Posted August 5, 2020
Michael Hirsch posted an article explaining his version of the “safe states” approach to the 2020 US presidential election on the New Politics website on August 2. The article is called Why Leftists In Most States Should Vote Green. And Why In Some States We Shouldn’t. The Solidarity Webzine reprinted the articles here.
Michael lays out his his position in the first three paragraphs of his article.
My late comrade and esteemed New Politics editorial board member Joanne Landy steadfastly insisted she’d never vote for a Democratic Party candidate, preferring a protest vote for the Green Party. “But I’ll never join that party,” she insisted. Hers was always a principled rejection of Democratic betrayals…
To the [Green Party’s] credit, its 2020 electoral platform reads well enough, anticipating much of what a socialist movement would advocate. (For Green presidential candidate Howie Hawkins’ view of Green possibilities, see the smart précis of his campaigning book at https://www.gp.org/hawkins_campaign_publishes_book .)
I was never quite as dismissive of the Democrats tout court as was Joanne, let alone Hawkins, but I always agreed that in my home state of New York the Democrats didn’t need nor deserve backing from any left militant, let alone the bulk of union voters repaid so shabbily by party electeds from the grasping Andrew Cuomo on down. So, I repeatedly vote Green, too, and enthusiastically so for Howie Hawkins, a trade union militant and acknowledged socialist representing the best of the working class left…
I share Joanne Landy’s principled resolve to cast protest votes for Green candidates, rather than to vote for Democrats. In 2020 I support Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker for president and vice president. But I continued reading to see how Michael justified voting for Biden in “safe states.” His main argument seems to be that to do otherwise would risk alienating progressive Democrats.
Biden’s chief virtue is that he’s not Trump. Is there a better reason to wish his candidacy well? Sadly, no, but it can’t be dismissed given the still marginal state of the electoral left as an opposition even with exciting revolutionary ideas percolating and militancy in hundreds of encouraging street protests.
With less than 100 days to go before the November 3 election, the left has an opportunity to consider what many progressives consider heresy: voting for a third-party presidential candidate. To be sure, the political stakes are high. Four more years of a Trump administration conjures dystopian visions of a fascist dictatorship and an unbridled assault on civil and political rights — a prospect that would encourage any sentient being to cast their ballot for Trump’s Democratic challenger. Yet, there are circumstances in which support for a third-party presidential candidate is politically appropriate this fall. In particular, protest votes for the Greens in non-toss-up, non-battleground states would both reveal support for a more robust left political agenda and avoid throwing the election to Trump. Alas, making this happen, without alienating labor and community groups loyal to the Democratic Party, requires walking a political tightrope with a tattered safety net.
So, what’s the connection between street heat and electoral action in the less than 100 days leading up to the election? It’s that millions of protest votes for the Greens in non-toss-up, non-battleground states can be a prelude to that fight and a teaching moment for U.S. labor and others. A Green breakthrough could be a marker for what an articulated politics can accomplish. The tough question is where can the breakthroughs occur, and how so without giving the election by default to the kleptocratic Trump. Equally important, can we militate labor and community groups into doing the smart thing electorally and vote Green or other third-party efforts in the plurality of states where opting to oppose either pro-capitalist candidate won’t throw the election to Trump?
Michael’s argument for supporting Greens in safe states is valid, but it also applies to states he regards as “battleground.” He writes:
If I lived in Ohio or Michigan, for example, and had relations with labor activists sweating blood for Biden, I could not in good faith sit that one out, let alone militate for the Green candidate. As I live in New York, I owe Biden and his pro-capitalist, careerist DNC machine fixers nothing. In the other 35 states, any leftist urging a vote for Biden when the results are foreordained will seem like a naïf engaging in a will o’ the wisp. A Biden vote would add nothing either propaganda-wise or in building a left alternative base. In those 36 states he’s already either won or lost; the outcome’s not looking to be close.
I live in Michigan. It’s not a battleground state. Biden leads by wide margins in polls, even Republican ones. See the July 20 New York Times article Michigan Threatens to Slip From Trump as He Goes Quiet on Airwaves. I see Democratic Party apparatchiks sweating blood for Biden, but I don’t see many activists doing so.
More broadly, Trump is going down. He and the Republicans have failed the Covid-19 test, which has reminded workers of all their other failures.
The two-party pendulum is swinging back to the Democrats. Unless they completely blow the election, the problem we’ll face next year is that the Democrats control the House, the Senate and the presidency and will squander their opportunity, as they did in 2008. Their failure will set up another “Tea Party” in the House, a Republican takeover of the Senate, and another Trump in 2024 or 2028, promising another version of “drain the swamp” and “make America great again.”
Whether large numbers of people cast protest votes against the two-party system matters a great deal. To use Michael’s words, it could be “a prelude to that fight and a teaching moment for U.S. labor and others.” The argument applies equally to safe states and to battleground states.
Revolutionary socialists can’t affect the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Trump has failed so badly that Biden should win by a landslide in duopoly terms. If he loses, it will be because he has blown the campaign.
Some left Democrats concede that the 2020 presidential election, like the 2016 one, is the Democrats’ to lose. But they still challenge radicals with the argument, “If large numbers of activists did as you advocate, Trump would win, and it would be your fault.”
The argument is bogus. If radicals were in a position to determine presidential elections, mass demonstrations and strikes would be bringing down Trump, not votes for the likes of Biden.
It’s certainly true that many Democrat’s will be unhappy if radicals fail to support Biden. But that’s as true in safe states as it is in battleground states. Either place, Joanne Landy’s “principled rejection of Democratic betrayals” can win respect now and prepare the ground for agreement over time.
Activists who want to help with the campaign of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker should go to the campaign website.