By Kevin Zeese
Above: Screenshot from On Contact with Chris Hedges with Howie Hawkins.
The 2020 election cycle is going to be a very challenging one for the Green Party especially when it comes to running for president. President Trump is an unpopular president who is very divisive. Indeed, he seems to govern by dividing the nation over issues like immigration, racism and women’s rights. As a result, he is hated by many who are already beginning to treat the 2020 election as an Anybody But Trump election.
The result is Democrats are seriously considering Joe Biden, who is leading in polls, despite his history of Wall Street corporatism, support for never-ending wars, helping to put in place policies that have led to mass incarceration and racist law enforcement as well as policies that make student debt impossible to escape even in bankruptcy. He has a history of being wrong on integration, racial justice, women’s rights, and abortion. Then there are fraudulent candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, who have similarly bad policies but are taken seriously because many Democrats will take “anybody” who isn’t Trump. The Democratic Party and media are doing their best to stop candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tulsi Gabbard, who, while flawed, would break from some Democrat Wall Street and war positions.
So, how does a Green run for office in an Anybody But Trump election year? This was a central question in a newly-released episode of On Contact with Chris Hedges. Chris is a long-time supporter of third party and independent candidates because he understands the futility and corruption of the Democratic Party. Chris was a supporter of Ralph Nader in his presidential campaigns and is a supporter of the Green Party. He interviewed Howie Hawkins, who has just announced he is running for the Green Party nomination. A central focus of the interview was how a Green Party candidate runs for president in a year when many are going to be solely focused on defeating Trump.
Howie Hawkins answered that question first by describing the important history of third parties and how they have moved the political narrative throughout history. He described how anti-slavery parties ran when the two dominant parties, Democrats and Whigs, refused to consider abolition as well as how the New Deal was invented by leaders of the Progressive and Socialist Parties. These are just two examples of many of the third parties who did not win the presidency but changed the direction of the country. Actually, in the case of slavery, the debate on abolition by third parties over two decades led to the election of the most successful third-party candidate in history, Abraham Lincoln, who won a four-way race that ended the Whig Party.
Nader was the first candidate in this century to run on full single payer for all and Jill Stein was the first presidential candidate to run on the Green New Deal. These are now two litmus test issues for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
What issues will a Green Party candidate put on the agenda in 2020? The Hawkins campaign is centered around the discussion of the ecosocialist Green New Deal and the climate crisis. The chaos caused by climate change is the issue that led to the Green Surge in the recent European elections propelling Greens into a much stronger position in many European countries.
As the destruction of the climate crisis continues to hit, e.g. unusually strong storms, flooding, drought and fires, more people will see that the two parties have failed. They are in bed with the fossil fuel industry and have not only failed to act but have actually put in place policies that worsened the situation. Subsidies to the oil and gas industry, wars for oil and rapid expansion of oil and gas infrastructure will be seen as criminal acts of the government because it is evident that climate change is human-made and should have been responded to.
Hawkins was the first Green New Deal candidate in 2010, and when he announced his presidential run, he began to lay out the detailed transformation we need to put in place clean, sustainable energy by 2030, transform multiple sectors of the economy including agriculture, transit, manufacturing, construction, energy, and banking, as well as to create a just transformation that leads to an economic revitalization and entire new industries consistent with a Green economy. Hawkins’ Green New Deal includes an economic Bill of Rights and a green economy reconstruction program. He makes the case that acting now to put in place a Green New Deal will be less costly than failing to act and allowing climate chaos to undermine the economy. He is the only candidate running from any party who is responding seriously to the climate crisis.
On the Clearing The FOG podcast, Hawkins told Margaret Flowers and me that the Democrats really do not have a Green New Deal. A handful of Democrats have put forward a vague resolution but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has blocked them from forming a committee or pursuing legislation. Pelosi and her top four lieutenants collectively took over $790,000 from oil, gas and electric utility interests during the past two years. Money is how she remains Speaker so despite droughts, forest fires and storms in her home state, money comes before dealing with the climate crisis.
With Hedges, Hawkins also discussed the military budget, which needs to be transformed as part of the new economy the US needs to create, including ending the nuclear arms race and getting nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert. The United States needs to stop being the world dominator, stop spending two-thirds of its discretionary spending on weapons and war as well as stop fighting wars for oil. He points out how both the Democrats and Republicans are complicit in Trump’s threats against Venezuela because it is the country with the largest oil reserves in the world.
In an impressive segment of the show, Hedges laid out how the Green Party stands for issues supported by a majority of people in the United States. This agenda is consistent with Hawkins’ campaign positions. Hedges went through a series of slides describing the Green Party platform.
Regarding the question of how to defeat Trump in 2020? The answer: put forward an agenda supported by the majority of voters in the United States. Democrats do not put forward most of these issues because they are not consistent with the views of the millionaires and billionaires who fund the party. The Greens will put forward these issues but because of the manipulated nature of the US electoral system, the mass media, and National Commission on Presidential Debates, the private corporation owned by the Democrats and Republicans that keeps them out of the debates, they will have a hard time competing. Too many voters are stuck in political ping-pong between two parties that do not represent them and are too afraid to vote for what they believe in because they know the system does not allow real voter choice.
In 2004, I served as Ralph Nader’s press secretary and spokesperson. At the beginning of the campaign, Nader, our campaign manager and I had a meeting with the John Kerry Campaign. Kerry, his campaign manager and his press secretary were also there. Nader laid out his ten-point agenda, which began with ending the Iraq War and included issues like improved Medicare for All, raising the Minimum Wage, stopping corporate crime and taxing the wealthy. Nader told Kerry to watch his campaign and if he saw any of these issues take-off, to steal them from us and run on them.
As the campaign developed, we pushed that agenda further. Nearing the end of the campaign, Nader had ten staff members dress as waiters, each carrying a “Gift on a Silver Platter” to the Kerry campaign. Each platter was a winning political issue that had majority support.
Kerry would have none of it. He continued a campaign that favored the Iraq war and represented corporate interests. That year, Florida had on its ballot a proposal to raise the minimum wage. The measure passed with 71.25% of the vote. Kerry refused to take a position in favor of the minimum wage, no doubt because his big corporate donors opposed the measure. If Kerry had won Florida, he would have defeated Bush. Instead, Kerry lost Florida resulting in him losing to one of the worst Republicans in history.
Democratic Party leadership seems once again to be pushing for a centrist, corporate candidate who can raise money from Wall Street, the insurance industry and other big business interests. This is exactly the way to lose to Trump in 2020. Republican-lite candidates consistently lose to even terrible Republican candidates. The approach will be a repeat of the Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton campaigns — elitists losing to fake populists. In the end, rather than winning the presidency, Democrats will once again be looking for a scapegoat to explain their loss to Trump as they did in 2000 with Ralph Nader, 2016 with Jill Stein and Russiagate. In reality, it will once again be the failure of the Democratic Party to stand for the people’s necessities and the protection of the planet.
Hawkins explains in the Hedges interview why it is so important to have a strong Green presidential candidate in 2020. Not only will a candidate like Hawkins put critical issues on the agenda, but he also plans to build local Green Parties, cement ballot access and make the Green Party into one that wins thousands of local and state-level races. Hawkins believes we need to build an independent left party from the grassroots up. The history of elections between two parties that represent the millionaires and billionaires shows that the people need a party that puts them first.