Combat veteran, socialist... Senator?

Matthew Hoh is a disabled Marine combat veteran, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and a member of the Eisenhower Media Initiative whom we have interviewed numerous times before on The Marc Steiner Show. Now he is the North Carolina Green Party’s first-ever nominated candidate to run for the US Senate. “We keep witnessing, undeniably, the brutal reality of a changing world, and a threatened future, from a worsening economic reality for the majority of us, and from the climate crisis for all of us,” Hoh states in his campaign launch video. “This is made possible by a two party political arrangement of War and Wall Street beholden to corporate interests and a law making system of legalized bribery.”

In this segment of The Marc Steiner Show, Marc welcomes Hoh back on the show to discuss his campaign, why he’s running as a Green Party candidate, what opportunities and barriers that presents, and how the struggles for democracy and for economic and social justice depend on breaking the stranglehold the two major parties have on our political system.

Tune in for new episodes of The Marc Steiner Show every Monday and Thursday on TRNN.

Pre-Production/Studio: Dwayne Gladden
Post-Production: Stephen Frank, Dwayne Gladden


Transcript

Marc Steiner:     Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, and it’s great to have you all with us. Matthew Hoh is a decorated Marine combat veteran of what we call our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been a guest in the show numerous times. In 2009, he resigned his position with the state department in Afghanistan under Obama to protest that ongoing war. And his resignation letter, by the way, was cited by the Council on Foreign Relations as an essential document. In 2010, he was the Ridenhour Prize recipient for truth telling. And his writing has appeared in too many journals to mention them all or we wouldn’t have any time to say anything to each other today. Now he’s running for the US Senate in North Carolina as a Green Party candidate. And Matt, welcome back. Good to have you with us.

Matthew Hoh:     Thanks so much, Marc.

Marc Steiner:           Let me begin by asking a question that I know that probably gets asked a lot and can probably be really annoying, but I have to ask it anyway. You’re in North Carolina, you’re running as a Green Party candidate for the US Senate. It’s a state that people look at when they look at the politics of America as one that teeters between Republican and Democrat, probably leaning more towards Republican in terms of victory in the coming election. I mean that’s what most polls would say at the moment. I’m saying that to say that some people, especially people who are part of the progressive world on the left, especially inside the Democratic Party, would say, look, we are facing the right-wing hordes who could seize power in this country. We saw what happened on January the 6th. If you run as a Green, you ensure the right wing can take over the country. A lot of people are going to ask that question. How do you respond to that?

Matthew Hoh:       That’s one of the first things I hear from particularly those attached to the Democratic Party, is that you’re going to be a spoiler. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about that. And I think there’s a lot of finger pointing towards the Greens that, you’re going to be the next Ralph Nader, you’re going to be the next Jill Stein. And what I say to that is, look, Ralph Nader didn’t make 300,000 registered Democrats vote for George W. Bush in Florida in 2000. Jill Stein didn’t make 8 million Obama voters from 2012 vote for Donald Trump in 2016. A lot of this has got to do with the policies chosen by successive administrations, both Democrats and Republicans, that have impacted working families so negatively.

If I’m on the ballot in November, I will be the only candidate for US Senate that North Carolinas can vote for who is in favor of Medicare for all, who is in favor of student and medical debt cancellation, who is in favor of ending the war on drugs, who is in favor of US higher education, on and on and on. The things that I am standing for and am committed to in that list that does not overlap with the Democrats is much greater than the list that does overlap with the Democrats. And these are life and death issues. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of people die in this country because of a lack of access to healthcare during this pandemic. It already was a healthcare system that was broken and failing and causing misery across the country.

The Democrat in this race will not do anything to change our healthcare system, she just won’t. You know the same thing too. We’ve had 100,000 people die of opioid overdose in this country. These are both things that have affected me personally, the healthcare and the war on drugs in terms of friends and family as well as in my community. The effects that I’ve seen, the deaths of despair, as they’re called, because of a lack of access to healthcare, because of treating substance abuse and addiction in this country as a criminal matter rather than a public health matter.

So 100,000 people dead in a 12-month period from opioid overdose, and there is nothing that the Democratic Party will do about it. And on and on and on. We could be here all day just talking about the differences. I think that’s where I come to on this. There’s other things too, I’m not a Democrat, I’ve never been a part of the Democratic Party, I’m a socialist. The Green Party’s the only party I’ve ever belonged to. There are aspects about this that I think that people need to consider. The two-party system I really do believe is why we are at where we’re at in terms of exasperation of identity politics that have brought about these right-wing hordes, as you have described, that are really based upon identity, and this is a very dangerous thing.

I just don’t believe that continuing to invest in the system that got us here is going to deliver any results and changes. I’ll say the same thing about the Supreme Court. For decades, the Democrats ran on the Supreme Court being the issue that would protect women and we’ve seen how that actually turned out. Women may lose the right to abortion in this country. There are no Democrats who are saying really, we really messed this up. We have 50 years to codify Roe v. Wade into law. Instead of doing that, we chose to fundraise off of it every election cycle and scare people and we still lost. I think a lot of it, again, is my philosophy where I come from as a socialist, as a Green Party member, the issues that I am running for that I support, as well as and too the historical evidence that has gotten us to this point, continuing to invest in the two-party system is only going to continue to produce what we are witnessing now.

Marc Steiner:     So let me ask a couple questions out of what you just said that I think are really important here. I’m just very curious. Let me start with three specific things. One is, when you called yourself a socialist, and I asked this question as someone who’s called himself that since he was 15 years old, and I’m a lot older than that now.

Matthew Hoh:        I came to it much later than you did you but I’m glad I’m here now.

Marc Steiner:           So the question is, as someone who is a Marine combat veteran, who served in these wars, I’m curious when you came to that and how you came to that.

Matthew Hoh:          Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think it gets into really a great conversation about, for lack of a better term, establishment thinking in this country. I went to a very good public high school in New Jersey. I was the history honors student. I went to a good private college. I never read Chomsky, never read Zinn, never read Angela Davis, all these things, the most radical I ever read was probably Martin Luther King. I remember reading Cornell West when I was a sophomore in college. Not because it was a part of my college curriculum, but because I just happened to stumble upon his work and it was just a turning point for me.

Marc Steiner:         This is before you became a Marine, right?

Matthew Hoh:            This is before I became a Marine. But then too, I was so tied into the establishment stuff, Marc. Even after I graduate college, before I joined the Marine Corps when I’m working in finance, I’ve got subscriptions to The New York Times, riding the bus to the office in the mornings, I’m back home in the afternoons. I’ve got my subscriptions to The Economist and The New Yorker, so all very establishment stuff. There’s a conflict within me between what I’m being told is the right thing and what I’m feeling is the right thing. Going to war, seeing clearly, through my own experience, the effects that government can have. Seeing it here back in this country in terms of through my own experiences, but both through neighbors and family and friends the effects that government can have, and realizing that so much of what our government chooses to do is violence based.

Oftentimes, and I will say this, that the economic policies of this country, which really I believe start before I was born, I was born in 1973. So beginning with Nixon you have very real policies in this country that directly impact workers that direct our economy in order to benefit corporations, banks, the wealthy. We have neoliberal policies, financialization policies, that for 50 years have brought us to this point that more than half the people in this country are living paycheck to paycheck. So this is how I arrive at this place. When I resign in protest from my position with the state department over the war in Afghanistan in 2009 and as I enter into the anti-war community, and then seeing that the foundations of the anti-war community, and a lot of those texts, a lot of the organizations or individuals that have come to anti-war perspective based upon the ideals of socialism that preach brotherhood and sisterhood, that preach internationalism, that preach cooperation.

Then I’m able to actually look back and say, look, this actually is what the founders were talking about. Did they actually believe it or not? I’m not really sure. But in the sense of government for the people – And we can get into a big debate about what our actual government looked like in the 1790s, early 1800s, but the concept of government for the people, this is what socialism is. As well as too, seeing the very real effects here on entire communities that have just been ruined by for-profit-seeking corporations, by for-profit-seeking utilities, by a for-profit-seeking healthcare system, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Marc Steiner:            The last two things we just talked about, let me put them together in the context of what some people are thinking about when it comes to Jan. 6 and what that meant in this country. And what people saw and what that visceral attack meant on the US Capitol and what it represented. You talked a moment ago, a little bit ago about identity politics in this country. And part of what you saw in Jan. 6, I think, is built around that and built about racism and built about other things that are some of the diseases that are destroying this country from within.

So when you see that, and some people say, look, the only way to stop that, some people might argue, is to bring a broad spectrum of people together from. Liberal Democrats, to people on the left, to people in communities of color, from all perspectives to say, we got to stop this onslaught from the right. I’m particularly obsessed at the moment, because we’re producing a series now on the right and watching this power and what it really means, this well-armed power that we face in this country. So respond to that in terms of your candidacy, where you see America going, why that is happening at the moment, and how you respond to that.

Matthew Hoh:       I view the two-party system as this spinning brushes. That as they spin, they create greater distance from themselves. The problem with the identity politics is that it continually exasperates the tension, the rhetoric, it leads into violence. I think that’s further complicated by the technological and media advances over the last 30 years: cable news, social media, talk radio, so much of that is based around identity politics. We have very little issues-based campaigning and even less philosophy-based campaigning. When I was a young kid, I asked my dad what the difference between Democrats and Republicans were. And he gave a pretty good answer that Republicans believe in smaller government Democrats believe in bigger government, and gave a pretty fair answer that I don’t think you can really look at now and say, oh yeah, it fits perfectly.

Much of what is espoused by politicians from both parties has little to do with their political or economic philosophies. Often you can’t even understand what those are for these candidates. Jan. 6, I think, the mob that attacked the Capitol building, which had some real terrorist elements within it, I think it’s complicated and it’s layered. You had some people who got caught up in the moment, you had elements of this becoming a crowd that became a mob that became out of control, and then of course you had some very real elements that saw this as an opportunity to stage a coup. The same as the 74 million people who voted for Donald Trump against Joe Biden. How many more millions of votes than he did in 2016, in 2020?

I think to you and I Marc, to people listening, that makes no sense. When you look at the information we know about these people, they vote for a lot of different reasons. There are some racists in that, but again, 8 million Obama voters voted for Trump. When you look at the demographics on that, you see the key states where those voters shifted. A lot of those voters were in households that were earning less than $50,000 a year. There’s a real economic aspect of this. There’s also two that, as I alluded to before that I mentioned earlier, but also these deaths of despair, and there was a really great study by researchers from the university of Minnesota and from Harvard that looked at the count, the states that put Trump over the edge in 2016, the counties in those states that gave him those states.

What they found was a very real anti-war sentiment in those counties and leading them to conclude that Trump’s pronounced anti-war rhetoric, which he didn’t actually do or believe but in 2016 he was saying, led many of those counties in those key states to go for him because those counties had disproportionately high casualty numbers because they were where national guard and reserve units have been based. So you have these impacts on our community that I think a lot of people who are living pretty well-to-do lives may not see. Now, it’s complicated though, because we also know that Trump voters aren’t all poor. Trump voters aren’t all suffering from these issues that I’m speaking about. There are plenty well-to-do Trump voters. A lot of the people who were at the Stop the Steal attack on the Capitol were well off, were business owners.

So there’s a lot to this. I think with a candidacy like mine is that you are trying to break away from the identity, trying to break away from the narrative, binary Manichaean, good versus evil narrative and say, hey, what are the problems affecting us here? What are the problems that are systemic? What are the problems that are real life and death issues? I don’t think there’s anything that separates me from the Democrats, say, that isn’t a life and death issue, and that’s not hyperbole.

As also too, I think, with the platform that we have, it’s popular. On my issues page on my website, I don’t think there’s an issue on there that doesn’t have majority public opinion support or that does not have [inaudible] support. The only people who can call what we are advocating for on this campaign, and the Green Party on a larger extent, radical or fringe are really those in D.C. whose donors are going to be affected by this.

I think a lot of this gets back to – I’m taking a long way to get to this Marc – But gets back to this idea of direct democracy. Why did they attack the Capitol? You can come up with individual answers, but as a whole, they felt that they were being left out of the system. They felt that Donald Trump was the one who was protecting them from the encroaches of a corrupt political system. He was going to drain the swamp, he was going to lock up crooked Hillary, et cetera, et cetera.

This is all stuff that people feel. And this idea, then, of connecting people back to their democracy. From my issues page, the very top one is about ending political corruption and strengthening our democracy. We have a terrible issue down here in North Carolina with gerrymandered districts because the Republicans control state Houses. But on the same side too, they just gerrymandered districts in New York. Illinois districts are gerrymandered, both states for Democrats.

Certainly, you look at what’s happening in Minnesota now with that young man, Amir Locke, I believe his name is, who was murdered by the police while he was sleeping. Minneapolis is a Democratic controlled town. Look at what happened in California, where the California legislature, Democrats have, what, about a 75% hold in that legislature? And they yanked single-payer healthcare.

The solution is not one particular party, particularly when the parties are so beholden to money, the solution is getting a political system that is representative of people’s ideas and beliefs and philosophies. One of the other issues too with the whole way people vote is that a lot of times, people get to the voting box and they’ve already put themselves through convolutions by entering into a lesser of two evils political system. They’re already not voting their conscience, not voting their beliefs. Not voting what they want to see, but rather making a decision at the voting booth at the ballot box akin to as if they’re a Fox News or MSNBC pundit.

Marc Steiner:            So you’d said a couple things I’m really interested to explore here in terms of your campaign and where you see things going. One has to do with what you said about the 8 million voters who voted for Obama and then went for Trump. There were another 8 million voters, I think, who decided not to vote at all who voted for Obama as well on top of that, which is part of the reason that Trump could win this election, the last election. I mean, the 2016 election, excuse me. But before I get into that, I want to talk about just that strategic question for you. So you’re not on the ballot yet.

Matthew Hoh:        No.

Marc Steiner:        No, right. So what does it take for you to get on the ballot? Because we all know, if you look at the history of stuff, it’s hard enough to be a third party candidate in North Carolina and other places, let alone not being on the ballot. So how do you get on the ballot? What does it mean for you to get on the ballot? How do you get there?

Matthew Hoh:      Great. And thank you, Marc, for bringing this up, because the folks on my campaign collective would’ve beat me over the head because I probably would’ve forgotten to bring this up. Because if we’re not on the ballot, none of this matters. To get on the ballot here in North Carolina as a “new party,” we need to have roughly 15,000 signatures. Which, the rule of thumb is a 70% verification rate. So 15,000 really means 20,000 signatures. Every state is different. If we were doing this in Virginia or in Florida we would need no signatures. If we were doing this in South Carolina we would need 10,000 signatures. Really is different state by state. Ballot access is a way that, of course, the two major parties control the system.

It’s very difficult. It’s difficult to get signatures without a pandemic going on. One of the issues we have of course is we’ve had two years of public health messaging of, stay away from people. As our folks are out there trying to get signatures… A lot of people don’t like people approaching them with clipboards and a pen anyway. It’s not the easiest thing to do. But again, in the pandemic, the other thing too that we have a problem with is a lot of the events that we thought we could be at to get signatures were canceled because of COVID. So something like the Charlotte Pride march. COVID, Delta, then Omicron takes that out. So it’s hard and it’s expensive.

We have 100 counties here in North Carolina. So again, rather than going to one centralized location, we have to send each petition sheet for each county to each of the 100 counties and deal with 100 separate county election boards, as opposed to dealing with one central state board of elections representative on this. So you can imagine for a party that is made up of volunteers, as we all are, all of us with our lives, families, everyone who’s a part of this is working full time. It’s not that easy. But again, it’s worthwhile though, because if our campaign is not on the ballot, North Carolinians won’t have the opportunity to vote for Medicare for all. They won’t have an opportunity to vote for real climate change action.

Won’t have an opportunity to vote for all the things we ran on a lot before: universal higher education, student debt cancellation, public broadband access. Not this nonsense where we’ll give you a voucher or a coupon, but actually a campaign that actually… We have large parts of rural North Carolina that have very serious restrictions in terms of their broadband internet access. If anything, the last two years have taught us that broadband internet access, it’s not about just being able to watch your TV shows on Netflix. This is utility stuff. This is a public utility. So this is, again, gets back to this idea of, why are we socialists? Because we believe that coming together and the government being responsive to the public ensures a better result for the entire public than a government that is beholden to special interests, or particularly an economic philosophy that is meant to make the most money, as opposed to ensuring the public good.

Marc Steiner:      There’s so much to talk about. I mean, just a little time left, I’ll have to do this more than once to see how this campaign unfolds, especially when you’re getting on the ballot, which I think is critical to getting a message out and getting voted in. As someone who spent part of his lifetime as an organizer and actually bringing people who were former Klansmen and racists together with the Black community to fight similar fights and then that way deal with the racism, which is what happened, whether it was a young patron in Chicago or organizing tenants in Baltimore or wherever that happened to be, I’m curious how you take your message that way.

Two people to say, this is how we have to come together. This is why single payer is important. This is how we transition from a fossil economy to a clean economy without you losing your money, your benefits, and your job. You know what I’m saying? Talk a bit about what your thoughts are on how you do that. [crosstalk]

Matthew Hoh:      I think the focus is on working families. The focus is on those people, the huge segments of the population that a lot of what we were discussing about Trump voters went from Obama to Trump. People who are feeling the economic catastrophe that has been delivered upon them by 50 years of official government policy reversing that. Hey, it’s only fair and just that workers can have the same benefits that the banks and the corporations and the wealthy have. But one of the things that really always influenced me was FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.

[crosstalk] Then of course, what we saw with the New Deal, the Great Society. This idea that as a people we should all have the same fundamental starting place, but also the same fundamental infrastructure. And again, I keep saying it over and over again, but I’ll be the only candidate on the ballot who believes that healthcare, housing, education, and livable wages are human rights. What does that actually mean then if those are my beliefs, if that’s my philosophy, what does that translate into?

And that translates into everybody, including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, they have the same fundamental rights to those things that everyone else does. So it’s universality. So when you’re talking with, whether it’s Black voters, Latino voters, white voters, Asian voters, whatever. It’s about making sure that they understand that this universality applies to everyone, that these are fundamental human rights. In understanding that where we got to today, economically and socially in this country, it was no accident. This didn’t happen because of some free market magic nonsense. Didn’t just grow organically, our economy, in this way. The fact that 55% of people in this country can’t afford a $1,000 emergency. That didn’t just happen because that’s the way that God wills it.

It happened because of official policies by the US government over decades. It’s talking about reversing that. As well as too, I think there’s some elements to this of the education of, look, we’ve all been victims of a dividing conquer system by the two parties forever. I mean, forever. This goes back to before the founding of the republic. The idea that, oh my God, you know what? If these Black slaves and these poor white people ever get together we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. This goes back hundreds of years, and it’s very effective. And I really come to this personally because I took part in that because divide and conquer is what the US uses in its foreign military policy.

I took part in that stuff overseas. And I see how destructive it is. I see how it’s a self-reinforcing cycle when you do that of one side being pitted against the other. Where does that end up? And I think where it ends up is just as you were saying too, Marc, with Jan. 6, the last stand of the white man. Which is how a lot of those people, if you’re part of the Oathkeepers or the Three Percenters, how you would see it. There were people at Jan. 6 who were afraid they would lose their business because of over government regulation or something like that. But a lot of them were for reasons I just mentioned and as we’ve spoken about. I think when you’re approaching… And we have a very real commitment in this campaign, we have 100 counties in North Carolina, 80 of them are rural counties.

These rural counties are losing population, about half the counties, even as North Carolina grew quite dramatically in population over the last census, an increase of more than 10%. Half of our counties lost population. Why? What’s happening out there? Well, there’s no services, people aren’t connected to things, you can’t have broadband. The schools are underfunded. You got to drive 75 minutes to get to a hospital, then you’re going to have to wait for eight hours. Let alone, you can’t afford healthcare so you have to go to the emergency room. These are a lot of the things that people… And those people in those rural areas, they see a politician once every election cycle and that’s it.

Just as many as our sisters and brothers in urban areas, same thing. Politician shows up and then they see them whenever it’s time to go ask our votes again, and they’re left out. That’s another part of this, besides the universality, the understanding of these things as human rights, the understanding of how we got here historically, but also this notion that, look, this is supposed to be a government for you, and we are a party committed to that.

Marc Steiner:           Well, there’s so much I want to talk about Matt and I look forward to doing this more down the campaign trail. Getting more specifics and see how this unfolds, and hopefully get you on the ballot and that you are part of these debates and can hold forth when this comes up. I think that’d be really important. I look forward to that. By the way, how do folks get in touch with you and the campaign? Let’s get that out there now.

Matthew Hoh:           Thanks Marc. The website is matthewhohforsenate.org. Last name spelled H-O-H. So it’s matthewhohforsenate.org. Please go to the website, please donate. One of the things about the ballot access is it’s incredibly expensive. It’s a way to keep people off the ballot. You’re talking anywhere from, each signature costs us between $3 and $7. So when you’re talking about we need 20,000 signatures to be safe at a minimum, we need to raise $60,000, then. Also too, as a campaign we want to practice what we espouse. So if we have people out there working for us, we want to pay them a just wage. We want to pay them $15, prefer to pay them $20 an hour in order to do this. So matthewhohforsenate.org, please donate.

You can sign up to volunteer, you can join the campaign that way. Please share it with friends and family. As a third party, we’re a bit locked out of the corporate traditional media, which should come as no surprise to anyone. As well as tour on all the social media stuff. So you can look us up on Facebook. You can look us up on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok. So if you subscribe to TikTok, I’m sure at some point they’ll make me do a dance on TikTok. Please follow those, like them, share them, do all that good social media stuff, because that really helps us out.

Marc Steiner:          Matthew Hoh, thanks so much for joining. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you today.

Matthew Hoh:        Hey, thanks so much, Marc.

Marc Steiner:       Good luck on the campaign trail, brother.

Matthew Hoh:       Thank you.

Marc Steiner:           Thank you all for joining us today, it was great to have you all with us. And you can find links to Matthew Hoh’s campaign on the [inaudible] website here at The Real New and check it out, we’ll be talking to him some more down the campaign trail. Please let me know what you’ve thought about today’s program, just write to me here mss@therealnews.com and, as those of you who have already done so, you know I’ll write you right back. A really important reminder, Bill Fletcher Jr. and I will be producing a series on the rise of the right wing here in America, coming up in mid March. So look out for that. So for Dwayne Gladden, Stephen Frank, the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.

Marc Steiner

Host, The Marc Steiner Show

Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.
 
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@marcsteiner