“The Two-Party System Is the Worst Case Scenario” — An Interview With the Green Party’s Jill Stein

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein sees little difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Dr. Jill Stein, presumptive Green Party presidential nominee, speaks at a rally in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 26, 2016, during the second day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Dr. Jill Stein, presumptive Green Party presidential nominee, speaks at a rally in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 26, 2016, during the second day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

As the Democratic convention in Philadelphia progressed, and hopes of a revolution on the floor quickly faded for the thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters, support for another figure began to emerge on the streets: Green Party candidate Jill Stein. By the end of the week, “Vote Jill” signs were everywhere in the city, her name often scribbled directly over old Sanders posters and T-shirts. Bernie’s revolution had taken an unexpected turn, and as more protesters and delegates called for a “Demexit,” talk of a third-party option suddenly gained ground at a major party convention. On Thursday, as Clinton prepared to accept her party’s nomination, The Intercept spoke with Stein at an improvised South Philly campaign headquarters.

I have heard from you and from many of your supporters that we shouldn’t vote for the lesser evil, that we should vote for the greater good. Is the prospect of a Trump presidency equal in your view to that of a Clinton one?

I think they both lead to the same place. The lesser evil, the Democrats, certainly have a better public relations campaign, they have better spin. The dangers are less evident, but they’re catastrophic as well. Just look at the policies under Obama on climate change.

Come November, is there a worst-case scenario?

No, the two-party system is the worst-case scenario. In my view, the worst horror of all is a political system that tells us we have to choose between two lethal options, and that’s what we have to fight and we shouldn’t be manipulated into thinking it’s one or the other of these villains out there, one or the other evil.

There’s a readily available solution right now: ranked-choice voting, which would take the fear out of voting and would ensure that people can vote for their values as their first choice, and their pragmatic choice, whatever that is, as their number two. That would actually enable us to move forward in a good way and bring our values back to democracy.

You cannot have a democracy in a moral vacuum. When there’s a moral vacuum, it allows the predatory political actors to swoop in and take control. 

One of the main criticisms of your campaign is that the “moral choice” is a privilege that those who have the most to lose out of a Trump presidency can’t afford. Poor people, people of color, immigrants, people who need a higher minimum wage, health care access, immigration reform.

I think that’s really subject to debate. Because who is it that ushered in the agenda of globalization, of rigged trade agreements, of Wall Street deregulation? This was the Clintons. This is the core of Clintonism. That’s what’s creating the right-wing extremism.

In fact, the lesser evil inevitably leads to the greater evil in the same way that Barack Obama lost both houses of Congress. He had two years with two Democratic houses of Congress — they could have passed any law that they wanted. They could have provided health care as a human right, they could have pulled back on these wars for oil and the war against terror, and the assault on immigrants, and assault on the press and our freedom of speech and privacy. They could have done any of that. And what did they do? They bailed out Wall Street and installed Larry Summers, the architect of Wall Street deregulation. They’re not on our side.

But in practice, if Trump wins, what happens to the Fight for $15, what happens to Planned Parenthood, what happens to health reform and immigration reform? Wouldn’t there be a difference between a Trump presidency and a Clinton one?

Maybe around the margins. We would have the Affordable Care Act, instead of some other privatized option. The Affordable Care Act is not a solution, it’s quite a problem. It provides some care for all. There was a Medicaid expansion, but that Medicaid expansion has been stopped, and it made health care more expensive and more out of reach.

If you were to actually win an election, wouldn’t the extreme right panic and radicalize even more?

I don’t think so at all. I don’t think the resistance is there because we are progressive, the resistance is there because neoliberalism is not progressive. Neoliberalism has caused an incredible crisis of austerity, a crisis of jobs, of labor rights, health care, student debt, and the rest of it. I think this is what’s driving the crisis.

Let’s go back to Bernie Sanders for a moment. Why do you think he has chosen to throw his support behind Clinton and is now trying to get his supporters to do the same?

I think his paradigm is obsolete. He’s grown up with the concept of the Democratic Party as the New Deal party. I think his experience in Vermont was that as independent third party you couldn’t move forward. But I think we are in a different era right now. The American public has moved and has repudiated these two political parties, and we have the internet and we have the capacity to self-mobilize. Sanders is anchored in a different paradigm. He hasn’t been part of the social movements on the streets over the last 10 to 15 years, he’s been in Washington, D.C., surrounded by Democrats, and it’s just a different mindset.

Do you think there’s any value in the way Sanders has shaped the Democratic platform to include many of his more progressive policies?

The platform is notably meaningless and nonbinding. And they couldn’t even pretend to stop fracking, they couldn’t pretend to stand up for Palestinian human rights, they couldn’t pretend to support health care as a human right. They gave some lip service to breaking up the banks and they couldn’t pretend to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership when even their candidate is pretending to oppose it. This is not meaningful progress; this is how they sabotaged a breakaway movement. This is what the Democratic Party has been doing ever since George McGovern won the nomination in 1972.

Have you spoken with Bernie Sanders?

No. I’ve tried. He has not been interested. Never returned a phone call or answered an email. It’s pretty clear where he stands.

Would you have supported Sanders if he had become the Democratic nominee?

In my view, inside the Democratic Party it won’t happen, it’s not going to happen. He would have been hijacked one way or another, his hands would have been tied. And we still need opposition politics and we need a voting system that allows us to have political opposition. If we don’t have political opposition in this country, it doesn’t matter what else we do: We are heading to tyranny, we are heading to fascism, and we’re heading to climate meltdown and nuclear confrontation.

You said before that President Obama came into office with an incredible public mandate, and yet he had an incredibly hard time getting anything through Congress. If you were to win the election, would you be able to get any legislation past them?

Because he didn’t want to. He didn’t try. He put his ground troops on the shelf. The myth is out there that the Republicans stopped him. He had two Democratic houses of Congress, he could have done something. He didn’t. What he did was make George Bush’s tax cuts for the rich permanent and he gave Wall Street the biggest bailout on record, that’s what he did.

You think Congress wouldn’t stop you?

No, because we won’t put our ground troops on the shelf. That’s what Barack Obama did. When he got into office, he took his ground troops out of commission. That’s what enabled him to win the primary, because he had such an active grassroots movement. He dismantled that grassroots movement at the same time he was appointing Larry Summers, and it became perfectly clear what his agenda was.

On the streets, one of the most pressing issues I see is the question of racial justice. What would you do, specifically, to address police violence and police racism?

It’s not rocket science, it’s obvious things. We need civilian review boards, with the power to subpoena, we need to have the power to hire and fire police commissioners, in particular. We need to have full-time investigators so that it doesn’t take a miracle and the Department of Justice in Washington to get an investigation. Every death at the hands of police should be routinely investigated. And we call for a truth and reconciliation commission, along with reparations. We need a national facilitated discussion to actually drag out of the shadows the living legacy of the institution of slavery. That legacy has not gone away.

Here in Philadelphia I have seen large support in the streets for your campaign, particularly from former Sanders supporters. Are you starting to receive support from any elected officials?

Yes. We’re at the point where it’s still the very principled people. There’s not a bandwagon effect yet, but there is an opening. And certainly with Bernie supporters the floodgates have opened, and they are here lock, stock, and barrel, and it’s been really wonderful.

Did you see this coming?

No, totally not. I have not gotten my head around what’s happening at all. I don’t know if you have been to any of the events we have had this week. We haven’t even had time to process it among ourselves and I’m wondering, ‘Am I’m experiencing what it looks like out there, or is this just my subjective experience?’ I’m in the middle of an ocean of people, it’s hard to understand except in metaphysical terms that there’s like this energy vortex.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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