Saturday, January 19, 2013

Plight of the Underdog

Why it's not Easy Being Green

One thing I am already grateful for about 2013 is that it will be a non-presidential election year. Greens typically fare better in these “off-year” elections—including midterms and odd-year municipal elections—as voters are generally not subjected to the same level of misplaced and irrational fear mongering of the two major parties. Here in Portland, Greens have been highly successful at the local and state level, particularly on the City Council and School Board. So much for the oft-asserted claim that Greens “can’t win.”

While your town’s municipal elections this fall are unlikely to draw nearly the amount of frenzied media coverage as the recent presidential election, they are, in many respects, of far greater consequence. Representatives of town or city council, water district, school committee and other municipal departments are instrumental in crafting and executing town or city policies that directly affect residents.

And even-year midterm elections for federal congressional representatives are, constitutionally-speaking, vastly more significant than any vote for president as the majority of political authority (including the power to start and end wars) rests in the Legislative Branch. (Of course, the numerous unconstitutional transgressions of both the Bush and Obama administrations have shifted many of those powers to the Executive.)

The point is, American voters tend to have their priorities backwards, placing greater emphasis on the increasingly vapid presidential elections, when it is the lesser hyped congressional and municipal races that truly deserve our attention. As a result, midterm and “off-year” elections routinely generate far less turnout. It also means voters may be more willing to take a chance on a Green candidate as issues and policy concerns are not overshadowed by presidential personality contests.

When I was campaigning for my friend Asher Platts last fall, I found the voters most hostile to our platform were not conservatives or "centrist" independents, but liberals.

Strange as it sounds, conservatives would usually at least hear me out before dismissing me. Sometimes we would even get a lively, yet cordial debate going at their door-step. Not so with liberals. One woman, who had numerous Obama/Bidden signs on her yard screamed at me “I don’t vote for Greens!” When I politely informed her there was no Republican in the race, she simply repeated her first statement and slammed the door.

Another middle-aged, Democrat urged Asher to drop his state senate bid right there and then so as not to “steal votes” from his opponent, Justin Alfond. Again, this was a traditional two-way race (with no Republican). The idea that Asher would “steal” votes from Alfond simply by running against him is not only illogical—it is antidemocratic.

But by far the most infuriating liberal voters responded as the individual I wrote about here. They would tell me how much they agreed with Asher’s platform—but could not vote for him because all of his legislative goals are impossible to enact. First off, as I explained in the aforementioned post, this is simply not true. All of Asher’s five main policy positions (single-payer healthcare, universal college education, creation of a state bank in Maine, higher taxes for the wealthy, and removing corporate money from elections) have been successfully implemented in other states or countries.

But this reflexive “It’s impossible!” attitude has become the default position of liberals. They are so preoccupied with working within the narrow parameters of so-called “political reality,” (the hallmark of which are the oft-touted themes of “compromise” and “bipartisanship,”) they no longer fight for actual progressive gains. Rather than making any real demands of Democratic lawmakers, progressive groups like, the Sierra Club, and the local Maine People’s Alliance dutifully champion the president’s few meager reforms—while ignoring his track record on civil liberties, the environment and drone warfare, entirely.

Modern day liberals do not believe in anything other than the Democratic Party. And just look at how far that’s gotten us. Case in point, a recent issue of The Nation magazine featured a cover-story titled, “How to Save the Democratic Party.”

Democrats threw poor and working class Americans under the bus decades ago, with President Bill Clinton perhaps symbolizing the party’s final assault on its traditional constituents. Indeed, while Republicans generally cow-tow to their base’s every whim, Democrats seem to hold their supporters in contempt. The notoriously foul-mouthed Rahm Emmanuel, as Obama’s Chief of Staff, called progressives “fucking retarded,” while former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs derided them as the “Professional Left.”

Chris Hedges is right: The liberal class is dead.

Yet, despite the Democrats’ complete and utter submission to corporate interests, we still struggle to get newcomers to join the Green Party. The 2000 election debacle, and the Democrats’ ludicrous insistence that Ralph Nader, rather than the conservative Supreme Court, threw the presidency to George W. Bush has forever soured progressives’ view of third-parties. Americans have ingrained this false notion that independent or third-party candidates are “spoilers” or electoral “saboteurs.” They have accepted the equally asinine argument that a vote for a third-party candidate is actually a vote for a Republican. As long as the left perceives the Republicans to be just that much worse than the Democrats, we will remain locked in a perpetual corporate party monopoly.

As a result, I routinely encounter registered Democrats who assure me they are “Greens in spirit,” whatever that is supposed to mean. These individuals strike me as Nietzsche’s “falsely dubbed ‘free spirits’,” who, in Beyond Good and Evil, he calls, “unfree and laughably superficial” (40-41). Nietzsche, whose proto-postmodernist thinking defies easy political categorization, believed only those who are fiercely critical and eternally skeptical of societal institutions can become truly free-spirits (for him the “Ubermensch,” or spiritual “overman”). Such free-spirits, he conceded, will naturally be misunderstood—perhaps even mistrusted or met with hostility—by the mediocrity-revelers of “the herd.”

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe,” Nietzsche writes. “If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

Truth be told, as a party we have largely given up trying to convert Democrats to the Green Party. Too many of them are just locked into their partisan thinking. Last fall, Asher received far more support from college students, the working-poor, and first-time voters. These groups were far more receptive to his campaign than the establishment liberals that make up the majority of Portland voters.

Personally, I no longer waste time with liberals. They are a lost cause.

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