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Synthesis/Regeneration 32   (Fall 2003)

“Strategic Voting” Is Strategic Suicide

by Howie Hawkins, Syracuse Greens

When Granny D used her speaking time at the Code Pink antiwar demonstration in Washington DC in early March to tell the Greens “not to divide us” by running a Green presidential candidate, she was herself being divisive. Her demand was divisive within the peace movement, which needs to unite on antiwar demands and not exclude anyone based on their electoral approach. Her political tactic mirrors that of Bush when he says if you are not with the US war on terror, you are with the terrorists. There are always more than two choices in any political question.

Granny D is not alone in making this demand on the Greens. Ronnie Dugger, Michael Moore, Carl Davidson, Daniel Ellsberg, and Noam Chomsky are among the other notable progressives who are telling progressives to support the Democratic nominee in order to beat Bush. Fortunately, few Greens are willing to rely on the Soft Right Democrats to defend us from the Hard Right Republicans. Unfortunately, too many Greens are accepting the sneaky version of this demand: strategic voting.

Various proposals have circulated under various names (safe states, strategic voting, tactical voting, three dimensional, etc.), but they all boil down to the Green ticket either cutting a deal with the Democrats and exiting the campaign late, or not competing for votes with the Democratic candidate in the “battleground” swing states where the polls show the race between the Democrat and Republican tickets to be close and the electoral votes of those states up for grabs. Strategic voting proposals let the Greens run where they won’t affect the outcome, but not where they might.

The minute the Greens stop campaigning where they might affect the outcome is the minute no one takes the Greens seriously. The minute the Greens start backhandedly supporting Democrats with a cute “strategic voting” scheme is the minute the public stops taking Greens seriously. This will be because the Greens have stopped stop taking themselves seriously. It is the minute that the corporate Democrats feel free to completely ignore their own Kucinich/ Shaprton wing and take votes to their Left for granted. It is the minute the whole dynamic of the election shifts to the Right, with the Green Party looking like it isn’t really serious about wanting governmental power to make changes.

The best way to fight the Right is with a good offense around an independent campaign for a real alternative. The Democratic leadership is so complicit in Bush’s tax cuts, corporate pandering, war powers, war budgets, and repressive legislation that it is hard to argue they are the lesser evil. It’s more like the slicker evil of a Clinton vs. the cruder evil of a Bush Jr.

Where’s the difference?

Neoconservative militarism and neoliberal economics are not Bush’s exclusive preserve. The Democratic leadership and majority of Congressional Democrats are every bit as committed to them as they are to pleasing their financial sponsors in the corporate oligarchy who want these policies. Both parties are just as committed to economic policies of neoliberal austerity.

The minute the Greens stop campaigning where they might affect the outcome is the minute no one takes the Greens seriously.

Neoliberalism includes cuts in social spending, hikes in regressive taxes, cuts in progressive taxes, privatization, deregulation, corporate-managed trade, union busting, and corporate welfare. In a nutshell, it means the stick of austerity for workers, on the theory it will makes us work harder and raise productivity, and the carrot of welfare for the corporate rich, on the theory they will invest and the benefits of increased jobs and tax revenues will trickle down to the rest of us.

Neoliberal austerity is the post-Keynesian economic policy adopted by the corporate rulers as they ran into the internal limits to profits and growth under the Keynesian welfare/warfare state.

The new ruling class consensus is the austerity/warfare state of neoliberal economics and neoconservative empire. That ruling class consensus is the pro-war, pro-corporate bipartisan consensus. To be sure, the ruling class is divided about Bush, with some worried about the economic irrationality of the latest tax cuts, the instability his cowboy style of imperialism is stirring up in the Middle East and Europe, and the domestic instability his pandering to Christian fundamentalists may stir up at home. The worried wing of the ruling class will give strong backing to a Democrat like Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, or Lieberman who will be more sophisticated in administering militaristic neoliberalism. That is their fight, not ours.

It is about the Green Party as an institution independent of corporate money...

A Democrat might beat Bush, but no Democrat is going to beat Bushism, which is to say the corporate oligarchy’s bipartisan consensus. If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2004, there will be no change in the basic US geopolitical political strategy of military basing and control of oil in the Middle East and Central Asia to keep Western Europe, Russia, China, and Japan from becoming potential rivals to US hegemony will not change. Nor will there be any change in the basic neoliberal policy of motivating workers to work harder by imposing hardship and motivating the rich to invest with corporate welfare incentives.

If the Greens don’t run a strong campaign seeking every vote they can get in every state, there will be no electoral opposition to the bipartisan consensus of the US as global occupation force and no electoral alternative to the neoliberal policies of economic stimulus by heightening inequalities.

Keeping our eye on the prize

Who wins the presidential election matters little because most of the power structure is not up for election. There is no election for corporations’ private economic power and ability to effectively veto reforms they don’t like by divesting, not the repressive apparatus of the national security state, not the regulatory bureaucracy that is captured by the corporations they are supposed to regulate. Whoever wins must govern within that power structure.

What matters is whether there is a movement that is organizing people to solve their own problems. That was Nader’s central theme in 2000 and, I hope, the point of the Green Party. That theme is far more radical than the policy positions Nader advocated because to solve their problems people need real democratic power and that is a threat to the whole system.

The Democrats mobilize people to win election, not implement platforms. I would hope that the Greens are about advancing their program. There will be no hearing for that program, and no vehicle for people to organize around it, if the Greens do not run a strong campaign in 2004 against both corporate parties. Without that Green campaign, the election will be about who is stronger on “defense” and who can best restore corporate profitability (read: squeeze workers even harder) to end the economy’s stagnation. There will be no opposition to militaristic neoliberalism and the Green Party will have rendered itself irrelevant.

If we can define the debate, we set the agenda for the future and lay the basis for the democratic structural changes...

The Green Party’s political independence is not only about policy planks in the platform, but even more fundamentally about political class independence from the corporate ruling class. It is about the Green Party as an institution independent of corporate money as opposed to the Democratic Party as an institution dependent on corporate money and, when governing, dependent on corporate investment.

The big corporations have an effective veto on reforms because they can threaten a capital strike. The Democrats will never challenge that corporate blackmail and thus can never carry through a progressive program because of their dependence on the corporate rulers. Political independence is an issue of the parties’ class and institutional bases, not just the characteristics of individual candidates.

Were the Greens to give backhanded support to the Democrats in a strategic voting scheme, they would be entering into a de facto coalition with the corporate rulers as subordinate partners. The Greens would be dependent on what the Democratic candidates said and did and thus surrender the Greens’ political independence, their power and their voice and their very identity as a political force that believes a different world is possible.

Nothing would be more dispiriting and demoralizing for Greens and progressives generally than a defensive, self-defeating campaign to elect another pro-war, pro-corporate Democrat as the lesser evil to the Republican version. On the other hand, an all-out Green campaign for every vote possible in every state could be the inspiration and rallying point for a movement for the Green alternative.

These Green alternatives will not be heard without an all-out Green campaign. That a Green campaign might “spoil” the Democrats chances is exactly what compels attention to the Green alternative. Greens should embrace that attention, not try to finesse it away with a strategic voting scheme that erases the reason why the Greens would get attention.

Spoiling the Democrats is not our goal. Our goal is to advance our program. We do not have to win the office to win the debate by defining what the issues are. If we can define the debate, we set the agenda for the future and lay the basis for the democratic structural changes in society needed to replace the corporate oligarchy’s bipartisan consensus around neoliberal austerity and neoconservative empire with the Green alternative.

[6 sep 03]

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