Adolph Reed Jr.: The left needs to understand that voting should not be a site for profound political expression, but needs to be used now for keeping out Trump

Story Transcript

DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor in Baltimore. Much of the U.S. left is engaged in furious debate about who to vote for this November. Some say that Stein on the Green Party ticket is the only one who can uphold the interests of ordinary people. Others are boycotting the election altogether. But our next guest advocates for voting for Clinton to defeat Donald Trump, even though he says she’s a lying neoliberal warmonger. Adolph Reed is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in race and American politics. He authored the recent article “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important” for Common Dreams. Thanks so much for joining us today. ADOLPH REED: Sure, my pleasure. NOOR: So, Adolph, you say in your article that you’ve voted third party before, you’ve boycotted other elections. Why is this election different? REED: Two words: Donald Trump. NOOR: Okay, but is Hillary Clinton really so obviously the lesser of two evils? Is it so important that we oust Donald Trump? I mean, you admit that she’s a warmonger. Her hawkishness is no secret, and that’s maybe best illustrated by the fact that there are so many neocons supporting her over Trump. Trump has spoken out against the Iraq war, against the invasion of Libya. So why is she the lesser of two evils? REED: Well, look. One would have to cherry-pick Trump–Trump manages to spew multiple contradictory lies at both ends of a compound sentence, right. So there’s no telling what Trump actually believes, if anything. But what we do know is that the political force that he’s aligned with and he’s mobilized in this country are the most dangerous that there are. And if the prospect of Trump going into the White House with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, and then eventually the judiciary as well, is, you know, I find that extremely frightening. And I find it almost as frightening that there are as many people as there seem to be on the left who don’t find it especially frightening as a prospect. NOOR: One of the reasons that you say that it’s important to have Clinton elected instead is because it will be harder to organize around labor with a Trump presidency. But I mean, Clinton’s history on labor is not so great. I mean, she was on the board of Walmart, where there’s no evidence that she was concerned about the ability to organize. There’s even a video where she stays silent while her fellow board members hash out an anti-union strategy. So again, how can you say that she is the lesser of two evils here? REED: Well, right now–at this very moment, for instance–there are 1,000 workers on strike from Unite Here Local 54 in Atlantic City against Trump Taj Mahal Casino, where workers put, under the rule of Trump’s crony Carl Icahn, unilaterally had their healthcare, pension, and severance benefits canceled close to two years ago. But it’s not just Trump. This is, I think, a big problem with the way too many people in this country, and especially on the left, take an approach to electoral politics. It’s not just Trump, it’s a matter of the forces that he’s aligned with and the forces that might constrain him versus the forces that might be able to constrain her. I mean, look, I’m no Clinton fan. I mean, I’ve cast one vote for a Clinton ever, and almost didn’t cast that. And frankly, if I hadn’t been living in Cook County, Illinois at the time, where the alternative to voting straight Democratic ticket would have been spending a half hour in the booth voting for 20 water reclamation commissioners I might not have voted for him then. I know the Clintons very well. I know what their limits are. But you know, there’s a problem, right. Voting isn’t really a domain for expressing one’s conscience. I mean, I know, I read some of the comment threads after I published the essay in Common Dreams, and was kind of bemused to see how many people were appalled that I made a statement like that. But voting is actually the least, or the most passive, least effective means of political participation. But what we’ve done is repeatedly, right, we don’t do any other kind of serious politics, and then look up every four years and find out that, lo and behold, the major party choices that are out there before us are just so distasteful that we wish that there was something else to do. And I’m not, I mean, as I said, I’m not, I’m about as far from being a Democratic shill as one can possibly be. In fact, just a couple of years ago I was attacked by people for not being enough of a Democratic shill. But each election stands on its own, right, and the combination of opportunities and dangers that are presented in each election cycle is unique. We’ve seen what’s happened to the Republican Party, or rather in the Republican Party, which was never really a good time for, for people with progressive interests in the first place. But what’s happened to it since 2010, right. And it’s not just at the national level. You can look at what Mcquarrie’s done in North Carolina, what Rauner’s doing in the state of Illinois, Walker in Wisconsin, Pence in Indiana, these are the forces that a Trump presidency would be aligned with, and what I fear is that among other things we would wind up seeing the complete destruction of the public sector, and the postal service, privatization of everything. And some people cherry pick the Trump lies that they want, or that they find more appealing, but the same guy who says he’s opposed to the war in Iraq now, first of all, wasn’t before. But he’s also the guy who would, who boasts about bombing Syria one day or another, or boasts about bellicosity and killing dictators and their families, or terrorists and their families. And whether or not–well, I guess in the first place, no one knows how much of Trump’s thing is his effort to be the reincarnation of either P.T. Barnum or Mr. Dark from the traveling carnival, like in the Disney movie in the ’80s. I’m kind of inclined a little more toward the latter, frankly, because of the way that he lies. But we do know that the interest that he’s aligned with, the interest that he’s activated, and I don’t even mean just the Stormfront, right, like, and those people are the worst, the most dangerous, protofascist interest in the U.S. today. And you may recall that in addition to invoking, which is where the title to the article came from, the gubernatorial race in Louisiana in 1991 where there was a comparable corporate, very distasteful corporate Democrat, running against a literal Klansman and Nazi. Pardon me. And the broad coalition–and it was, right, center-left coalition–that came together to defeat David Duke then took as its slogan “Vote for the crook,” which meant the Democrat, former governor Edwin Edwards, “Vote for the crook: It’s important.” And that was actually a slogan that helped to win, or to defeat Duke. Sometimes–I don’t think ever–. I think seeing a vote as a locus for making a profound expression of commitment to political principle is a really defeatist understanding of politics, right. Because that’s what you do when you don’t have anything left, right? NOOR: Let’s take a look at your critique of the Green Party, then. So, you say, quote: The Greens’ approach generally, and Stein has shown that she is no exception, is that all that is necessary to make a substantial electoral impact is to have a strong and coherent progressive program, and to lay it out in public. That view is fundamentally apolitical, you say. But can you really say that the success of, say, the Sanders campaign wasn’t due to its strong and coherent political program? I mean, yes, he had folks organizing and fundraising, but the reason that–. REED: Wait time out though. But you just noted the difference that makes all the difference and you treat it like a [parenthetical]. The difference is–look in fact Stein said that when I was ion a panel with her and I was really taken aback at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of Katrina in New Orleans. And she laid the program out there and said that’s why you need to vote for me and I said the version of what I said in the article and her response was well yes it’s true that all you need is a good program to put it out there. When’s elections? Everybody’s got good programs right? Now I’m sure you and Paul could put together a good program. I could put together a good program. Right, a lot of people could put together a good program. But what it takes to win elections is having resources and political capacity. NOOR: But Sanders didn’t–it’s not that his campaign went an organized went and organized folks and then gave them the political platform right? Folks flocked to him because his platform spoke to him. Is that not so? REED: People flock for Sanders partly because he already had some political plats. Some political capacity. He had a little bit of a base in the labor movement. Not as much as he wanted and he had a field game. Right? And we all worked very hard in that campaign and came close but that wasn’t going to win it either. So the Greens have shown none of that. The Greens haven’t shown the organizational capacity. They haven’t shown that they have the resources. So I’m more just kind of blown away by this notion that the kind of build it then they will come understanding the way politics works. Because that’s just not how it happens. NOOR: So I attended the Green Party convention in Houston for the Real News and spoke to folks about the tactical reasons to vote for a third party. Even those who admitted that of course Dr. Stein won’t win the election, they’re supporting her to ensure a place for the Green Party in down ticket races. Folks who are trying to get her to 15% in public opinion polls so that she can get onto the debates and that could at the very least change the conversation. And you praised the Sanders campaign for its ability to change the conversation. So are there tactical reasons that are not just purely ideological then to vote for Jill Stein? REED: Yea I don’t see that the Greens have the capacity to do that frankly. Yes, I know. I not only worked in the Commoner campaign in 1980, I was an elector on the ballot for Commoner and we had a similar approach then. The idea was hit the 5% threshold to get the federal election money. The Greens have tried that with stronger and more charismatic candidates than Stein. They tried it with Ralph in 2000 and in 96. The 2000 race was a more serious one than the 96 race but I go back to this. You can’t build that during the campaign. I think generally elections are the arena for consolidating victories that you’ve won on the plane of social movement organizing. One of the things that was very exciting about the Sanders campaign I thought and one of the reasons I got involved in it was they seem to have a very clever, deep understanding and clever approach to try to combine using serious pursuit of the electoral objective with an eye on a longer term movement building objective. That’s where the action is now and that’s where I think the focus of a left political activity ought to be. And just to accept that what this thing has to be about in November is cutting losses and stopping the bleeding. NOOR: So you advocate for building within the democratic party and also building a movement outside of it right? REED: No actually I don’t care. Those people who want to build inside the democratic party can try to build inside a democratic party I think that’s [inaud.] a fool’s errand. I mean I spent the better part of two decades as hard as I possibly could to try to build something that is entirely outside of the democratic party. I mean I’ve voted for democrats at least as much as I’ve voted for other than democrats. But that’s about as far as that goes. NOOR: But even in terms of voting how do you decide when it’s appropriate to work within the democratic party and when you have to step outside of it? When is the time to look at the horrors within the party and say enough is enough? REED: Well that’s a very good question. One thing I would say, is look for instance and of course this is only my personal vote but in 2000 I determined that Gore had so definitively committed himself to running to the right that it made more sense for me to vote for Ralph than it did for Gore. And of course I had already sworn I would never for Joe Lieberman for anything. So that I thought made sense because frankly I don’t think that the differences between the campaign that Gore ran not the ways that dems who feel betrayed by the Nader campaign want to romanticize the Gore campaign in 2000. But the actual Gore campaign in 2000 was not different enough in my view from Bush that it wouldn’t make sense for me to vote for Ralph. But the politics has changed a lot. It’s changed a lot since 2010. You’ve noticed what’s been going on right? Both in the national government and in state legislatures around the country and the dominate tendency around the democratic party and then Congress. Like I said, politics is processual and its generative and the idea that one can be a third party voter on principle just seems kind of fatuous to me frankly. NOOR: I just want to wrap by asking even if one accepts the logic that we should support Clinton, why should we do so in a state that’s not a swing state. Would you advocate a swing state strategy where one supports Clinton if there’s any chance that she won’t win the election but voting for a third party candidate or whoever you want to vote for in a state where it’s obviously going to be a Clinton state. REED: Yea I guess that’s fine. But like I said, I’ve done that before. Like when I voted for Ralph I was in Connecticut. So it’s an issue I didn’t have to think about. I don’t care frankly. The only thing I care about is that Trump does not have a majority of votes in the electoral college. And whatever people feel that they need to do to make themselves feel righteous while helping not to let Trump win the election is fine with me. Because I just don’t think the voting is all that big a deal anyway. Like I said before, I just don’t think that how one votes or voting—voting in an election where all the candidates are given to you especially, I just don’t think that’s a domain where it makes sense to consider oneself drawing a line in the dirt and staying on principle. To me that’s very pragmatic. I’ll put it to you like this. A very good friend of mine John Hall was a music professor at [Bard]. Was my alderman in New Haven, Connecticut on the Green Party. And when he left office their guy who sought to replace him as a Green was absolutely convinced that I would vote for him. He kind of knew who I was. He kind of knew my connection to the Labor Party and so forth. And he walked past my house one day and saw a yard sign for the democrat in my front yard and was appalled. And was so appalled that he rang my doorbell and wanted to talk to me about. And he said to me, so I explained to him that I voted for her because she stood for everything that he stood for and [through] the democrat and therefore close to the mayor so if I needed to get some work done on my street or whatever I’d be more likely to get it with her as my alderman. And he said to me, but I thought you’re somebody who’s committed to third party politics. And I said, well I’m not committed to third party politics. That’s not a principle for me. I’m committed to a particular vision of social transformation. And I’m certainly not slavishly committed to the democratic party by any means. [Inaud.] friends I have where I’ve had it like that too. I can’t believe that you’d vote for a democrat ever. I think it’s misplaced to assign to voting the status of a domain for the expression of one’s most profound political principles. And it’s much more pragmatic activity and now I think the pragmatic objective is to keep Trump from winning the election. NOOR: Adolph Reed, author of the recent article Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important. You can read it on Common Dreams. Thanks so much for joining us Adolph. We hope to talk to you soon. REED: Sure my pleasure. Talk to you later. NOOR: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Adolph Reed, Jr. is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in race and American politics.