The Third Way: Green party candidate courts progressives

You're going to hear it this election year, particularly if you hang around with liberal Democratic geeks: "You can't vote for a third party candidate, dammit, all that'll do is get Obama defeated and elect Romney (or Santorum or Gingrich)."

Jill Stein says similar scare scams have kept America's progressives quiet and submissive for the past decade or more.

"There's a lot of beating of the drums of a fear campaign," says this candidate hunting for the Green Party's presidential nomination. "That if we vote our values, we could end up hurting our values… But silence is not an effective political policy."

The self-inflicted muzzling of progressives helped get Barack Obama elected, according to Stein. Among the things that accomplished, she says, were an expanded war in Afghanistan, more deadly drone bombings, and an attack on domestic civil liberties that "gives the president dictatorial powers" over who can be arrested and imprisoned.

"These are the kinds of things progressives kept quiet to avoid, but we got them anyway," Stein said in a recent telephone interview. She insists there's no real difference between Obama and the Republicans on big stuff like war and Wall Street bailouts, and progressives must "stand up if they want to have an impact on our future — otherwise they'll be ignored."

The 61-year-old Massachusetts doctor and author campaigned in Middletown last week where she talked about her "Green New Deal" proposal that she says will change America's self-destructive economic and political course.

Stein has won virtually all of the Green Party's state primaries, but she's not alone in that nomination race. The best known of the other contenders is actress and comedian Roseanne Barr.

The anti-third party candidate example most often trotted out by liberal Democrats hoping to prevent progressive defections is Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential run. Nader chalked up 2.74 percent of the national vote that year and, according to many Democrats, stole just enough votes from Al Gore to hand the election to RepublicanGeorge W. Bush.

What they usually fail to mention is that Gore incredibly managed to lose his home state of Tennessee to Bush. Had he won there, neither Nader nor Florida's infamous "Hanging Chad" mess would have mattered. Bush would have been toast.

Stein is on the presidential ballot in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Her campaign is now petitioning for ballot access in Connecticut and other states.

Her platform includes calls for guaranteed jobs at fair wages for everyone able to work; an "improved Medicare for All" system; massive reform/controls of Wall Street; tuition-free education through college; and forgiveness of current student college debts.

Stein's Green New Deal demands conversion from our petroleum-based economy to one focused on renewable, environmentally friendly energy. Oh yes, she wants to withdraw all U.S. troops from 140 countries around the world and a 50 percent cut in defense spending.

If this sounds reminiscent of FDR's New Deal, which he hoped would bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression, that's exactly what Stein has in mind.

Economists and historians insist FDR's New Deal didn't actually end the Depression. Stein agrees that what really brought back full employment was the start of World War. "But before that, the New Deal took us a long way," she says. "It created a turn-around… there's no doubt it had a major impact."

Looking at the lingering misery left by our own Great Recession, Stein says drastic changes are needed to close the astonishing gap between the wealthiest and the rest of America, to end unfair taxation and to rescue an entire generation.

"Young people are inheriting the worst of the economy," Stein says, pointing to mounting personal debt (particularly college debt), ongoing high youth unemployment, an increasingly rigid economic system, and a world undergoing nasty climate change.

Our existing political establishment is ignoring those harsh realities facing America's youth, according to Stein: "They don't count, they are not on the [mainstream] political agenda."

"We're seeing the coming of age of young people who, to put it bluntly, are getting screwed," she says. Stein believes the Occupy Wall Street is a reaction by younger Americans who know exactly who's doing the screwing.

Occupiers here in Connecticut and around the country have been wary of political involvement, creeped out that the pols will stick it to them again. Stein says that's understandable, but short-sighted.

"Their caution is absolutely on target," she says. "The big parties are predatory."

Stein says that what many Occupiers don't recognize is, "At some point, a social movement must have an electoral movement." In her view, it doesn't matter if you're talking about ending slavery or giving women the right to vote or civil rights or stopping the Vietnam War, all progressive campaigns needed political action to win.

There's no doubt Stein wants to tap into the energy and insistence on change that has characterized the Occupy Movement, and has met with young Occupiers around the nation.

"To abandon electoral politics," she insists, using arguments clearly honed in those campground discussions, "is to tie one hand behind your back."

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