Joining me now is the 2012 Green Party nominee, and a 2016 Green Party presidential candidate—some might say the leading candidate—Dr. Jill Stein. She’s a Massachusetts physician who is, once again, hoping to make the world a better place and drive millions of Democratic voters nuts in the bargain. Mind you, that’s a very short drive. Oh, and for the moment, at least, it should be noted here that in terms of general election votes, Jill Stein is also the most successful female presidential candidate in U.S. history—at least for the moment.
Let me start with a softball for you. Maybe the softest of softballs. What does the Green Party stand for that the Democratic Party does not?
Oh man, wow.
See? Served it right up to you.
Yeah, really. Perfect. I’d say everything. [Laughs] We sort of pick up where the Democrats leave off. Because while the Democrats may say the right thing on supporting working people and our right to healthcare and so on, what they do is something entirely different. You can look at how they’ve treated labor and working people and their massive bailouts for Wall Street. For example, once the White House went Democratic nearly eight years ago, who got the bailouts? Wall Street did in a way that made George W. Bush seem like a wimp. George Bush proposed $700 billion but under Barack Obama it was many trillions. We haven’t seen the end of it.
Or foreign policy. The guys running the show in the Democratic Party are basically the funders, and that’s predatory banks and fossil fuel bandits and war profiteers and the insurance companies, and that’s what we get. And with the Democratic Party, you see basically a “fake left, go right” situation, where they allow principled, inspired campaigns to stand up and be seen, but they sabotage them when push comes to shove. And that, unfortunately, is what we see going on right now with the Sanders campaign, which is making a valiant effort here to do the right thing and change the party. But unfortunately, Bernie’s not the first one to try that and the rules of the game were set up after George McGovern won the nomination as a peace candidate back in 1972. They changed the rules so that you have superdelegates and super Tuesdays, and in addition, you have smear campaigns.
And unfortunately, we’re beginning to see that right now, full blown, particularly in the wake of the Nevada Democratic convention, which was such a horrifying display of manipulation on the part of the Democratic Party insiders to control the process, to ram through new rules and suppress Bernie’s votes. This is like the poster child for what’s going on in the Democratic Party. And then they turn around and they blame the Sanders supporters for trying to stand up for a democratic process. So Bernie’s digging in, the Democratic Party is digging in, but there’s very little question about who’s got the nuclear weapons here. [They’re] in the hands of the Democratic Party.
Our campaign is basically, for some people it’s plan B for Bernie, after Bernie gets wiped out. For others we’re plan A, because what the Democratic Party has shown us over and over again is that while it talks the talk, it walks in exactly the opposite direction. It puts profit over people, and profit over planet, and profit over peace. It will allow these big campaigns to get off the ground, but then it will basically sabotage them and absorb them back into the Democratic Party. And the party keeps moving to the right and the reform effort has to start all over again in four years.
And what’s wrong with this picture? This is like “Groundhog Day,” here, and we gotta wake up. And I think a lot of people are waking up to say, “If we’re gonna have a revolutionary campaign, we need to have it in a revolutionary party.” And that’s what the Green Party is.
I want to talk, in a bit, more about Bernie Sanders and an open letter that you recently put out to him, but for the moment, the deadline is coming up to change registration out here in California, so let me give you an even softer ball than the one I gave you before: Why should Republicans or Libertarians or even nonaffiliated voters out here in California change their registration to vote Green instead of for the GOP or the Libertarian candidate on June 7?
Well, in my opinion, the Green Party gets corporations. It’s not just my opinion. The Green Party doesn’t take corporate money. And Bernie doesn’t either, I believe, but the party sure does, and they constrain their candidates. The Green Party does not take corporate money. We’re the only national-scale party that is not poisoned by that toxic influence, so we actually have the liberty to stand up for the things that really matter to people. That is, basic community values, basic human values, basic values of democracy. And I think there are a lot of Republicans who don’t buy the corporate takeover, the hostile corporate takeover, that Donald Trump represents, but the Republican elite has represented, really, for quite some time. Their unofficial agenda is really not what most of their supporters are looking for. It’s not principled, it’s completely sold out.
And same goes for Libertarians, who, for the most part, are grassroots folks that are really looking to sort of get big government out of the way. But in order to do that, you also have to get big corporations out of the way so we can really have grassroots democracy.
Now, I think people should vote as they like, period. That said, out here in California, a Green vote in the primary on June 7 likely means that Bernie Sanders, who is almost certainly closer politically to the Greens than Hillary Clinton is, will do less well and will have less of a chance to make his case at the Democratic Party convention in July. Why should folks register for the Green Party and vote for a Green ballot instead, as you see it out here in California? And again, we’re talking just about the primary. We’re not into November yet and spoiler issues and so forth. So just on the primary, why should they vote for Green instead of Bernie?
I don’t want to stand in the way of anyone who really believes that Bernie has a fighting chance and they want to fight to the end. And I really respect what the Berners are doing and they’ve lifted up a really compelling agenda. I have no doubt, at the end of the day, they could climb the mountain. But to go to the promised land, that’s going to take an independent third party. The Democrats will not allow it.
And right now, it’s very clear that we are heading for an epic fight at the Democratic Party convention. I think there’s almost no way around it. That’s gonna happen regardless of the results in California. For Bernie to get the pledged delegates that he needs, he’s gonna need to win in California by 67 percent, something like that. It would need to be a bigger win than he’s ever gotten. It’s unlikely he’s gonna get that. And it’s unlikely he’s gonna persuade superdelegates—they are there to circle the wagons; they are not there to respond to the electorate or to reason. In fact, they are blaming Bernie Sanders for Hillary slipping in the polls, not the other way around.
Aren’t the superdelegates—if they are there to underscore the electorate, we don’t need superdelegates at all. In other words, then you just go with whoever gets the majority. Aren’t those superdelegates there, actually, to make sure the party selects the most electable candidate come November? Isn’t that the argument that Bernie Sanders will make in July, and isn’t that a good argument for him to make? And wouldn’t people voting for you in the Green primary out here in California cut the knees out from under that argument Sanders hopes to make?
And that’s why I say if you buy into that argument, do it. Do the right thing. And I think that at the end of the day our campaigns converge. And whether they converge before the primary or whether they converge after the primary, the Democratic Party has a very clear track record. Whether you go back to the way they shut the microphone off on Henry Wallace, the vice presidential nominee under FDR, they shut the microphone off and they adjourned the convention. After that, they were a little more subtle. Jesse Jackson, they mounted a smear campaign. Dennis Kucinich, they redistricted. Howard Dean, they did the Dean scream. And I think what we’re seeing now is the Dean scream of 2016. This is the sabotage of the Sanders campaign being conducted by the Democrats.
But for those who want to stick it out, I say go for it. Do that. I don’t want to obstruct Bernie’s fight and I greatly appreciate that fight. I don’t have much doubt myself where this fight is going and who’s going to win this fight. Unfortunately, the superdelegates I don’t believe were created in order to ensure the most viable candidate. They were created to put a firewall around grassroots campaigns and to make sure that the likes of George McGovern, a peace candidate, could never prevail again in a grassroots process, and they’ve been very successful at doing that.
On Tuesday night, this was as the results were coming in for the Kentucky and the Oregon primaries, both of which are closed primaries where only registered Democrats can participate, you tweeted at your Twitter address @DrJill Stein, “Restrictive & undemocratic ballot access laws are meant to force principled candidates to abide by establishment primary rules. #KYPrimary” I tweeted you in response to ask “Why doesn't the Green Party allow cross-over voting for independents in its California primary out here on June 7?” I didn’t get an answer on Twitter, so I’d love if you can offer a reason now. If you guys are so inclusive, why does the party have a closed primary out here in California?
Let me answer that in a big way. First of all, how to handle the question of open or closed primaries is hotly debated in the Green Party, so there is not one uniform opinion here. But there is a very uniform, overarching opinion, which is that the rules of the game, as you pointed out earlier, are made as complicated and incomprehensible as possible in order to keep people in the dark and lock them out. Closed primaries is one piece of a massive system to silence and disempower voters. So there’s all kinds of stuff that we need to do.
I personally do think there is an argument for closed primaries in a multi-partisan system. We should have many choices for people. We don’t right now, we only have two, so the whole notion of closed versus open primaries is kind of crazy. It’s a very closed process to start with. It’s also closed because you need a huge amount of money to compete on the current playing field; it’s closed because the press won’t cover you; it’s closed because the ballot access rules keep you off the ballot; and at the end of the day it’s closed because the debates exclude everybody who’s not a part of the two parties who control the debate. So it’s closed from A to Z, and what you’re doing on any one particular detail is not as critical, in my view, as really overhauling the process.
So yes, primaries should be open, but we need to have many choices and many voices that participate in these primaries. And we should have free media for candidates who are ballot-access qualified—if you have a ballot line and you can win the election, voters deserve to know about you. They deserve to know who their choices are, and by shall we say, reclaiming the public airwaves for the public, then we actually make campaigns really teeth and the bottom falls out from under this staggering cost of campaigns just by opening up public discussion to ballot-qualified candidates. And that includes then, of course, simplifying the rules of ballot access, which right now are designed to limit discussion to just the two establishment parties that are throwing us not only under the bus economically, but over the cliff on climate and on international peace and security.
You talk a lot about big money in politics and corporate money in politics, that’s been a big issue for you and for the Green Party for years before it even came up, sadly, as part of the Democratic campaign. But doesn’t Bernie Sanders, in one sense, somewhat counter the idea that big corporate money is needed to wage a successful campaign. That, in other words, if a campaign is exciting enough and offering ideas to the people that the people really want, that the money will then follow. Do you understand what I'm saying? Does that make sense?
Sure. Yes. Oh, absolutely. And it’s actually a catch-22, because in order for Bernie to really harness this wave of public outrage and dissent, he was able to use the Democratic Party infrastructure, which was great. That’s why he decided to run as a Democrat, or one of the key reasons, because that way he knew his voice would be heard. By pledging loyalty to the Democratic Party he was able to get into the debates, unlike Dennis Kucinich, who was locked out because he wouldn’t pledge loyalty. But that comes back to bite him, because that also, at the end of the day, puts him inside of a system that has very big guns to sabotage real rebels with integrity. So we’re seeing that cycle play out right now.
As long as you play by the rules of the game, they can pull it right out from under you and prevent you from going to the promised land. So ideally, I think we need to work together here—and we can talk about my outreach to Bernie Sanders—but one way or another we can play tag-team here, so that you jump start this inside the parties. But because those parties will sabotage you, ultimately we have to deliver the goods outside of the party to a place of independence where we can truly grow this revolution for the long haul.
I want to talk about that letter that you sent to Bernie Sanders and about harnessing public outrage and dissent. You recently wrote an open letter to Bernie Sanders, inviting him, essentially, to cooperate on the political revolution that he’s calling for, essentially floating the idea of some sort of unity ticket.
You write, “In this wildly unpredictable election where the old rules are giving way one by one, can we think outside the box and find new and unexpected ways to synergize beyond obsolete partisan divides?” You go on to say, “I would love to explore with you collaborative ways to advance that effort and ensure the revolution for people, planet and peace will prevail. Please let me know if you're interested in talking.” Has Bernie or the Sanders campaign responded to that open letter? And what were you hoping for with such an invite, specifically?
Well, the missing link here is the conversation, because that could be a gateway to all kinds of solutions. Whether it’s collaborating at the level of the social movement, cabinet positions, a joint ticket, many of these things are possible, at least from the Green side. And there would be administrative hurdles, but they might be overcomeable. I mean, certainly in some areas easier than others, but there would be a whole spectrum of options to collaborate on.
But the missing link is a word from Bernie that he would be interested in doing this and that he has come to see, in fact, the necessity for independent third party politics which is not controlled by the big corporate guns at the end of the day. And he’s getting enough of a beating, an outrageous assault right now that’s being conducted on his campaign, that maybe he will have a change of heart and a change of mind. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
I’ll take that as saying he has not responded to the letter and that the campaign hasn’t either, but what were you hoping for? When you talk about alternatives, were you literally talking about a unity ticket? You and Bernie Sanders running on the Green Party ticket? Is that part of what you are thinking about?
There are some technical considerations here that would have to be explored, but yes, I would put all options on the table, including a unity ticket.
How many state ballots will the Green Party presidential candidate be on this November?
We hope to be on all of the ballots, or just about all of them. In the last race in 2012, we were on the ballot for about 84 percent of voters. This time around, at this point in the cycle, we are on the ballot for all the large states, and that includes California, New York, Texas, Florida. We have ballot drives going on in Illinois and Pennsylvania, those are the two major states that we have not locked down yet, and then there are a variety of small states which are also in process. So I’d say to people, if you want to be sure that you have a real choice, of, by, and for the people, to continue the revolution, join our ballot access drive. Make sure we get there.
So you’re confident that the Green Party presidential candidate, whoever it is—and I should add you’ve got about four or five competitors on the ballot out here in California on June 7—but whoever that nominee is, you’re confident that you guys will be on enough state ballots around the country to secure the electoral votes needed to win the White House?
We are already on the ballot for a majority of voters, so we actually already have access to enough electoral college votes that if we had debates right now, if the presidential debates were open to candidates who actually had a mathematical potential to win, then we would be included in those debates right now. But we are going for 100 percent.
It always seemed to me that the baseline for being included in the presidential debates in the general election should be “Is the nominee with a party that is on enough state ballots that they could actually win the White House?” And if that’s the case with the Green Party, I know you were not allowed into the presidential debates in 2012, you and, I believe, Gov. Gary Johnson. I had put out a note on Twitter asking folks if they had any questions for you. Our friends at Free and Equal Foundation said that you had filed a joint lawsuit with Gov. Gary Johnson, who is running once again on the Libertarian ticket, against the Commission on Presidential Debates. What’s the status of that lawsuit? And was that for 2012 or is that for 2016 as well?
That’s for 2016. And the good news is that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, many months ago, filed motions to dismiss one of the cases. We have two cases filed and they tried to get one of them knocked out of court. And the good news is that they have not succeeded.
Mitt Romney? What does he have to do with it?
Because he was the nominee in 2012, so he was the Republican nominee and the beneficiary of the debates, so I guess that’s his standing. That particular case, I think, is also seeking damages to my campaign and Gary Johnson’s for having been unjustly excluded by what we really regard as an illegal commission. That is, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which pretends to be a public interest organization but is actually a private, nonprofit corporation run by the Democratic and Republican parties for the purpose of restricting debate and discussion. So we are taking them to court around this and that’s why Mitt Romney and Obama both submitted their claims that the case should be dismissed out of hand. But the court hasn’t seen fit to do that after many months, so these cases are still working their way through the process, and there are two of them.
At the end of the day, though, what usually decides big things like this is not so much the court of law as the court of public opinion. And there’s no doubt that people will go bananas if the debate is restricted to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, so I’d say hold onto your hat and get ready and go to our website and sign up for debate action. Last time, my running mate and I were arrested to make the point that these debates should be open. The American people have a right to vote, and we also have a right to know who we can vote for and to know about those candidates. So this is an essential function of democracy. This is what freedom of the press is all about. You need an informed electorate now more than ever in a presidential campaign. So we intend to start the action earlier to ensure that the American people have a right to know what their choices are in this election.
Back in 2004, as I recall, then-Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb suggested to folks in swing states like Ohio, where results were very close back in 2004 and could have flipped the national presidential race to Republicans, that people vote Democratic instead of Green in that general election and that voters in so-called “safe” Democratic states like California use that opportunity to vote Green. This brings up the spoiler issue. Do you agree with that strategy this year as well if you get down to November and it looks like it’s gonna be very close, and that, in fact, if you win the nomination, people voting for you could end up giving the election to a Donald Trump?
So let me say one thing at the outset. First of all, Donald Trump is a product of Clintonism, to coin a new word. But Donald Trump is riding the wave of economic despair, all these white working people whose lives and livelihood have really been kind of raked over the coals. And it’s widely accepted that that is a major force behind the rise of Donald Trump, this economic dislocation, but where did that come from? That came from NAFTA, which sent our jobs overseas, and it came from Wall Street deregulation. So in other words, Clinton policies, passed by Bill but thoroughly supported and advocated for by Hillary, who continues to advocate for them—that’s what brought us this economic despair, which is breeding radical right-wing populism. So you put Hillary in there and you’re gonna get more of that. So this is not the solution.
And let me also point out that the lesser evil paves the way to the greater evil. That’s why we saw Congress flip after the Democratic White House basically stood up for Wall Street and threw main street to the dogs and expanded the wars and created this “all-of-the-above” policy, which is basically a “drill, baby, drill” on steroids. We have have massively escalated fossil fuel production with a smile, note you, but we’re hardly fixing that problem. So the lesser evil basically generated the backlash into the greater evil, not only in Congress, but in state after state, in legislature after legislature, and governor after governor, because you don’t come out and vote for a party that is throwing you under the bus. Even if they’re doing it a little bit less violently than the other guy might do it, the base doesn’t come out to vote. So it’s a fallacy that the lesser evil is some kind of solution. It’s only an assured stepping stone to the greater evil.
Let me just say as a bottom line: this politics of fear that tells you you have to vote against what you’re afraid of instead of for what you believe in, the politics of fear has a track record. It has delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons you were told you had to bite your tongue and let the lesser evil speak for you, we’ve gotten all those things by the droves—the expanding wars, the meltdown of the climate, the offshoring of our jobs, the attack on immigrants—we’ve gotten all of that. Not that there aren’t some differences between the two parties, but they’re not enough to save your life, to save your job, or to save your planet. This is a race to the bottom between the two sold-out corporate parties.
The only way we’re going to turn this around is by standing up and leading the way. Democracy does not exist in a vacuum. Fear and silence are not what it needs. It needs voices and values. It needs a moral compass. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. The corporate parties aren’t gonna do it for us. Remember this: the majority of Trump voters are not for Trump, they’re against Hillary. This is a CNN poll, last week. And the majority of Hillary’s voters are not for Hillary, they’re against Trump. What’s wrong with this picture? We need something to be for, and that’s what our campaign is there for.
And I understand and I think you make a compelling case, but you’ve said that Trump is riding the wave of economic despair. I would say he’s riding the wave of media failure to let Americans know what is actually going on in their country.
But just to make clear, you are saying that come November, if you are the nominee and voters going to you would make the difference between Donald Trump becoming the next president or Hillary Clinton becoming the next president, you’re cool with Donald Trump becoming the next president, correct?
I am not cool. I am not cool with Donald Trump and I am not cool with Hillary Clinton, whose first act could be to get us into a nuclear war with Russia, because she’s all for the air fight over Syria. I am not cool with either of them! Are you cool with Hillary Clinton? I’m not. Hillary Clinton created Donald Trump. I’m not cool with a corrupt political system. We have no choice except to stand up.
I’m not running for president.
Well you’re voting.
But you will have potentially great power as the Green Party nominee and so that’s why I say are you cool with Donald Trump being the president rather than Hillary Clinton if those are the two choices?
I am not, and we don’t have just two choices. And that’s the point. If all the people who are voting for Trump because they hate Hillary, and all the people who are voting for Hillary because they hate Trump actually had a person of integrity with public interest values, who is not corrupted by the war profiteers and the predatory banks, if they had a Bernie Sanders type person and an agenda to vote for they would be voting for it. And if the Democrats had the integrity to allow Bernie Sanders to go forward they would have that vote, but they don’t! So less democracy is not the solution to a democracy on life support. We are all going to go down with this ship. I could not face my children and grandchildren not having done everything I can to turn us around, because we are on a trajectory that does not look good, which is outrageous because we could fix this.
Now, once we have the courage of our convictions, remember this one thing alone: there are 43 million young people who are locked into predatory student loan debt, young and not-so-young actually, and they have nowhere to turn except to our campaign. We are the one campaign that will cancel student debt. Now as that word gets out on the internet you have a plurality of voters in a three-way race who can come out and win this election with the stroke of a pen. They can end their debt and win the election in the same fell swoop. So in Alice Walker's words, "The biggest way people give up power is by not knowing we have it to start with." We have it. It's time to use it, time to forget the lesser evil and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it, because they do.