Voting in the Mafia neighborhood called America

Sam Smith – One of the damages contemporary media and advertising have done to politics is to turn our elections overwhelmingly into a choice between purported icons rather than between the programs of competing political parties. We become obsessed with candidates to an extent that we forget that even presidents are just part of a much larger political picture. We ignore the fact that, even if we don’t like any of the candidates, we can at least pick the best battlefield to fight upon.

When I mentioned this to a long-time British activist and journalist, he said that something similar had happened in his country, beginning with Tony Blair. Like us, the Brits no longer vote so much for a party and its program as for a fictitious walking and talking symbol promising a better life.

This isn’t such a good idea in the best of seasons, but if one faces – as we do now – the probability that we will have one of the worst presidential choices ever, it could easily contribute to disaster.

And adding a minor third choice – such as Green Party candidate Jill Stein doesn’t help because politics isn’t religion. It’s not about displaying your personal virtue – in which case Stein would be the obvious choice. It is about helping a country survive in a time where now, as I once put it, we all live in a Mafia neighborhood.

What is needed in such a moment is not righteousness but smarts. I was one of the founders of the national Green Party but I have differed with my party friends on this issue because a Green presidential candidate getting a few points not only may not help the country, it doesn’t help the party. For example, we are still being attacked for Gore’s loss in 2000 even though it was clear from polls that it was Gore himself who blew the race in the last two months of the campaign. And if a Green Party presidential candidate gets, say, two percent of the vote, all that does is to strengthen the general view that the party is insignificant and not to be bothered with.

I helped the Green Party get going after having been involved in starting the DC Statehood Party that held at least one seat on Washington’s city council and/or school board for 25 years. What encouraged me in part was my sense that such parties, if truly connected to their communities, can provide a political wing for activist efforts. Some sit in, some boycott, and some run for office. It can all be part of a grassroots organizing effort.

Living in Maine where the Greens have some clout, I am regularly reminded of the importance of having this political/activist connection, if for no other reason than that the media is more likely to quote a Green city council member than a Green organizer.

And I have encouraged, albeit futilely to date, people such as union members and blacks to vote the way they want but to register as Greens. If there was major Green registration by those not traditionally considered part of its family, the message would come across quite loudly.

Most of all, though, it has to come from the bottom up. Just look at what has happened in marijuana policy, gay marriage and local food. No presidential candidate made them work; it was from the bottom up.

Further, when you’re dealing with a presidential election you need to do something more than illustrate your virtue by your vote.

To be sure, if it is Clinton vs. Bush there is no personal salvation in either choice. But imagine instead, that you approach this election as one between Democrats and Republicans.

Yes, there is an appalling similarity on many issues. Let’s accept that as a miserable given.  But let’s consider a matter such as food stamps. How many lives would be saved if we managed to have the Democratic rather than the GOP approach to this matter? Now expand this to a wealth of issues including health, labor and various other social programs. Now add to this the question of who gets nominated to the Supreme Court over the next four to eight years.

Hillary Clinton is not to be trusted in the best of times, but she is only part of the story. These elections are not another version of Shark Tank or American Idol, as the mainstream media would have you believe. It is a matter of choosing the most likely environment for the good to survive or improve.

And if you want to add a moral factor, imagine that because you stayed home on election day or voted for a third party candidate, Jeb Bush wins. Would you feel any personal responsibility for the hungry who die as a result?  Virtue can be more complicated than a simple symbol.

I wouldn’t lend my car to Hillary Clinton and I regard the Democratic Party as betraying not only the American people but its very own heritage from the New Deal and Great Society. But even with this burden, absent some revolutionary change between now and then, I shall go the polls and cast my national vote based not on anger and disgust but on a bitter assessment of which party will do the least damage to the least number of Americans and which will provide the most favorable environment for those seeking real change. Then I will save my personal virtue for those Greens running in my state and town.



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