Green Party Presidential Candidate Urges Voters to Resist the “Politics of Fear”
Dr. Jill Stein talks with Earth Island Journal about her vision for the US
Perhaps she was still feeling the adrenaline rush from being arrested the day before at the Tar Sands Blockade, because when I finally managed to reach Jill Stein on the phone she was bursting with energy. I soon got the sense that irrepressible vigor is the Green Party presidential candidate’s standard MO. During a brief, 15-minute interview I barely had the chance to sneak in questions as Dr. Stein let loose a stem-winder of a monologue on the predations of mega-banks, the threat of climate change, and the similarities between President Obama and Governor Romney. Her passion and righteous indignation seem to churn with the force of a locomotive.
Since she clinched the Green Party presidential nomination last spring, the physician and environmental health advocate has been barnstorming the country trying to make the case to progressives that a vote for her isn’t a wasted vote — or a de facto vote for Mitt Romney. She has practice in this. Dr. Stein was the Massachusetts Green Party’s candidate for governor in 2002 (during which, unlike this year, she actually got to debate Romney) and its candidate for secretary of state in 2006. She knows what it’s like to be a minor party candidate in a winner-take-all political system.
And she knows how to stay on message when it comes to the inevitable question about the differences between Democrats and Republicans. When I pressed her about whether, as she told me, the difference between Obama and Romney were marginal, she gave no ground. Dr. Stein said: “You can argue that, yes, the Democratic ship might sink a little bit less quickly, but that’s not what we need. It’s not a question of death by gunshot wound to the head or death by strangulation. Those aren’t acceptable choices.”
Here’s the whole interview.
You were arrested yesterday (Oct. 31) at the Keystone XL pipeline construction protest in Texas. Unless I’m mistaken, this is the second time you’ve been arrested during the course of the campaign. You were also arrested at the Obama-Romney debate in Long Island.
And once before that, protesting the eviction by Fannie Mae of two families who were victims of predatory lending.
OK, so three times during the course of the campaign.
That’s pretty unusual for a presidential candidate. Why did you do that?
It was the most presidential thing that a candidate could do — to stand up to very unjust actions. In one case, the eviction of homeowners who had been the victims of predatory lending and who were being thrown out on to the street by Fannie Mae, a quasi-public institution that was bailed out by we, the taxpayers, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. They were bailed out in order to keep families in their homes and negotiate with homeowners. And they had refused to do that. We were part of a very large demonstration on behalf of these families and we said that we were not moving until Fannie Mae agreed to sit down and talk with these families, which they refused to do. So we were arrested in the process of standing up for innocent homeowners who are part of millions of people who are being thrown out of their homes by the predatory banks that we, the taxpayers, have bailed out. So it felt like it was the most presidential thing that a candidate could.
Unfortunately, the other two major party candidates have been on the wrong side of this issue. They’re on the side of the bankers, refusing to help out the homeowners in any meaningful way whatsoever.
Why did you jump into the Keystone XL fight?
Because here we have a presidential election for the first time since 1984 that has refused to discuss the climate crisis. Even in the face of the hottest 12 months on record that have just occurred and the widespread drought impacting 60 percent of the United States. And now this week with this record storm, the biggest storm ever to hit our shores and still they won’t mention the word “climate” and they will not draw the link between this storm and the desperate state that our climate is in due to the policies of Democrats and Republicans alike. Barack Obama has in fact embraced the policies of George Bush and gone far beyond. What he offers as his climate policies are really window dressing on a devastating problem. The solutions that he offers — he has called for $15 billion a year for the next decade for green jobs. That’s a tiny drop in the bucket. Right now his federal reserve is bailing out Wall Street to the tune of $40 billion a month, compared to the $15 billion a year that he has proposed for green jobs. So this reflects his real priority.
You heard how much time he and Mitt Romney spent competing for who could be the bigger proponent of [the Keystone XL] pipeline, and [the bigger proponent] of building more oil, more natural gas, more fracking, more offshore oil. Who could be the bigger proponent of opening up the Arctic and our national parks. This is absolutely outrageous. And how much did we hear them offer for what they were going to do about the climate? Absolutely nothing. This reflects where these candidates are, what these campaigns are, and why we desperately, urgently, need to fix the climate crisis.
And fix our democracy so that we can get the real solutions up and running while we still have the chance to fix this crisis. Because all those warning signs that we’ve seen, these very desperate warning signs, where hundreds of thousands of people now don’t have public transportation, many are having trouble finding food and water. In the wake of the storm, there are millions of people without power. We need to do something and we need to do it quick. This is happening with less than one degree centigrade of temperature rise over the past, you know, 150 years. Yet right now we are looking at five degrees of warming for this century. That’s even without the Keystone pipeline. Imagine adding the Keystone pipeline to that. You know, it’s like choose your poison here. This is not survivable stuff.
You said one thing we have to do is fix our democracy. Let’s talk about that. What are some of the ideas that you or the Green Party have for how to start cracking open the two party duopoly?
You know, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” as Alice Walker said. And another quote from Alice Walker is that the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it to start with. Every one of these solutions are supported by a substantial majority in poll after poll. People really want concerted action to stop climate change. They want to bring the troops home and downsize the military. They want to tax the rich. They want healthcare and human rights through a single payer-type health system. So the question is not how we educate the public or how we find workable solutions. We got solutions galore, and we actually have public opinion. What we need to do is take a lesson from Tahrir Square and Tunisia and turn out and go to the polls and reject the politics of fear. That is the one thing they [Obama and Romney] have, is the fear campaign. The psychological warfare that is conducted against people, especially climate advocates, telling them they can’t really stand up for a Green campaign. They can’t vote for a Green campaign. They have to be very afraid of the marginal differences between Obama and Romney.
And they are in fact marginal differences. They are not enough to save your lives. Fifteen billion worth of green jobs — unfortunately it’s a drop in the bucket compared to Obama’s embrace of “Drill, Baby, Drill.” And he’s gone far beyond George Bush. So the solution here is what we, the people, are talking about. We, the people, need to go occupy the voting booth and stand up and vote Green. If we want green solutions we have to move them forward. They [Obama and Romney] are not going to hand them to us on a silver platter, because they are owned lock, stock, and barrel by the fossil fuel companies, by Wall Street and the usual suspects.
You talk about marginal differences. Do you really think a Romney presidency would be a wash, would basically be the same as a second term for Obama?
Put it this way: the difference is not enough to get us out of here alive. What is the difference Obama’s talking about? The CAFE standards, automobile efficiency improvement. That’s great, but meanwhile we’re on track to double our use of oil. You know, the usage of oil has markedly increased under Barack Obama. After decreasing for decades, it did an about-face and increased markedly under Obama. Plus he opened up all the other fossil fuels out there. Some people predict that we’re going to double our usage of oil between now and 2020, under these policies that have been set in motion by Obama.* So, yes, there are some differences, but the differences are not enough to save our hides here. We’re already going over the cliff with the warming that’s already in the pipeline.
We’ve got two sinking ships here: the Republican ship and the Democratic ship. The Democratic and Republican captains are both sinking the ship. You can argue that, yes, the Democratic ship might sink a little bit less quickly, but that’s not what we need. It’s not a question of death by gunshot wound to the head or death by strangulation. Those aren’t acceptable choices. We need to actually stand up and have an economy and a climate that’s going to be here for us for the long haul. We are accelerating in the wrong direction under Democrats and Republicans. The politics of fear that has told us we don’t dare stand up has a track record. We’ve heard that drumbeat, certainly since Bush-Nader-Gore. And what have we gotten? This politics of fear has brought us everything we were afraid of. Over these last 10 years, we’ve had massively expanding fossil fuel usage, massively increased bailouts for Wall Street. The offshoring of our jobs continues. You know, on every one of these Barack Obama outdid George Bush. So yeah Romney’s going to be really bad, but look at Obama’s record. Maybe the Democrats might be a year or two behind the Republicans, but they’re doing exactly the same thing. So that’s not going to fix it. We’ve got to stand up for what’s going to fix it. And remember the words of Frederick Douglas that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” We need to get that demand into the political discourse. If our voices aren’t there, driving forward these solutions, then real solutions are not on the table. Forget it. The best you can achieve is a slightly lower catastrophe. That is not a solution.
Given that it’s tough for minor party candidates to succeed in a winner-take-all system, some people have said the Green Party should focus on down-ticket races. Try to build support from the grassroots up, winning city council races, winning state legislative races. Given that you’re unlikely to win, what’s the main thing you hope to achieve with this campaign?
Who in their right mind would have thought that the young people in Tunisia and Tahrir Square were going to topple their military dictatorships that had been entrenched for 40 years? What happened was that young people got desperate enough. They said, “we’re not going to take it anymore.” They decided to stand up. They had numbers on their side. They had truth, justice, solutions and democracy on their side. What changed is that they flipped the switch in their brains and they decided to reject the propaganda telling them they were powerless. We have the capacity to do exactly the same thing here. The Green Party is emerging strong out of this race.
For those who think that more fracking, more offshore oil drilling, more nuclear power, undermining the international climate accord, all things that Obama has brought us — for those who think it’s a good thing: vote for it. You’re going to get more of it. They’re not going to look at your vote as a lesser evil vote and say, “Oh, they voted for me but they really want me to do better.” They’re going to look at your vote and say, “Oh great! We’ve got a mandate. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because we’re getting paid to do it.” If you think that works, just look at the last 10 years and you’re going to keep getting it.
On the other hand, if you think it’s time to stand up, like the people in Tahrir Square and Tunisia, there might be a very good reason to do that. And here’s one reason: 36 million students right now are indentured servants. Students and recent graduates, they’re effectively indentured servants going forward. They don’t have jobs. They’re carrying unbelievablly oppressive debt and there’s no way out because they’ve got 50 percent unemployment and underemployment rates, which are not getting better. And they are inheriting the climate crisis full on. Many of them are not voting because they feel like they don’t have a darned thing to vote for. If word got out and it went viral and 36 million people showed up to vote for the future they deserve, we would turn this election on its head overnight. What we need is an empowered electorate, not good little boys and girls who are told to get along, to go along, and keep giving them a mandate to keep driving us over the cliff.
Last question: If that were to happen, and we did have that empowerment, and you found yourself in the Oval office, what would be some of your priorities on your first day in office?
So first of all, let me say, the priority is to be an organizer-in-chief, not just a commander-in-chief. You may know that with the SOPA and PIPA bills, those were considered slamdunks. There was no way they were going to be stopped — until word got out. And once word got out, people got on the Internet, people showed up at offices, they made phone calls, and they exerted the power of democracy. And that’s that we could do if we had a whistleblower in the White House who was actually informing people and empowering them to be the drivers of the real solutions.
Number one is to create a massive weatherization and insulation program that can put people to work right away so that we’re solving the jobs emergency as we begin to solve at the same time, practically over night, a big chunk of the energy problem. Get the biggest bang for the buck that we can get right away by moving to conservation and efficiency measures and create potentially millions of jobs almost overnight. That’s what they did during the New Deal. We can do that with the Green New Deal, which not only ends the employment crisis, but at the same time launches the green economy by providing those investments. Like the president’s first stimulus package, but unlike that package it would not be predominately tax breaks. Tax breaks don’t create jobs. Instead we would be directly creating jobs at the community level in clean renewable energy, in efficiency and conservation, in healthy and sustainable organic local food production, in public transportation, including active forms so you can bike and walk to transit hubs, as well as clean manufacturing. So we would jumpstart the green economy as an emergency measure to aim to move to a carbon neutral economy by 2020.
That’s a beautiful vision. Thanks for sharing it with us.
I just want to add one more priority that I should’ve mentioned. The Green New Deal also allows us to make wars for oil obsolete. So downsizing the military, bringing the troops home, ending the war in Afghanistan, the drone wars in Yemen and Somalia, and Pakistan. All that is part of the Green New Deal, that we can downsize the military once we have reliable clean energy. Shifting our investments to real security — not military security with wars for oil — but real security with green economy here at home and by ending the scourge of climate change which is the biggest threat to our security. And the last priority is bailing out the students rather than the banks. Right now we’re spending $40 billion a year — I’m sorry, a month — $40 billion a month to bail out the banks for the fourth time, which has done absolutely no good at all. They are still too big to fail and they are not providing the loans and the credits to the small businesses, homeowners, and people who need it. So we shift that quantitative easing from the banks to the students and put an end to student debt and make public higher education free. Because it more than pays for itself. And finally we would create healthcare for all, true Medicare for all, which has the benefit of not only providing healthcare to everyone, but it also saves us trillions of dollars over the course of the next decade and it makes unnecessary all of these austerity plans to cut education, cut healthcare, cut housing, job training. All that becomes unnecessary and instead we save trillions of dollars just through the greater efficiencies of Medicare for all.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
* I hate to get all Glenn Kessler on Dr. Stein, but this doesn’t pencil out. Actually, according to the Energy Information Agency at the US Department of Energy, US oil consumption hit a peak in 2005, declined steadily for five years, and has been flat-lined since. See this chart here. And now demand looks to be on the decrease again, according to this Reuters story. I can’t find any serious energy analysts who projects a doubling of US oil consumption between now and 2020. If anything, most industry observers expect demand to keep falling, as this chart shows. To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Dr. Stein meant to say US oil production, which is likely to grow.