Self Immolation and The Left


Even in the age of extreme reality television, nationally broadcasted suicides remain a blessedly rare occurrence.  And so the suicide which occurred during a Huffington Post sponsored debate on third party voting probably should have received more attention that it did.

The act in question was that of Green Party campaign manager Ben Manski who, objecting to condescending and impertinent remarks from the moderator and other participants, stalked off the set, leaving the floor to Matt Stoller, an anti Obama former Democratic Party operative by no means favorable to the Greens, conventional Democratic Party hack Emily Hauser, and, mainly, to Daniel Ellsberg who was recommending a vote for a Obama in swing states.

This should be described as a suicide because in objective political terms it was precisely that. It is, after all, the job of a campaign manager is to acquire votes for his candidate from whatever quarters they are forthcoming. What seems to have been lost on Manski was, first of all, that Ellsberg, while voicing some strategic reservations, had, in fact, stated that he would vote for Manski’s candidate Jill Stein in his home state of California.

Second, much more important than this retail political calculus is that, as a few seconds’ thought will reveal, the wholesale logic of Ellsberg’s position was overwhelmingly in favor of Stein. For the other side of the coin of strategic voting recommended by Ellsberg and others is an explicit endorsement for Stein in the great majority of instances, namely in safe states.

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.

But rather than trumpeting Ellsberg’s endorsement, Manski and Stoller chose to ignore it by focussing on the divisive and comparatively insignificant question of whether swing state voters should deliberately “send a message” to Obama by increasing Romney’s chances to win. Stoller went further, doubting whether a Romney victory should be a cause for any particular concern, as there are areas where Obama may turn out to be worse.  Regardless of the merits of this position, it is necessarily a speculative one, as no one can predict with any certainty how Romney or Obama will govern.

What is certain is that the votes to be gained in swing states are far fewer than those available to the Greens in safe states. Should the Greens capture these and achieve their 5%, this could, combined with serious organizing at the municipal level, constitute the seeds of an actual left alternative to the Democrats.  The development of an electoral wing of the now dormant but hopefully reviving protest movement, much as has Syriza in Greece, would constitute a serious threat to the neo-liberal regime-much more so than the defeat or one of its two hand-picked candidates in a national election.

Finally, Manski could have pointed out that an explicit endorsement of a Green represents a significant concession for many among the left agenda setting media.  Neither Ellsberg nor Chomsky, has, to my knowledge directly endorsed voting for a third party presidential candidate, even in the typically highly qualified and unenthusiastic form in which Chomsky couched his support for Stein this year.  For Cohen, who, in a recent interview on the Real News network, defined strategic voting as voting for Obama in contested states and for Stein everywhere else, this was a much bigger step.  A founding member of the Progressive Democrats of America, Cohen had both in name and deed, committed himself to reforming the Democratic Party as the only possible vehicle for progressive change.   The change of allegiance to the non-partisan “Roots Action” is indicative that the Democrats can no longer count on this contingent for its critical, but effectively largely unconditional support in the past.

It is the catastrophe of the Obama administration which has led to this fracture and it is likely to be among the first of many cracks in Democratic Party edifice which has imprisoned within it leftists, and worse, stunted the left imagination for generations. The best hope of the left is to continue to allow the Democratic Party to undermine its own foundation as the Obama administration turns on and consumes its most loyal supporters-those whom the President’s good friend and chief of staff charmingly referred to as “fucking retards.”

At the same time, for it to pick up the pieces left by the near total delegitimation of the existing party system, the left needs to be ready with a serious, unified and viable political party capable of competing for and exercising state power .

By contemptuously rejecting Ellsberg’s safe states proposal Ben Manski, and others who adopt his suicidal posture, are flushing many thousands of votes down the toilet, and in so doing, have shown they are not interested in joining the batlle.

Until they recognize that seriously competing for state power is necessary to achieve it, the left will surely remain in the hole which,as this anecdotes shows, it has, to a significant extent, dug for itself.

JOHN HALLE is Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He can be reached at: halle@bard.edu.

November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate
Julian Vigo
A Brief Genealogy of Disappearance and Murder
John R. Hall
Stuck in the Middle With You
Barbara Nimri Aziz
McDonalds at 96th Street
David Rovics
At the Center of Rebellion: the Life and Music of Armand
Weekend Edition
November 20-22, 2015
Jason Hirthler
Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate: More War, More Blowback
Sam Husseini
The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment’s Perpetual War Machine
Mike Whitney
Hillary’s War Whoop
Pepe Escobar
In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners
Ajamu Baraka
The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
Andrew Levine
The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!
Linda Pentz Gunter
Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars
Nur Arafeh
Strangling the Palestinian Economy
Paul Street
Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship
Patrick Howlett-Martin
The Paris Attacks: a Chronicle Foretold
Vijay Prashad
Rebuilding Syria With BRICS and Mortar
Brian Cloughley
Why US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the Biggest Threat to World Peace