The Case Against Jill Stein

Though it's frustrating for many progressives who long for a viable third party, there are serious questions about Stein's judgement

Jill Stein is the Green Party nominee for president. Credit: Tamir Kalifa/Redux

By now, supporters of Green Party nominee Jill Stein are used to hearing she can't win. For those who watched Bernie Sanders come close to snatching the Democratic nomination from DNC favorite Hillary Clinton, that's frustrating.

For one thing, the platform Stein is running on has a lot in common with Sanders'. Stein supports single-payer health care and opposes fracking, for instance – two pieces of Sanders' agenda that didn't make it into the Democratic Party platform this year. And Stein, unlike Sanders, has the full support of her party. Is it so crazy to think she might be able to marshal the support of Sanders voters and other independents turned off by the historically unpopular major-party candidates, and let the "revolution" carry her to the White House?

Yes, it is. With only 67 days until the election, the Green Party is on the ballot in just 39 states and the District of Columbia. (There's one state with neither the Green Party nor a write-in option available, three where the party can only be written-in, two where the party has court actions in progress, four where it's awaiting notification of its status, and one more where it's actively petitioning.)

But, a Green Party diehard might argue, there are 458 electoral votes up for grabs in those states, and Stein only needs 270 to win. Sure, but in order to pull that off, Stein would have to dramatically increase her profile. The best way to do that would be to appear in the nationally televised presidential debates, but – fairly or not – the debate rules say she needs to hit at least 15 percent in the polls to qualify, and she currently attracts about a fifth of that support. (According to Real Clear Politics, she's polling at 3.1 percent nationwide, less than a tenth of what she'd need to win any one state in a three-way race.)

A rare inspirational candidate might be able to make up that vast chasm of a deficit – but Stein's electoral track record suggests she is not that politician. She's lost almost every election she's ever participated in, at almost every level of government, by huge margins. In 2002, she ran a losing bid for governor of Massachusetts, earning just 3.5 percent of the vote. Two years later, she ran for and lost a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Two years after that, in 2006, she ran for Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth and lost that race too. In 2010, she ran for governor again, and did even worse than the first time, garnering just 1.4 percent of the statewide vote. And when she ran for president four years ago, Stein won just half of one percent of the vote.

To be sure, some amount of the blame for those losses must be attributed to the structural barriers that prevent third parties from gaining traction in the United States – the fact that most cities and states operate on a winner-take-all rather than ranked-choice or instant runoff system, for instance, and that it takes millions of dollars and countless hours to successfully petition to get on the ballot in many states. 

But the fact remains that in her entire political career, Stein has only gotten elected to one position: representative to the town meeting of Lexington, Massachusetts.

Still, Stein insists she can pull out a win in this, the highest-stakes race of her career. All she needs is for all 43 million people who carry student debt to come out the polls and vote for her, she says

Not all Green Party supporters are fully buying this. Noam Chomsky, who's backing Stein, explained the inner conflict he and others feel in an interview with Democracy Now. "In a swing state – a state where it's going to matter which way you vote – I would vote against Trump, and by elementary arithmetic, that means you hold your nose and you vote Democrat," he said. "I don't think there's any other rational choice. Abstaining from voting or, say, voting for ... a candidate you prefer, a minority candidate, just amounts to a vote for Donald Trump, which I think is a devastating prospect."

Stein dismissed Chomsky's rationale, saying "he subscribes to the politics of fear."

"The politics of fear," Stein is fond of saying, "says you have to vote against the candidate you fear rather than for the candidate who shares your values."

Wanting to vote wholeheartedly for a candidate rather than merely against one is obviously ideal. But Stein's handling of even relatively minor issues has, for some progressives, increasingly called into question her judgement and the idea that she shares their values.

For example, when the UK, buffeted by anti-immigrant sentiment, shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union this summer, Stein released a statement hailing the referendum results. She called the Brexit vote "a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination and who reject the pro-corporate, austerity policies of the political elites in the EU ... [and] a rejection of the European political elite and their contempt for ordinary people."

"People want change and they will get it one way or the other," Stein wrote. "The challenge is now to expand the political movement in the United States."

When her progressive supporters (including members of the UK Green Party, the official position of which was to support remaining in the EU) balked at Stein's interpretation of the results, she quickly overhauled the statement, stripping out words like "victory" and adding a line that claimed "before the Brexit vote I agreed with Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lukas, and the UK Greens who supported staying in the EU."

Stein didn't acknowledge these changes, though, responding to indignant supporters on Facebook by saying only, "You may not be seeing the actual text of this statement. Try clearing your cache." (The original and revised versions can be viewed thanks to the Internet Archive.)

Less than a week later, Stein did something similar: She published a heartfelt remembrance of late author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel – "His life was a testament to the need for all of us to stand up against hatred that destroys our fellow human beings and diminishes life for all of us," she wrote – then quickly deleted the post, without acknowledgement, under pressure from supporters with anti-Israel views. (Stein has called for cutting aid to Israel "while it is committing war crimes and defying international law.")

On Twitter, Stein was forced to walk back gendered criticisms of her Democratic rival. She tweeted in May, "I agree with Hillary, it's time to elect a woman for President. But I want that President to reflect the values of being a mother. #MothersDay." When incensed Twitter users criticized the apparent attack on Clinton's parenting, Stein cowed. "I'm sorry if I wasn't very clear on Mother's Day — I wasn't criticizing Hillary as a mother, I was criticizing her record as a war monger," she said.

Stein's "war monger" criticism stems largely from Clinton's support of airstrikes in Syria during her tenure as secretary of State. Interestingly, Stein has not applied that same label to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called for and oversaw airstrikes on the same country. In fact, Stein touted in a press release that she sat at the same table as Putin during a dinner for RT, the Russian government-funded television network, in Moscow last December, two months after Russia started bombing Syria. In that press release, Stein criticizes U.S. foreign policy in Syria and elsewhere, and acknowledges that in Russia "money runs short for critical needs because of the heavy burden of military spending," but stops short of remarking on Russia's Syrian bombing campaign, abysmal human-rights record or abhorrent treatment of the LGBT community. This, despite the Green Party's a staunch commitment to advocating for human rights around the world.

Stein, like her rival Donald Trump, has also refused to release a complete version of her tax returns; earlier this month she posted just the first two pages to her campaign website – and then, strangely, baited Trump over the issue, tweeting, "Where are yours @realDonaldTrump?"

For those who find it easy to dismiss Stein's social media missteps and her hypocrisy on tax returns and foreign policy, there is a question that looms larger: What about her feigned ignorance on issues that fall squarely within her one real area of expertise, medicine?

Stein, who holds both undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard, has coyly and repeatedly courted conspiracy theorists who link autism to vaccines. When pressed on the issue of whether WiFi is dangerous, Stein once said, "We should not be subjecting kids' brains especially to that ... It's very hard to study that stuff. We make guinea pigs out of whole populations, and then we discover how many die." And despite abundant evidence that genetically modified foods pose no threats to human health, Stein has called for a moratorium on GMOs that would include some 92 percent of U.S.-grown corn and 94 percent of soybeans, according to the USDA. Not only are these anti-science views pernicious; they also undermine the Green Party's legitimately important climate-change agenda.

Then there's Stein's running mate. After she was rebuffed by Bernie Sanders, Stein choose Ajamu Baraka, who recently wrote of Sanders' supporters (i.e., the voters Stein is making a concerted effort to recruit), "As much as the 'Sandernistas ' attempt to disarticulate Sanders 'progressive' domestic policies from his documented support for empire ... it should be obvious that his campaign is an ideological prop – albeit from a center/left position – of the logic and interests of the capitalist-imperialist settler state." 

Baraka has called President Obama an "Uncle Tom" and contributed an essay to the conspiracy theorist tome Another False Flag, edited by Holocaust denier and 9/11 truther Kevin Barrett that features pieces arguing, among other things, that the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino never happened. (Baraka's contribution focuses on the the "white supremacist ideology" that elevates events like the Paris attacks over the Beirut bombings that happened the same week; a spokeswoman for Baraka said he wasn't aware of Barrett's views.)

But all of these problems with Stein's views and judgement are ancillary to the fact that her one really big idea – the one she hopes will carry her to the White House – is a farce. Stein has promised that if elected, she'll dismiss all student debt through something called quantitative easing. "The president ... has the authority to cancel the student debt using quantitative easing the same way the debt was canceled for Wall Street," Stein has said.

Slate business and economics correspondent Jordan Weissmann has a good explanation of why that statement is fundamentally incorrect; he concludes that her view is akin to "if someone asked Stein how to play basketball, and she answered that teams scored points by kicking the ball off the backboard."

Despite all this, some voters may still understandably be inclined to vote for Stein because doing so could help ensure that the Green Party qualifies for public funding four years from now. (Parties need to have earned at least five percent of the vote in the previous election to get such funding.) 

But getting the Green Party to five percent won't spell certain death to the two-party system. Even if the party managed to qualify for it, public financing is capped at $20 million plus a cost-of-living adjustment. If you take that money, you're forbidden from accepting private donations, and required to limit spending to just that amount. And $20 million is simply nowhere near enough money to mount a viable presidential campaign; that's why the last candidate to accept it was John McCain, in 2008. For reference, in 2012, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent in excess of $1 billion on their respective campaigns, and Clinton has made $1 billion her fundraising goal for this election.

And then there is the fact the Green Party has been running a candidate for president for 20 years and hasn't gotten within a mile of the five percent threshold. The closest the party came was in 2000, when Ralph Nader notched just under three percent. We all remember how that went down.

Especially this guy (who, it's worth noting, is no Hillary Clinton fan):

"First of all, I understand their feelings and misgivings," Al Gore said of environmentally conscious voters in a recent interview. "But if they are interested in my personal advice, I am voting for Hillary Clinton. I urge everyone else to do the same. I particularly urge anyone who is concerned about the climate crisis, sees it as the kind of priority that I see it as, to look at the sharp contrast between the solar plan that Secretary Clinton has put forward, and her stated commitment to support the Clean Power Plan, and the contrast between what she has said and is proposing with the statements of the Republican nominee, which give me great concern."

Those who are sincerely interested in dismantling the two-party system should, instead of wasting their votes on Stein, take her advice and lobby for ranked-choice voting at the state and local levels.

"We are in a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't situation right now, which should be fixed by a simple legislative reform that could be passed right now ... for anybody who is concerned about wanting to change this rigged political system," Stein told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "It allows you to rank your choices instead of just picking one; you don't have to make your vote a gamble."