Before the DNC, the Democratic Party agonized over whether Bernie supporters would unite under Hillary’s banner. Now the concern is that the most hardline Bernie-or-Busters, unwilling to compromise their ideals, will throw their support behind Green Party candidate Jill Stein and create another disastrous "Ralph Nader" situation. But does a vote for Hillary have to entail a compromise of progressive ideals? Bob talks with Nathan J. Robinson, editor of the progressive political magazine Current Affairs, who says voting, long considered the ultimate expression of personal values, can and should remain a purely pragmatic choice.
"Las Amarillas" by Los Lobos
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. And son now, after a vicious year of primaries, caucuses, debates and drama, and the winnowing of 20-some contenders, now we are down to two, each facing off for the final prize, with their parties unified as one behind them. Eh, just kidding.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: A leaked email scandal rocking the Democratic Party, taking down the head of the DNC, chaos and a cascade of booze as the convention begins.
BOB GARFIELD: Chaos at the convention proves again the party’s divided, proves Donald Trump cannot control the Republicans.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Researchers say Harry Potter’s arch villain, Lord Voldemort, has a more favorable rating among young adults than both the leading presidential candidates.
BOB GARFIELD: On the right, the Republican Party, in a mad rush to contain the nominee, who seems intent on sabotaging his own candidacy by insulting everything that moves, including babies and the party’s leaders. On the left, a different anxiety has taken hold, not about an out-of-control candidate but about corralling a restive base.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Some Bernie Sanders supporter still vowing to never vote for Hillary.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: I’m telling you, Jill Stein is looking a heck of a lot better to those Bernie Sanders supporters right now.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Green Party candidate for president, Dr. Jill Stein, made an appeal to the group of Bernie Sanders supporters who still aren’t sold on Hillary Clinton.
BOB GARFIELD: To any Democrat who would bypass Clinton, the party's message is clear.
BERNIE SANDERS: Based on her ideas and her leadership, Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.
[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE/CHEERS/END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: Now, only 13% of Sanders’ supporters claim to be mulling a vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and she’s pulling at only 5% nationwide. But this does not reassure Democrats who remember the election of 2000, when history was determined by a paltry 537 votes and blame was assigned to a man whose name is now synonymous in many circles with spoiler.
WOMAN: We can’t afford, you know, almost like a “Ralph Nader” situation, when the Democrat liberals split off. We could have a disastrous result.
MAN: You’re going to have Jill Stein. She could be the Ralph Nader of this election, if it becomes real close.
MAN: Bernie Sanders has said if he's not the nominee, he’s going to make absolutely sure we don't end up with a situation like we did with Ralph Nader, where essentially we handed over an election to a Republican, a Republican who put our nation way off track, that the nation can't afford that.
BOB GARFIELD: So the Democratic Party frets and the media speculate. Will the Bernie bros fall in line behind the anointed candidate or will they cut off their noses to spite the status quo and cast crucial votes for the no-chance Green Party? Or, is there perhaps another way?
Nathan J. Robinson is editor-in-chief of the progressive political magazine Current Affairs. Robinson is a staunch Clinton critic and Sanders booster, but he doesn’t believe that he has to compromise on either of those things when he pulls the lever for Clinton in November. Nathan, welcome to OTM.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Good to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: You and your publication are consistently critical of the Democratic establishment and of the Clintons, in particular, and you’ve written very favorably about Bernie. You even wrote in February that only he could beat Donald Trump in a general election. And yet, two weeks before the Democratic National Convention, you wrote a piece arguing that many leftists, such as yourself, should, in fact, vote for Hillary Clinton. Explain to me why that is not a sellout.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: So the main thing I'm saying is not, actually, that most Democrats who are critical of Clinton should vote for Clinton. The basic premise of the argument is that we should think about voting differently. The way I think of voting is that you should think about the potential consequences of your vote. That's the most important thing. Voting isn't necessarily a way to say who you are and what you care about. It’s something that has consequences. So, actually, for the vast majority of people who live in 40 some-odd states who are critical of Clinton on the left, they can go ahead and vote for a third party because it doesn’t make it different.
BOB GARFIELD: But, you’re saying, if you live in Pennsylvania or Ohio or in Virginia –
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: - or other states deemed to be battleground states, you've got to think about the resource that is your vote and how best to deploy it.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Right, because there could be consequences to what you do. If 500 Nader voters in Florida had changed their minds we probably wouldn’t have had the Iraq war, so I think those consequences are the most important thing. You know, people are critical of the term “lesser evil” - well, you just want us to vote for the lesser evil. Of course, we do because you want less evil in the world. You don’t have to diminish at all or trivialize how critical you are of the Clintons. Like I think they’re everything that’s wrong for the American politics and what have you. The only question is, is it less or is it more. And in the situation of Trump, the questions people are asking is does this threaten to end the species, right? If someone’s talking freely about nuclear war, someone that unhinged and has that much access to power, it’s a very, very dangerous situation. It’s obviously worse than the threat the Clintons pose.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I want to talk to you about standing by your principles. I could keep you on the line for hours with the argument that a principled vote for what I believe in should not be sacrificed for something so soiled as pragmatic politics. Am I wrong?
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Well see, this is the thing, is I think this has a very strange and sort of romantic conception of what voting is, where voting is the way that we express our innermost identities and we declare who we are and what we stand for. I don’t think of voting that way. I think of voting as something that you do five minutes one day of the year and that most political action and most expression of your moral convictions should occur elsewhere, in other realms. Voting is just about the consequences.
And the other point is I don't think of pragmatism as the compromise of your values. Being pragmatic is an enactment of your values. Your values are that you care about what you do in the world. This approach to voting, the strategic approach, doesn't require you to stop being critical because what you say is, well look, on Election Day clearly I'm going to keep Trump out of office but, in the meantime, I don't have to keep silent because my vote is strategic; it’s not a full endorsement and it doesn't diminish the force of my criticisms.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, well this gets to something you were alluding to earlier, and that is whether the presidential election every four years is really the place for these protests to be taking place.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Yeah, that’s what I actually object to the most. I think we overinvest ourselves in the moral significance of our presidential election ballot and we agonize over it as if that's the way to say who we are. Democrats have lost half of their governorships. They’re doing very badly in Congress and at the state level and at the local level, and it's really important to fight those fights. And yet, we put all of our time into thinking about the presidential election and what does it say if we vote for Jill Stein and what does it say if we vote for Hillary Clinton? I think it's a decision that should take you five minutes and then the rest of the year get on with other things that have political consequence and meaning for people.
BOB GARFIELD: Meanwhile, for the last 25 years, with a lot of Koch brother money, the Republicans have been locking up state legislatures and governorships, creating an almost invulnerable majority in the House of Representatives, where they can actually, you know, pass laws.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: [LAUGHS] Yeah, the Republicans know what they're doing. If the left is serious about pursuing their goals, they should adopt those tactics. Instead of having an internal argument over whether they should vote for Jill Stein, even though the only possible consequence of that argument is that the Green Party goes from 2% to 4%, it's possible that you could pull the Democrats of the left. But I think really what happens when you show that you can throw the election is that they moved to the right and they try and pick up Republican voters, which is what Hillary Clinton is doing. She’s seeking to pick up moderates and conservative voters. So, instead of that, they should be strategizing about how do we get progressive policies passed at every level of government, how do we challenge moderate- and right-wing Democratic incumbents, how do we get our agenda enacted in the real world, rather than this very, very abstract notion of how you express your principles?
BOB GARFIELD: I guess the media have to take some of the blame because every four years nothing else exists but the presidential race.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: And for the rest of those four years, there is zero attention paid to any of the things we've just been discussing.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Well, it's hard to tell the media what to do because of the kind of institutions they are, because of the incentives they have. I mean, what they say when you confront them with this and you say, well, don’t you have an obligation to try and help people become more informed is, well, we have an obligation to give our viewers what they want, and if you put a discussion of economics and local governance on CNN at night, nobody will watch. And they are probably right in that respect. So you’re kind of asking them to do something that as profit-making institutions the national media can't really do.
Now, there are people like The New York Times, for example, who do position themselves as a more dispassionate and intellectual, if you will, publication that I actually do think are failing their responsibilities because if you go on their website you see so many stories about the national election and they don’t really have to do it. And I think they need to be called out on it and told, look, if you don't think people are reading stories about local governance, it’s probably because you’re not telling them very interestingly.
BOB GARFIELD: Nathan, thank you very much.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Yeah, absolutely.
BOB GARFIELD: Nathan J. Robinson is editor-in-chief of Current Affairs magazine.