I’m sure this endorsement comes as no surprise to most of my regular readers, but in fact it’s not as unproblematic as you might think. I live and vote in New York. As we all know, the president is actually elected not by popular votes but by votes in the electoral college. In New York as in most states, electors are awarded on a winner take all basis to the popular vote winner in the state. Hillary is absolutely unquestionably going to win New York, so she doesn’t need my vote. It would be entirely different if I lived in a swing state like Florida or Pennsylvania or Ohio. But as a New Yorker I could consider voting for one of the third party candidates—say, Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein–without increasing the chances that Donald Trump could go to the White House.
I’m not in any way tempted by Johnson, even though he takes some laudable, typically libertarian positions on foreign policy and civil liberties. As an economic philosophy, libertarianism is morally repugnant: it amounts effectively to a celebration of inequality, greed and selfishness. It’s also a-historic and utopian (or, rather, dystopian): there has never been an advanced society run on a libertarian basis, and there never will be. Libertarians rail against “big government,” but capitalism just doesn’t work without an active state.
Jill Stein’s Green Party is another matter. I haven’t paid too much attention to Stein’s campaign, but she seems to advocate some good positions on foreign policy and civil liberties while pushing a broadly social democratic domestic agenda that I can applaud. Some of her ideas are impractical, and I certainly don’t agree with her on everything, but I don’t agree with Clinton on everything either. Stein, like Bernie Sanders, represents the general direction in which I would like to see Clinton to move. So, why not give Clinton a harmless push by voting for Stein?
There are two good reasons for lefties like me not to vote for Stein. First, Donald Trump represents a uniquely ugly development in American politics. I think it critically important that he be defeated as decisively as possible. That means a decisive margin of defeat in the popular vote as well as in the electoral college, because even though the popular vote is technically irrelevant, it has psychological importance. Most people correctly think first of the popular vote as the best indicator of the candidates’ support in the country. Even in defeat, if Trump comes close to Clinton in the popular vote Trump will be able to claim a moral victory (not to mention a “rigged” election). Trumpism will live to fight other battles. It may in any case, but we need to minimize that possibility. Trump will be seen as decisively defeated only if a large popular vote margin separates him from Clinton. It’s as simple as that.
I have another reason not to vote for Stein, which is that the 3rd party politics that she promotes has no future. A vote for Stein is a strictly symbolic protest vote that leads nowhere. The fact is that the great bulk of the progressive forces in the United States—organized labor, minorities, environmentalists, women’s groups, consumer and human rights advocates, etc.–are more or less aligned with the Democratic Party, and they aren’t going anywhere. Bernie Sanders this year showed that there is a huge (I do mean yooge) potential for the Democrats to move to the left. The Nation magazine has just endorsed Clinton, and predictably at least one enraged on-line commenter decried the “fantasy” that the Democratic Party, tied as it is to corporate interests, can ever be a vehicle for real progressive change. Actually, the fantasy is that progressive change can occur without the Democratic Party. I would hope that President Hillary Clinton will prove to be a transitional figure in the politics of her party and of the nation. Jill Stein will never be anything more than a well-intentioned relic.