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  October 18, 2012

Should Progressives Vote Obama in a Swing State?

A debate with Cheri Honkala, VP candidate of the Green Party and Jeff Cohen of
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Jeff Cohen is a media critic and lecturer, founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. Cohen founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986. Cheri Honkala has been a leading advocate for poor and homeless in America. She co-founded the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. She has organized tens of thousands holding marches, demonstrations and setting up tent cities. Honkala was included in Philadelphia Magazine’s list of 100 Most Powerful Philadelphians and was named Philadelphia Weekly’s “Woman of the Year” in 1997. In 2001 Ms. Magazine also named Cheri Woman of the Year and she's since been the recipient of numerous awards including the Bread and Roses Human Rights Award, Public Citizen of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Social Workers, and the prestigious Letelier-Moffitt award from the Washington Institute for Policy Studies. She is the Vice Presidential candidate for the Green Party.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

There's a debate taking place in certain sections of the progressive public opinion on the left about whether or not to vote in swing states for President Obama or not. And the argument goes like this: there's not really enough difference between President Obama and candidate Romney to make such a choice, and it's more important to develop third parties like the Green Party. Well, today, Roots Action, which is a grassroots organizing committee, sent out an email asking all its members and supporters to do exactly that: vote Green or another third party in all the non-swing states; but in swing states, to vote for President Obama.

Now joining us to debate this issue is, first of all, from the Green Party, Cheri Honkala. She's the vice presidential candidate for the Green Party. She's also the national coordinator of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. And she joins us from Philadelphia. Thanks very much for joining us, Cheri.


JAY: And joining us today—he's in Detroit—is Jeff Cohen. Jeff is the author of Cable News Confidential. He cofounded the online activism group He's also founded the media watch group FAIR. Thanks for joining us, Jeff.


JAY: So, Jeff, why did Roots Action put out this email today? Essentially, people that follow The Real News and have seen our interviews before—. You've been quite withering in your criticism of President Obama, but now you're asking people to vote for him in swing states.

COHEN: Yeah [incompr.] week [incompr.] criticizing one or another Obama policy. We worked with Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary peace activist, and we developed this proposal for split-state strategic voting, that if you're in one of the many safe states, non-swing states—there's about 38 of them—vote for a genuine peace and justice candidate, whether it's the Green Party of Jill and Cheri or whether it's Rocky Anderson, the Justice Party; express your opposition to Obama's policies. But in the dozen swing states, defeat the right-wing Republicans who are in many ways—you know I'm a media critic; I listen to Beck and Limbaugh on Fox News in many ways fueled by racism—say no in those swing states to Romney and the right-wing Republicans who will be worse in almost every regard than Obama, say no to them in the swing states by voting for Obama. But support independent third-party and Peace and Justice candidates in the 40 states that are not swing.

JAY: And I saw a quote from—I'm not sure who it was from, but on your email it said the person that said this said, I agree with the Green Party on everything except when they say vote for them in swing states. So, Cheri, what's your response to that?

HONKALA: Well, Jill and I are in it to win it, and we really believe that now is the time in history for everybody to vote their courage, and not vote the less of two evils, and that means in every single state across this country. And we need to do it, because people are not surviving this administration. They're not going to survive it for another four years. We will continue to see deaths for oil. We will continue to see situations like Eduardo in Kansas, a 14-year-old boy who was denied a heart transplant only because he was an undocumented immigrant. We've got to stop arguing about who's got the worst seat on the Titanic and get organized to get off this Titanic. We know that both parties represent corporate America and they're going to continue to represent corporate America.

JAY: Okay, Jeff, what do you say to that?

COHEN: Well, again, this idea of strategic voting takes advantage of our archaic 18th-century voting system where presidential elections are not a national election, it's 50 states. It's a silly system. If we lived in Northern Europe where we had a parliament and you could vote for the Green Party and maybe they would become part of a government with a more centrist party, that would make perfect sense. In our country, it's state-by-state, winner-take-all.

The Green Party, unfortunately, is not going to win this year, and Romney's going to win or Obama's going to win.

So if you're like—and our approach has been endorsed by Dan Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ehrenreich and Cornel West and Francis Fox Piven, Jim Hightower, Marjorie Cohn—if you're in a swing state, make sure the right-wing Republicans, who are worse on so many issues—and again, we're not defenders of the Democrats. We oppose the Democrats at RootsAction week after week. But the Republicans will be worse on Iran. They're worse on reproductive rights. They're worse on the Supreme Court. They're worse on who's appointed to the National Labor Relations Board. They're worse on the environment, even though Obama's been pretty damn bad.

So it's a win-win: build the protest vote, the left vote, the peace and justice vote in nearly 40 states, but don't let Romney win in those 12 swing states—Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, etc., Michigan. Don't let it happen. Don't let the right wing come back into power.

JAY: So, Cheri, do you disagree with Jeff that Republicans are worse?

HONKALA: The Republicans are terrible. I don't know if I can necessarily say that they're worse. Speaking as a woman in this country and a poor woman, Native American women have never had access to abortion, poor women have never had, really, access to abortion in this country since the Hyde Amendment in 1976—they can't get federally funded abortions. And when we normally talk about abortion, it's just for middle-class white women in this country and doesn't include the rest of poor and working-class women across this country. And in terms of—Noam Chomsky is also an endorser of Jill and I. So is Shamako Noble.

JAY: But hang on. But hasn't Chomsky said he'll vote for you 'cause he doesn't live in a swing state, but (I think he said) in swing states, hold your nose? I mean, he has said in an interview I did with him there's nothing wrong with voting for a lesser evil.

HONKALA: You're probably correct. I wasn't aware of that. But people like Rosa Clemente and Shamako Noble, Medea Benjamin, these are all folks—Sister Margaret McKenna, all of these folks have been out there helping to build this movement, helping to build this struggle in this country.

We, too, need to come to a point where we understand that there has to be a beginning. And we think that the beginning is now and that we've got to cut with the abusive party of the Democrats that once they throw us down the stairs once, twice, three times, it's okay for us to leave our abusers.

JAY: So, Jeff, what do you make of this argument, which I think you could extend a bit to say that the Democrats simply don't really ever have to worry about, quote-unquote, pressure from the left, because the left always thinks the right is the more—the Republicans are the more dangerous option, and when President Obama does win—and we saw that in the last four years—you know, he couldn't care less that the health care debate, the single-payer person wasn't even invited to the table, that if you don't send this kind of message, that actually you could lose—there's no such thing as pressuring the Democratic Party from the left?

COHEN: Paul, remember, the Democrats did lose in 2000, or they had the election stolen from them, and it didn't exactly make the Democratic Party more left. I would argue they were more abject corporatist and militarist in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

The reality is, I think, that most people see correctly that the Republican Party is more dangerous, they're more racist, they're more militaristic.

And in no way does that excuse the Democrats. and the people that are endorsing the voting strategy that I'm putting forward have resisted the Obama regime week after week. I'm talking about Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg and Cornel West and Barbara Ehrenreich, etc. So—Frances Fox Piven. So this is—again, it's a win-win. If you can build a big left, if we could get 1 million or 2 million people, and maybe in four years from now 5 million who would vote against the Democrats by registering their support for pure peace and justice parties in the places that that doesn't help the far right-wing Republicans, that's a good thing. But doing anything that would help Romney–Ryan get into office this November I think is a very dangerous thing. And that's why we think this is strategic voting, you know, voting—.

JAY: Yeah. So let me ask Cheri. Cheri, what do you make of this contention? I mean, it's not just a contention. I know you're running to win, but if one looks at the polls, unless the polls are wildly wrong—and I don't think they're likely to be so wildly wrong—you're not going to win. And in which case, what's wrong with this strategy Jeff's proposing?

HONKALA: Well, for us there's a lot at stake. If we get even 5 percent—if we get 5 percent of the vote, then the Green Party gets $20 million, and for us that's like winning the lottery in the next election.

The other thing is is that there's many people in this country that are not, again, surviving this administration. There's going to be more people that are going to die again this year, whether it's in the military or whether it's people that are being denied access to health care. The day of reckoning is going to begin the day after the election, and people are going to see that the Democrats are not going to be—you know, they're going to continue to deny people the basic necessities of life in this country. I've been organizing low-income people across this country for 25 years, and we've got to stop halfstepping, and we've got to begin to vote with courage and totally break with the Democrats once and for all.

JAY: Okay. Well, thank you very much, both of you, for joining us.

COHEN: Thank you.

HONKALA: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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