Prime-Time Greens

Stein and Baraka didn't buckle in the media spotlight, but neither did they make a convincing case for themselves as a real alternative, writes Gabriel Pierre

Making their case on hostile territory

While still highly marginalized by the official opinion-makers that make up the capitalist media, the inclusion of the Green Party’s Jill Stein / Ajamu Baraka ticket on a prime-time CNN Presidential “Town Hall”1 speaks to at least some opening for the larger third-party candidates in this election cycle. (The Libertarian Party ticket, headed by former Indiana Governor Gary Johnson, had its own spot in June.)

Given the exclusionary nature of the official debates organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Greens are eager for any platform they can access to help reach their nationwide goal of 5% of the vote in November, enough to qualify the party for matching federal funding in 2020. Achieving that would be no small feat – a little less than double Nader’s total from 2000 – but the money would go a long way to establishing the Greens as a credible left opposition to the Democrats.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Stein struck a chord of continuity with Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign that she would stick to for the evening, calling for a “stimulus package” in the form of a mass jobs program, free higher education and universal health care, a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, an “end to police violence”, and action against climate change. In that sense, the program is to the left of Sanders but not qualitatively so. The language of a “pathway to citizenship” (the only policy suggestion made on immigration that night) as well as the policy of police review boards are reforms that any Democrat, Hillary Clinton included, could and do endorse at least rhetorically.

Rather, Dr. Stein’s pitch to disaffected Sandernistas, who she’s sharply pivoted toward since the DNC, was based more on proving the Green Party’s fitness as a vehicle for the “political revolution’s” continuation. The Greens are the only party “not corrupted” by corporate cash, lobbyists and Super PACs; you can’t make revolution in a “counterrevolutionary party,” she explained in response to a question from a former Sanders supporter.

At face value this is a completely correct statement, but it’s worth noting how the Green Party, which does not claim to represent any kind of systemic alternative to capitalism or even represent the distinct interests of the working class as a class within the existing system, is able to capitalize on the language of being a revolutionary party. The limitations of the party’s reformist approach are more noticeable at some points than others. Jill Stein’s promise to create a foreign policy “based on human rights and international law” echoes the 2000s anti-war movement’s naive focus on the Iraq war’s supposed ‘illegality’, as though international law was anything but the rules imposed by and in the interests of the major imperialist powers, mainly the U.S.2 After all, the 2011 military intervention in Libya and the current one in Syria are authorized in the name of the ‘international community’ expressed through international law.

One interesting moment came when the moderator tried to hit Ajamu Baraka with a ‘gotcha’ question over calling President Obama an ‘Uncle Tom’ on his blog. To his surprise Baraka stood by the remark, explaining:

“What I wanted to do was basically to tell people who had this hope in Barack Obama, that if we were concerned and serious about how we could displace white power, we had to demystify the policies and the positions of this individual. So that was how it got framed to sort of shock people into a more critical look at this individual. And that’s how I did it. And I stand by that even though it sounds very inflammatory, provocative and probably very strange to this massive audience here tonight.”

After further pressure to back down on this and his public criticism of Bernie Sanders’ pro-imperialist foreign policy, Baraka went on to say:

“…We can’t build a progressive or revolutionary process by just looking at the United States of America. That, you know, you can’t disconnect U.S. foreign policy from domestic policy. And so, I was concerned by some of the comments around, you know, allowing the Saudis to get their hands dirty. You know, because many of us who follow geopolitical events understand that not only were the Saudis’ hands dirty, they were dripping with blood.

…this wasn’t about the man [Bernie – Ed.] It was about the movement. We’ve got to disconnect personalities from movement building. You know, and we’ve got to — we see contradictions. We have to engage in those conversations with our friends. This was a conversation among those of us on the left, progressive people.”

In other words: Obama has served the interests of the ruling class in office, not poor and working class Black people in the U.S. or elsewhere. Sounds like Uncle Tom is a fitting term to me. Naturally the media has lambasted Baraka in the following days for owning up to his own words.3 (Stein is also broadly criticized for failing to moderate her platform’s commitment to slash military spending and close foreign bases abroad – there’s just no pleasing some people.)

Throughout the debate, the candidates took opportunities to counter some of the vitriol hurled their way throughout the campaign – like the specious claim that Dr. Stein is an anti-vaxxer. She did a fair job criticizing the lesser-evil thinking that will no doubt compel millions of sympathetic voters to support the Democratic Party in November, comparing Trump’s right-wing rhetoric to Clinton’s actual right-wing record during her time as politically-active First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. She will “have trouble sleeping at night” regardless of which candidate is elected in November, and rightfully so.

But she was less convincing when answering the question of whether or not she can “win,” hampered by the nature of her organization and the political role it envisions for itself. By focusing so much of its rhetoric on the reforms they’d pass if they were in power, the Green Party fails to stress the value of building up a strong, well-organized opposition party that can in the short term put real pressure on the ruling class regardless of who occupies the Oval Office… and in the long term, transform society as a whole.

 

Notes

  1. Transcript at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1608/17/se.01.html, video at https://youtu.be/SJhUNxKQhl8
  2. http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/497/the-war-and-the-law/
  3. See for example this gleeful assessment from NBC News: http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/analysis-clinton-lucks-out-jill-stein-her-left-n633591
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