Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 30th, 2012
October 23 video of discussion between Daniel Ellsberg , Matt Stoller (Roosevelt Institute, “naked
capitalism”), Emily Hauser, (Daily Beast), and Ben Manski (campaign manager for Green Party
presidential candidate Jill Stein), moderated by Huffington Post’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin.
An article by Daniel Ellsberg and a reply tweet by Matt Stoller set the stage for a very interesting online roundtable last Tuesday attended remotely by Ellsberg, Stoller, Emily Hauser (a blogger for the Daily Beast ) — and the disappointing Ben Manski, campaign manager for Jill Stein’s presidential campaign.
Daniel Ellsberg’s October 18 article “Progressives: In Swing States, Vote for Obama” was probably not a hit at the White House; the recommendation was despite seeing Obama as “a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together.” But Matt Stoller — a one time staffer for Representative Alan Grayson — caustically summarized the inherent contradiction: “Daniel Ellsberg argues for both the impeachment of and reelection of Barack Obama.”
My point here won’t be to review Stoller’s arguments — developed more fully a few days later in “The Progressive Case Against Obama” — though I think they’re well worth considering, and though I think replies have generally been of the familiar, bullying, spluttering “policing the left” quality I saw in responses to Conor Friedersdorf’s foreign policy/human rights Obama critique in September.
Instead, I want to take up Ellsberg’s arguments during the roundtable — because they went quite a bit beyond merely urging “tactical” voting by progressive voters in swing states. Ellsberg *:
The two women who are running for the Green Party [...] as I said, I’ll probably vote for her or for Rocky Anderson [...] On the other hand, I do object to the idea that he and Jill Stein and [Cheri Honkala] do, will, by their way of running, in the swing states, whether you regard them as 3 or 4 or as many as 12 or 13 [...] are running in those and peeling off a net balance of Democratic voters. They are increasing the chance of Roe v. Wade will be eliminated. I think that is not a position that a progressive of any kind should be in, let alone a feminist one. I’m actually amazed, I think they’re acting very counterproductively for their own cause overall. [...]
Among progressives, there shouldn’t be disagreement on Roe v. Wade. And I’m afraid that Stein is acting, by running not only in the 35 to 40 states where she would not be increasing the chance of Roe v. Wade being overturned, she’s also running in the states where she *is* helping Roe v. Wade be overturned.
So not only are voters counterproductive for contemplating a Stein vote in a swing state, Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala are bad for running in one. Not only that, Ellsberg had earlier asserted that “urging other people, getting a leverage, [having] an influence on a large number or a small number” — i.e., Joe Birkenstock with his lawn sign — was similarly wrong.
Of course, advising against third party campaigns or advocacy when they allegedly increase the chances of an undesirable outcome (i.e., Romney in 2012, or Bush in 2000) is the logical consequence of advising against third party votes in such situations. But it’s also an illustration of what’s wrong with Ellsberg’s position — at least if you value the actual exercise of free speech, freedom of association, or a vigorous contest of ideas in our country, as opposed to merely genuflecting in the general direction of those values. Ellsberg would have a Stein or a Nader short-circuit their own campaigns and abandon their own supporters in states whenever it might benefit the worst alternative to their victory. Since by Ellsberg’s logic that’s roughly “always,” third party campaigns are doomed to “Groundhog Day” like re-enactments of these arguments every four years, for ever and ever, amen.
Worse, I think, it’s not clear when that ought to begin, or where that logic ends. It was relatively clear that Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, and North Carolina would be 2012 “swing states” — big enough to matter, close enough to be in doubt — ever since, oh, 2008, when they were exactly the same thing. It was also relatively clear that Obama would face a tough re-election since at least 2010. Taken to its logical conclusion, Ellsberg is saying Stein was wrong to even try to qualify for the ballot in those states.
So what did Manski have to say to all this?
That’s because Manski had “tuned out” in a huff much earlier, describing the roundtable as a “liberal echo version of FOX News, I’ve gotten better treatment on FOX News…“ Even as moderator Shihab-Eldin tried to recover by directing the focus back to Manski with a question, Manski continued “I don’t have time for this,” and switched off his remote connection to the roundtable, inviting this final dig from Ellsberg:
And I think that frankly that his leaving the program exemplifies the worst aspects of the Green Party. And even though they deserve my vote in a safe state here in California, they’re acting very counter-productively for their own cause overall.
In Manski’s absence, Ellsberg inevitably returned to the 2000 presidential election (while hinting that Nader’s 2000 campaign had been something that “may not be named here” until Manski had fled the scene.) And it’s too bad Manski wasn’t there, because Ellsberg made a pretty fatal concession to his point:
Now the people who, let’s say, campaigned for the Green Party it was then, in 2000, I think, having been warned that this was going to make the difference in a very close election or could very well make it in a very close election, are not *solely* responsible for George W. Bush; Nader is not solely responsible or even mainly responsible, that’s a straw man. But he was unfortunately a major factor. He was partly responsible. And that wasn’t the place for a progressive to be. (emphases added)
So now even the prospect of just being partly responsible for the wrong person winning should be enough to stay a third party candidate’s hand? To earn her the scorn of one of the most influential progressive activists alive today? I think highly of Daniel Ellsberg; I was even in jail with him once upon a time, for eleven days at Santa Rita prison after a blockade of Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. So I regret to say I think this was a disappointing moment for him and for those he’s managed to persuade with a mainstream party hack’s bullying line: freeze; drop your campaign; and remain absolutely still — or Roe v. Wade gets it.
No. If Obama loses Ohio and Stein’s vote count is greater than the margin of defeat, then… that is simply what democracy looks like: a measure of the relative appeals of Romney, Obama, and Stein. Ellsberg is subtle enough to note that many of Nader’s Florida voters in 2000 were those “who wouldn’t have voted otherwise.” Correct: the real choice each election is between voting and not voting; the secondary one is whom to choose. The default assumption for every Nader 2000 voter and every Stein 2012 voter is that absent the candidate, that voter would not have voted at all.
Ellsberg goes on, however, to say that some 13,000 Nader voters “would otherwise have voted for Gore.” First: prove it — who really knows… including even the voters themselves? Second: otherwise how? If Nader magically disappeared… or became suddenly, inexplicably overcome by the logic of not campaigning for president… or was simply removed from the field?** Third: let’s say Ellsberg is right, and God or the UC Berkeley political science department have irrefutably proven to him that Nader “peeled off” 13,000 Gore voters. The question is: so what? These voters considered their alternatives, found Bush anathema, but found Gore wanting, too (for an inkling why, let’s just recall that Joe Lieberman was his vice presidential choice). So they voted Nader. Again, that is what democracy looks like. Yes, then came Bush, then came 9/11, then came Iraq and Abu Ghraib. Someday maybe we’ll all be equipped with crystal balls, and then Ellsberg might — and still only just might — have a point.*** But as it is, he has no point at all, and no business pretending he does — the more so because fourth: whether or not Gore lost 13,000 voters to Nader, he had a far larger pool of eligible non-voters to try to get to the polls in Florida, and failed to do so. The correct answer to “who lost Florida in 2000?” is “Gore did.”
Yet here I am making these arguments a week late, and tens of thousands of viewers and readers short of what Manski could have done when it would have helped the most.
“Corrente” writer John Halle has a different take: he thinks Manski should have taken Ellsberg’s “vote for Stein in California, for Obama in Ohio” idea (also echoed by PDA’s Jeff Cohen in a RealNews interview) and run like a thief. In this view, storming out of the roundtable without doing so showed “suicidal” political tendencies. Halle has a point:
Should progressives actually listen to Ellsberg (and other influential leftists such as Noam Chomsky and Jeff Cohen), Stein could be assured of millions of votes in undisputed states such as New York, California and Illinois. Or in states such as Texas, where Romney is a sure winner, a small percentage but large aggregate numbers of votes would go Stein’s way. The result could be the Green Party achieving the holy grail of 5% qualifying them for $20 million in federal election funds, potentially helping them to establish themselves as a viable, and not merely symbolic alternative.
If that’s the holy grail, then Halle’s right, of course. If it’s establishing a kind of hardened base of voters who withhold their votes from mainstream candidates unless those candidates talk the talk and walk the walk (Stoller’s vision, more or less), then maybe not. Either way, though, storming out of this debate less than twelve minutes in was an arrogant, deeply counterproductive mistake on Manski’s part. Frankly, it should have got him fired. Third party campaigns shouldn’t ever, ever, ever leave debates — they have trouble enough getting in.
EDIT, 11/4: “allegedly” for “arguably”
* Ellsberg “the two women” etc.: 17:15; “urging other people“: segment beginning at 11:45; Manski “tune out,” 13:35; Ellsberg “and I think that frankly“: continuation of segment beginning at 17:15; Ellsberg “Now the people who…” in segment beginning at 24:55.
** The latter appears to be Ellsberg’s theory about the 1972 election; at the end of the program, when asked to comment on George McGovern’s death, he pointed out that the size of Nixon’s victory looked bigger than his 1968 one because George Wallace — who ran a strong third party campaign in 1968 — got shot and left the race, and his 1968 voters voted for Nixon instead. McGovern’s share of the vote in 1972 wasn’t much smaller than Humphrey’s in 1968.
*** “Might” because those crystal balls would also have to tell us what Gore would actually have done differently, and we’d have to be able to compare all that; Gore was no Dennis Kucinich himself.