suicidal posture, are flushing many thousands of votes down the toilet, and in so doing, have shown they are not interested in joining the batlle.

Until they recognize that seriously competing for state power is necessary to achieve it, the left will surely remain in the hole which, as this anecdote shows, it has, to a significant extent, dug for itself.

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DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

and I am surprised her campaign manager responded as he did; because that seems to be Stein's strategy. She has campaigned in states that are either solidly blue or red and with rare exception has stayed away from swing states. Whatever the merits of the case, it makes sense to go after the low hanging fruit, states where the stakes are lower and it is easier to vote for Stein, secure in the knowledge that your vote will have no effect on who is President.

The truth is that here in DC Romney could come in third, after Stein. It just makes sense to go after those votes and look to the future.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

Yes, exactly, DC. The fight among the left over voting in swing states obscures a much more important and much less controversial question: any self-described progressive voting for Obama in a safe state is a fool, rogue or hypocrite. If we can get consensus on anything, it should be on that no-brainer.

malagodi's picture
Submitted by malagodi on

But just this:

"The development of an electoral wing of the now dormant but hopefully reviving protest movement would constitute, as has Syria in Greece, a serious threat to the neo-liberal regime-much more so than the defeat or one of its two hand-picked candidates in a national election."

I find it hard to envision movements such as that in Greece evolving from an enriched Green Party, or even an Occupy movement for that matter that is consumed with controversy about "diversity of tactics." All political power is backed up by physical or economic force. The labor movement is not going to sign on with the Greens, their objectives are diametrically opposed. Without labor threatening production, there is no force. Without force, there is no power.

But otherwise, I think the observations are spot-on.

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

Here's a link to the debate video.

Manski is a mixed bag. I've known him as a distant acquaintance for 20 years. He has something of an ego. Particularly when he was younger, he had a reputation as an arrogant prick (his ego and contemptuous behavior completely alienated friends of mine). But he's done considerable good work, has been a very consistent Left voice in WI, and I supported him in his 2010 run for WI State Assembly.

I've sometimes thought that among non-mainstream activists, there's enrichment for difficult personalities (myself included). I suspect that normal "agreeable" people tend to gravitate toward mainstream positions and activities (reflecting societal consensus) - it's the easier path. Staking out and maintaining more radical positions, and acting to advance those positions, in defiance of herd instinct and social opprobrium, might correlate with a bit of "craziness" and heightened personal intensity. So perhaps the frequency of acts of self-immolation (within this tribe of mine) shouldn't be surprising.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

After having watched that debate, myself, I think the more time Ellsberg and Hauser had to speak and the less time Stoller and Manski were making a case the better off Jill Stein's prospects were for winning over anyone who watched and who might be inclined, at all, to support the Green candidate.

As bright as Stoller is he's a typical lefty, he has not clue as to how to present himself in a manner that would be useful for persuading people who are not all ready in agreement with him. In this particular format, first five, then four people, each whom were only interested in hearing themselves speak and with only a half hour for all of them, you should realize you're not going to crush all those before you and carry the day.

Then again, if each them were there to either ego trip or condescend they all earned gold stars. (I guess Ellsberg is entitled to some slack but, jeez, he didn't know anyone's name and his phone started ringing but no surprise at that point, he didn't know how to hit the mute button.) To top it all off, fifteen minutes into it, they all seemed to have run out of anything new to say, except when Stoller went with "murderer."

For anyone interested in advancing the interests of a candidate (or a media outlet) as their advocate you come to a forum like this prepared 1) to state and build your case calmly and succinctly each time you have the floor, 2) you come prepared with two comments to politely and quickly recite, one to chastise the moderator with for interrupting you and the other for your being denied equal time (the moderator needs slight variations of those same remarks at the ready), and 3) you try to leave the audience with a positive impression about you, yourself, personally. In the end, pulling off that number 3) is about the best thing you can do for your candidate or your cause.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

On another website a Stein-supporting friend was explaining why he was voting for Stein to fellow bloggers, since he lives in a non-SWING state. He was apologizing.

The other bloggers should be explaining to him and to us why they are voting for Obama who has NORMALIZED HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS.

The slippery slope of "pragmatism" got us the nothing disappearing public option trojan pony (there you go, vastleft) and lost us universal health care maybe forever or at least another generation and once again, those who are supposedly the best and the brightest progressives are inviting once again the slippery slope of amoral collusion and compromise and advancing more MINIMIZATION of the grotesque betrayals of the obama regime. yes, there will be grotesque betrayals in a romney regime. but it is high time to say NO to the rot of BOTH parties! And obama rot is so covert and his branding so effective all the more reason to hold a hard line.

Ellsberg and Springsteen and other powerful voices recommending still "lesser evilism" and collusion with "lesser evilists" don't still get it. You don't seem to get it, either.

We can't compromise on fundamentals!!! Colluding with the lesser evilism of the Obama administration that has jumped the shark so profoundly on down right treasonous policies ... THAT IS WHAT WE SHOULD BE MESSENGERING. Not taking the "lesser evil" bait. Not going for "strategy" to dilute the message of morality.

I am wearing a black arm band on election day. I am voting for Stein. I am glad she and Ben whom I have met and was very impressed with -- both of them -- are taking a hard line on human decency and not putting STRATEGY UBER PRINCIPLE.

She won't win with Ellsberg's tack and she'll be compromised as will we all if she goes for it. I think even more of her and her manager and the Greens cuz she is not.

And it is NOT us, the purist Greens, who spoil the recovery of our democratic process, it is the too cool for school pragmatic slippery slopers who do, who are willing to take their eyes off the moral compass for the "ends" justifying the means.

You don't compromise on fundamentals!

Ellsberg? Et tu, Daniel? Springsteen, et tu?

So it goes.

I suppose I'll be demonized as a saboteur of progress. Your take. Doesn't make it right.

best, libby

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

have set up the structure of a totalitarian plutocratic state. But we have no quite yet been consigned to its tender mercies.

Now, granting that Obama went on with and extended Bush's terrible work, and that we need to work for his impeachment immediately after his re-election, who is more likely to bring it to full fruition, the ruthless, dictatorial outsourcer with, apparently no empathy for real people, or the pragmatic sellout? I'm afraid I think our chances for more time to organize a new left are better under the reign of the sellout than under the natural dictator. So, in the end, in the swing states, I think I have to take my chances based on that judgment. I may be wrong that. But let's go around the country comparing Democratic office holder sellouts to Republican office holder plutocrats, who does more damage in a shorter time to the things we love and need?

I think the answer to this question is obvious and is consistent from State to State across the country. The Republican legislators and Governors are barely above the beasts, while the Democrats are more like old style Republicans. We can barely live with the Ds while we build the alternatives. But if have the Rs, their virulent neoliberalism will kill a lot of us.

I know this is short-run pragmatism, and I agree that's too often a slippery slope. But I don' think this is a similar situation to the Medicare for All vs. PO thing, because in that situation Medicare for All could have passed. You could see the steps that could have been taken to get it passed. So, the practical thing in that situation was to push, push, push, and never compromise until the end. But this is different. The Greens need 5% for next time. They can get it from the safe states. If people will support Greens running in safe states, but want to vote for O in swing States; then why fight about it?

The fight should not come now when the Greens are so small, but when they are at 20% and are going viral, and there is a chance to get high enough into the 30s that they can actually win a three-cornered election. That's when we need to urge people to take risks they think are considerable, not now.

So, if I lived in New York, I'd vote for Jill. But since I live in Virginia I'm voting for Obama and Kaine since I know Jill can't win here; but Romney can. But whatever my advice to others is, I'm not going to fight with others if their judgments are different than mine and berate them for any potential impact on Obama's chances. No one can know exactly the right course here. But one thing we do all know and agree on is that Obama has been a terrible president and deserves to lose. So, if he does, then he is to blame more than anyone else for his terrible track record, and for creating a substantial likelihood of his own defeat.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Especially less than two weeks before the election when we know that Jill Stein cannot possibly win, it is silly to fight with people in swing states who want to ensure the victory of whoever they think is the lesser of two evils, when they are willing to advocate for Jill Stein in safe states. The game now is for the Greens to provide real alternatives in 2014 and 2016, and for that to happen they need to get to that 5%.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

great to see you. sorry to be a stranger so often. have been wrestling with non-choir websites and have the scars to prove it! best, libby

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

I miss you too. I've been wrestling at other web sites too, trying to spread the MMT gospel. I always post here, but also at a number of other places too, so the commenting load gets pretty heavy.

Submitted by Hugh on

If Stein represents your views and Obama does not, why would you vote for Obama and not Stein no matter what state you lived in?

I do not know why Manski left this debate. I would think he could have more effectively communicated his views by staying. I agree with Libbyliberal the fastest way to discredit and neutralize a movement is to compromise on core issues. If you want real suicide, it would be to do that.

Also you say that we do not know how Obama or Romney would govern. That seems very strange to me. We know exactly how they would. They will act in the interests of the elites and the 1% and against the rest of us.

NWLuna's picture
Submitted by NWLuna on

...and wondering just how many of us in "safe" states will vote Stein. I alternate between worry that enough of us do in my blue state which tips it over to Vulture, and cavalier expectation of <1%.

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

stronghold over the Democratic Party is broken, will continue to vote for "emerging party" [h/t to DCBlogger] candidates.

Pragmatism got us where we are today, IMHO.

Not sure that Democrats are necessarily even marginally better regarding "unions" in many states and/or cities. Understand that unions have been "flogged" by Cuomo (NY), Brown (CA) and Emanuel (Chicago), etc.

Don't remember all the details, but seems like Cuomo has been issuing the equivalent of "executive orders," in order to enact the Medicaid reform that he prefers. Sounded pretty scary to me.

(Sort of like Bloomberg doing an "end run" around--and changing--the rules in order to run for a third term.) Supposedly Al Fromm of the DLC actually begged Bloomberg to run for President, at one time (while he was still a Republican).

Have no use for "today's" corporatist Democrats. And, they are considerably "right of" Eisenhower Republicans on many issues.

Regarding free trade, with the exception of Bernie Sanders or Sherrod Brown giving occasional "lip service" on radio and TV programs, don't see anything coming from the Democratic Party that shows the will to resist the forces of "free trade." Aside from a handful of paleoconservative candidates like Buddy Roemer, or very left candidates like Jill Stein, absolutely the opposite of "Fair Trade" policies have been enacted by this Administration.

To be fair, "to each, his own" applies here. I must say, however, it felt great "to vote conscience" for a change.

dameocrat's picture
Submitted by dameocrat on

is that it presumes all green leaners are networked. Nader did cause Gore's loss in 2000 by being the margin of error in New Hampshire not Florida. Why run away from that? When greens deny this can happen they deny their own power to change things. That power would be making the two main parties fearful of you.

Sorry but when you break with the 2 parties you must do it cleanly.

There is nothing wrong with actively pursuing disaffected dems.

I will vote for Stein in a swing state. Obama is completely responsible for his loss of my vote, not me.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

in 2000. And we should also recognize how the electoral college is awful. Gore didn't bother to come to Montana. He lost our 3 votes. Clinton came here in 1992 and carried Montana which was a rare feat, but doable. Gore lost because he didn't want the job. And wouldn't fight for it. Kerry probably won Ohio and was told not to fight it. Edwards wanted to fight. This all smells. So since the elections are fixed, makes more sense to vote your conscience. And then who knows?

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

I'm not suggesting that voting your conscience is a bad idea. Or that voting for Stein in a swing state is wrong. Nor am I even arguing that a Romney victory might not be preferable in some respects.

My point is a much more limited one: any progressive voting for Obama in a SAFE state is either a fool, rogue or hypocrite.

We all agree on that, RIGHT?

tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

We can agree they're misguided. I doubt name-calling will persuade anyone to change their vote, though I admit I've done my share of it in anger and despair.

I think this is the reason the argument has moved to voting Green (or otherwise) in SWING states as well. Always argue for more than you think you might get; then if you compromise, you still get a favorable outcome. At his point, for example, we're not arguing *whether* to vote for Stein, but *where*, which is an improvement over a few months ago.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

Sure. But that doesn't mean you can't make note of the major point of agreement which is that in all but 9 states, the only minimally decent option is to vote Green. Manski, or anyone supporting the Greens, needs to stress that point of agreement before engaging in the more controversial one. Particularly since if progressives would actually listen to Ellsberg and Chomsky etc. the Greens could conceivably get enough votes to qualify for the $20 million in federal election funds. Arguing the swing states voting question makes it less likely that that message will be heard. As I say, to throw away their support is political suicide or at least gross political malpractice.

Submitted by lambert on

Wasserman-Schulz would not have behaved that way, for example.

Now, thinking about that, this may be an advantage in a way.

But certainly not as it worked out on that TV show, as Halle shows. WTF?!

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

I've been mulling this over for quite some time, not because of this post in particular, though it does seem a venue to give my thoughts. And, this comes from reading comments at various blogs.

In what I've seen here at Corrente in SOME comments across various posts, and certainly SOME elsewhere is something that has the air of tribalism about it, one way or the other- identification or lack of identification with a particular party as a reason to vote for for x y x or not for x y z.

Please no one be insulted by the following simplistic tribal dichotomy- I am not attributing it to any named people.

1) I am going to vote for Jill Stein because I support the Green Party.

2) The Green party sucks and has no future, so I won't vote for Jill Stein.

The extent of this tribalism became clear to me in a phone conversation with a friend in CA, who said he was voting for Obama, even though he doesn't like Obama much. I asked him why not vote for Jill Stein? His answer was- more or less- because the Green Party is a joke, and has no future.

I then said that I planned to vote for a PERSON, not a party. That I would write in Jill Stein. That last time around, there was NO WAY I would vote for the Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. She was my congressional rep for a while, so I have had lot of very local experience observing her.

The idea that one should vote for a person and not a "party" seemed to resonate with him, and clearly he is rethinking his vote.

So, it seems to me that at least to some extent, tribalism among is still operative one way or the other re: the Green Party, in addition to the obvious D R tribalism.