“To go into the voting booth and vote for either Wall-Street-backed candidate, that is the definition of throwing away your vote.” So claims Jill Stein, the US Green Party’s candidate for the presidential election on 6 November 2012.
Even the existence of minority candidates is a mystery to many in the United States, and to aa much larger number outside the country, mainly because of an effective mainstream media blackout on them. Meanwhile, the cost of the Obama-Romney face-off amounts to some £3 billion in total, with huge corporate contributions towards both the Republicans and the Democrats.
Jill Stein’s ‘Green New Deal’ programme (http://www.jillstein.org/green_new_deal ) is inspirational and vital compared to the meagre choice that most citizens will vote on. President Obama claimed today that the choice between himself and Governor Romney is not about two individuals but “two different visions of America”. If only that was more true tha it is. What the major party platforms hold in common considerably outweighs the arguments between them, in the bigger picture.
And yet… I cannot agree with Dr Stein’s assertion that there is essentially no choice to be made between Obama and Romney – one of whom, whether we like it or not, will certainly end up in the White House after the poll closes on Tuesday.
In a non-swing state a vote for a third party candidate such as Dr Stein is significant. As Jared Ball (Associate Communications Professor, Morgan State University) said in his endorsement of the Green candidate: “Our only hope for electoral politics is to develop viable alternatives to what currently exists.”
That is surely right. But in swing states, a vote for a radical candidate is likely to strengthen and benefit the GOP, as happened in 2000. For millions of people on low incomes or no incomes, a Romney presidency will make life much more miserable. Modest but crucial health reforms that can save lives will be lost. Environmental policies, however needing of improvement, will be scrapped. The rich will gain more, while the poorest will lose more. Financial reforms will be abandoned. And so on.
Such distinctions cannot responsibly be ignored. This is why many who see Obama as nothing like “the answer”, and who deplore - for example - the drone strikes and military policies he has sanctioned (the critique of his policies in many areas could be extensive) will still be hoping very strongly that it is he, not his opponent, who is returned in this election.
In this regard, unpleasant reality has to be faced. That’s why, though I hope Dr Stein picks up many votes across America, I also hope that in swing states people swallow hard and pull the lever for Obama over Romney.
There ought not to be a final contradiction here, even if there is compromise. You can defy the system while recognising that there are still some significant choices to be made within its (presently) all-encompassing portals. There may be only a few inches difference between Obama and Romney, rather than the feet or yards we would like -- but they are inches in which millions of people can survive. Being wise as serpents accompanies being gentle as doves in such situations.
I know quite a few people in different states will privately be ‘swapping votes’ to maximise Dr Stein’s poll without letting the Republicans in. In 2000 there were many “Nader traders”: people in battleground states who agreed to vote for Democrat Al Gore if someone in a less contested state voted for the Green Party's Ralph Nader. In California and elsewhere, websites promoting this option were, extraordinarily, ruled illegal.
As this shows, the dominant system is obdurate and deeply corrupt. The GOP’s attempts to de-register millions of poor and non-white voters is only the latest illustration of this. The dollar and corporate greed are the unacknowledged religion which seeps into the pores of the big party machines. All of this needs challenging and changing.
In the meantime there are still relative choices to be made, and they need to be made, not ignored, in maximally savvy ways. As a swing state voter said to me recently. “For me it will be Obama, with no illusions. But I’ll be urging as many others to vote for Jill Stein as possible elsewhere, and working with my church congregation and friends in peace and justice movements to develop and promote real alternatives.”
Similarly, as far as radical Christians are concerned, our hope is – or ought to be – in a particular kind of non-violent, community-creating rebel, killed by the government of his day, as Anabaptist/Mennonite writer Kurt Willems (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/author/kurtwillems/ ) reminded us recently.
To put it another way, when making limited choices in a warped world, it is never messianic politics, self interest, or a church subsumed to governing authority and power-driven ideology that we should put our faith in. Our actions will of course continue to be imperfect, but they should always seek to be subversive and hopeful.
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He is a regular political columnist for Third Way, the magazine of Christian social and cultural comment. His recent BBC radio comments on the US election can be found here (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01nph35/Sunday_Morning_with..._04_... ), 55 minutes into the programme.