Perspectives on Geopolitics, History, and Political Economy

Want a Third Party? Vote Hillary, Support Bernie

Originally published on Common Dreams.

by Ru Freeman

US Senator from Vermont and former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders moves to nominate Hillary Clinton by voice vote and waves to the delegates on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 26 July 2016. The four-day convention is expected to end with Hillary Clinton formally accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party as their presidential candidate in the 2016 election.  EPA/PETER FOLEY

US Senator from Vermont and former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders moves to nominate Hillary Clinton by voice vote and waves to the delegates on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 26 July 2016. EPA/PETER FOLEY

Two days ago, I read the following response posted by a first-time voter, a young student from Massachusetts, studying in conservative Colorado Springs, who had just attended a Trump rally in Denver to see what it was about:

The rally just struck home the intensity of a substantial group of people’s hate for democrats and specifically Clinton. She’s framed herself explicitly as Obama’s successor, and democrats have said alright we’ll stay on board. This hate is going to stick around for awhile, it’s been empowered by Trump’s success. I don’t believe that she’s going to be a healing force for this country (or the world) so I think it’s probably worth it to spend this time before we have to vote talking about other options, of which some are great (Monica Moorehead, or Gary Johnson for those differently inclined). Of course, when voting day comes I’ll have a hard decision to make, but if we talk about ideas that lie outside of this duopoly we’ve fallen into now, maybe we can get some innovative people into Congress instead of Trumpites who will obstruct or Clintonites who will lock step (/vice versa). I’m just pushing for a break in party unity on the congressional front and a conversation about what the job of our government should be, and how we reconcile our humanity as we move forward from these primaries.

Note that last line. America has a problem, and it isn’t Donald Trump. It is the simple fact that the nation claiming to be the largest most successful democracy in the world is run by two parties, both of which are held hostage to lobbyists and corporations. Actually, that is the umbrella beneath which its numerous other problems roil to no good effect. The lack of an informed citizenry, for instance, or the despair felt among its youth, particularly its first-time voters. The way in which its civic-mindedness rests most viscerally in the hands of its clutch of new immigrants—those like Khizr Khan—who can only do so much, rather than its much larger native population. Much of America’s response to these issues has become standardized, something clearly demonstrated by the fact that those who call most resoundingly for change arrive and depart in the froth of each presidential election with a mewling cry for a third party. The Green Candidate is mentioned as though he (Ralph Nader) or she (Jill Stein) were the second coming of Christ, hands are thrown up, a loss is suffered, and the disgruntled shuffle off to buy their goods on amazon.com while hiding under their keyboards clicking like-minded sentiments about a collection of motley feel-good causes for the next four years.

Hillary Clinton is not the solution to these problems, far from it, she is a product of them. As was made abundantly clear in her April 14th debate with Sanders (which you can read or watch,), she excels at claiming credit for everything remotely associated with good, and distancing herself from everything that could be considered a demerit. Being president will force her, for the first time in her life, to live those famous words from Truman: the buck stops here. Further, she, like her opponent, is funded by the same gang of thieves, and she, like he, feels as equally entitled to her preferred crown. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump moved (and will one day resume moving), in the same circles, their children exchanging notes on motherhood and careers. Over the years he, with aspirations to ever more towers with his name in gold lettering kept her close as a political ally, and she, with aspirations to the White House kept him close as a financial ally with deep pockets lined with ill-begotten gains. In their quest to achieve what each most desires, they are dead-locked in their lack of scruples. As the UK Telegraph put it, at the end of a lengthy analysis of candidate Clinton, “This election demands a moral judgement be cast. But there is no obviously moral candidate to pick.”

There, however, the similarity ends. And though the differences are hard to parse, they exist, and by their existence (and in the absence of an alternative), they matter a great deal.

Hillary Clinton will keep her finger off the red button because she believes in living to fight another day, so help us God. Hillary Clinton will—GOP shenanigans notwithstanding—appoint a Supreme Court justice who may not advance the rights of minorities or overturn Citizens United,—because who are we kidding, the ruling has, despite her disavowals, helped her every step of the way—but who will be qualified to interpret the constitution as it applies to a nation that has progressed beyond 1787. Hillary Clinton will gag at the thought of defending the rights of Muslim Americans, and be unable to find the language with which to engage the vanguard of Black Lives Matter activists, in much the same way she disparaged Black voters during her previous run, but if her political viability depends upon those things, she will learn how to fake it, and for the Democrats, this is as good as it gets for now; real change for people of color has never been in the hands of politicians. Hillary Clinton will attempt, thanks entirely to one Senator Sanders and his supporters, to further the reach of Obamacare. There is even a ghost of a chance that if the Sanders contingent remains engaged, she will not continue to abandon the Palestinians to the tyranny of occupation, for fear of losing her Zionist funders, and she will desist from appointing hawks like Suzanne Nossell—who talk peace while advocating war—to the State Department. She may even, despite her overwhelming support for the wars in our recent history, be more circumspect in considering the wisdom of another war. Yes, if we remain engaged, the politician’s politician that is Hillary Clinton may very well only do what is nominally right because she is being forced to, but at least we have a fighting chance at doing the forcing. There is no chance, fighting or otherwise, with the alternative.

Engagement. That’s the part that most people thundering from the karaoke pulpit of social media about a third party keep forgetting. Everything in America is incremental. That is the nature of its political system. To champion a third party candidate during an election year is never going to work in this country, not even if you throw in an illustrious Black activist as your side-kick. Remember Barack Obama? Hardly a third party candidate, but certainly an outsider and far from an overnight sensation. Hardly someone who had a nomination handed to him, not even after he won it. His supporters got behind him two years before he announced his candidacy, and fought tooth and nail for two more years to hold him aloft until June 3rd.

Many people talk about a third party, and even one that can field a candidate for president, but I’ve heard very little over the decades I’ve been in this country about actually working to make that a viable option. Casting a protest vote for a candidate with a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the presidency is the kind of petulance we can expect from children. Granted, America’s democracy is mostly adolescent on a global level, but must its citizens behave likewise? Must our dissatisfaction with the despicable machinations of the DNC prompt us to behave equally despicably? America as a nation is backward on most things: gun laws, healthcare, immigration policy, education, and equal pay, are but tips of that iceberg. Our public infrastructure and public services are laughable when compared to those enjoyed by our allies—and some of our so-called enemies—around the world, belying the “American Is The Greatest Country on Earth,” phrase that politicians like to shout out, our own opium for the masses. But none of us can afford a presidency that would unleash the kind of regressive politics and violent racism that is incited by a Donald Trump, and our children will have nothing to inherit through our meekness at the end of it.

Affecting change takes time and diligence and real effort. It takes discipline and thoughtfulness and a full on commitment to holding feet to fires and noses to grindstones. It doesn’t come from signing a single letter of protest or hootin’ and hollerin’ during a passing primary season. It doesn’t come at the hands of one Black man or a single White woman. For the first time in history, Bernie Sanders has transformed the political conversation so that we have a fighting chance to forge a movement that can effectively become a third party. This primary can be seen as the harbinger of change that can bring American democracy from the darkness into the light of widespread civic engagement and real choice, but only if we do our part. Only if we aren’t distracted by bemoaning what we have allowed to come to pass with a President Trump, floundering in regret at our own foolishness like the Brexit voters who, in the land of the Bard no less, do not even known enough to blame the stars.

The self-governing egalitarian politics of Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, may one day cross the Rubicon of middle America to hold hands with the East Coast, but it is not likely. The West Coast and the East may one day secede and each form their own perfect unions, leaving the middle to its corn and oil, but this, too, is unlikely. America, and I say this as a die-hard Lefty, is never going Left; her reds are limited to high-tech visuals of electoral maps and the vernacular of mainstream media, and socialism is a term even those Americans who consider themselves socialists hardly understand. But with a little bit of foresight and a great deal of work, we may yet have a system that truly takes the people into account. As another first-time voter put it: “I’m not with her. I’m being dragged along in the hope that I can dust myself off in four years and follow someone else.” So on November 8th, do what you have to do—take a stiff drink, engage in afternoon sex, bring a motion-sickness bag with you, hold a hand, preferably that of a child—and vote for Hillary Clinton. Then leave the polling booth, rinse out your mouth, sanitize your hands, and get to work on forging the third party we deserve. It’s going to take a lot of work, but Bernie Sanders has at least cleared the field.

Ru Freeman‘s creative and political writing has appeared internationally. She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and On Sal Mal Lane (Graywolf, 2013), a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Both novels have been translated into several languages including Italian, French, Hebrew, and Chinese. She blogs on literature and politics, is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review, and has been a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the 2014 winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for Fiction by an American Woman.

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