Why Leftists In Most States Should Vote Green

And Why In Some States We Shouldn't

My late comrade and esteemed New Politics editorial board member Joanne Landy steadfastly insisted she’d never vote for a Democratic Party candidate, preferring a protest vote for the Green Party. “But I’ll never join that party,” she insisted. Hers was always a principled rejection of Democratic betrayals, something revolutionaries and other dissidents are forced to do if only as a last, bleak resort. While she solidarized with the Greens’ march-in-line rejection of any Democratic Party hopeful no matter how progressive—itself what I consider the obverse of too many electorally-fetishized DSA members, whose hyper regard for Democrats as the only game in town no matter how degenerated the game, is unnerving. To Joanne’s credit she did aspire to see a mass working-class party emerge but thought the Greens, with their rampantly factionalizing inner-party life and ideo-fetishizing, would likely never cohere as a model anti-capitalist force.

To the party’s credit, its 2020 electoral platform reads well enough, anticipating much of what a socialist movement would advocate. (For Green presidential candidate Howie Hawkins’ view of Green possibilities, see the smart précis of his campaigning book at https://www.gp.org/hawkins_campaign_publishes_book .)

I was never quite as dismissive of the Democrats tout court as was Joanne, let alone Hawkins, but I always agreed that in my home state of New York the Democrats didn’t need nor deserve backing from any left militant, let alone the bulk of union voters repaid so shabbily by party electeds from the grasping Andrew Cuomo on down. So, I repeatedly vote Green, too, and enthusiastically so for Howie Hawkins, a trade union militant and acknowledged socialist representing the best of the working class left. The down ticket often isn’t so uniformly impressive though: one pro forma hopeful running for state Assembly in my district some years back couldn’t explain when interviewed on local TV what an Assembly member did or should do. A low moment in the class struggle, surely, but no reflection on Hawkins, then the top of the state ticket and this year’s presidential insurgent.

This coming November 3rd, voters face the likelihood of a nationwide contest between two major party troll candidates that a benign house pet would not cotton to, no matter the blathering of cable news punditry pro or con. Donald Trump is the worst racist thug to aspire to a second presidential term since the genocidal Andrew Jackson of ethnic cleansing “Trail of Tears” infamy and the racialist Woodrow Wilson, architect of the Red Scare, the jailing of Eugene Debs, the effective extinction of the Wobblies, the forced expatriation of émigré radicals and the segregating of the military. (If I ignore other presidential villains, I plead guilty in advance.) Trump’s personal corruption and three-dollar-bill narcissism are legend, as is his blank ineptitude at anything beyond crude public relations framing.  The spike in needless deaths from coronavirus—at this writing some 150,000 Americans are dead and the number of deaths from COVID-19 likely to reach 200,000 by September—are already his legacy.

Trump’s putative opponent Joe Biden is a neoliberal stalking horse who offers working-class people some faint emotional balm but no real programmatic alternative, despite Bernie Sanders’ post-collapse efforts to make it seem so and language glossing up the party platform. Biden is no progressive, not even a trust buster of the limped Elizabeth Warren sort. In the age of Black Lives Matter, he won’t defund the police, decriminalize marijuana use, curtail military aid to Israel or even countenance Medicare for All. Can we expect a Biden administration to take down the homicidal energy industry or Big Pharma? As Dan La Botz presciently wrote in his recent New Politics review of Branko Marcetic’s Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden, “Rather than choosing the progressive Bernie Sanders, the voters [in the Democratic primaries] chose Joseph Biden, the compromiser, the advocate of bipartisanship, an erstwhile liberal whose decades-long political career led him since the late 1970s to adopt a series of fundamentally conservative budget-balancing positions, to create racist welfare and crime programs, to ravage civil liberties, and to become an advocate of U.S. military ventures around the world.” An August 1 New York Times report points out that Biden also has a career-spanning and unseemly close relationship with K Street lobbyists and former government officials turned corporate flacks whom even Democratic liberals fear. They will unduly influence a Biden administration for the worse.

In any structured ways, then, the two-party contest will be—regardless of the outcome—a dour replay of 2016; kleptocratic racism versus neoliberal imperialism. Trump’s rampant corruption, blatant white supremacy maunderings and cardboard populism—witness his call for a some $400 billion payroll tax cut that will come at the expense of already hard-pressed Medicare and Social Security programs and do nothing for the exploding number of unemployed—is like so much of Trump’s blarney straight out of Robert Penn Warren’s fictive ode to Huey Long. Federal July figures for the month of June chart an 11.1 percent unemployment rate, likely to mushroom again when July figures are charted in August. The malign Trump effort might seem a boon to those still employed but is more of a freebie gift to better-paid executives and a boost to the corporate bottom line. So much for Trump’s populism.

Both Trump and Biden offer a free ride for the predatory U.S. ruling class. No one should expect a revivified FDR in Biden. Roosevelt’s legacy—hardly a revolutionary or even social democratic one policy-wise for much of his nearly 13 years in office—won’t likely be outdone or overshadowed by Biden even with a Senate Democratic majority, itself no sure thing to deliver pro-worker policies unless a mobilized opposition forces it to grow teeth. Biden and company will face a much stronger ruling class bent on sabotage than even FDR faced, as Kim Phillips-Fein’s iconic 2009 book Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal demonstrates by contrasting what FDR and today’s generation of electoral reformers face in corporate offensive capacity.

Biden’s chief virtue is that he’s not Trump. Is there a better reason to wish his candidacy well? Sadly, no, but it can’t be dismissed given the still marginal state of the electoral left as an opposition even with exciting revolutionary ideas percolating and militancy in hundreds of encouraging street protests.

With less than 100 days to go before the November 3 election, the left has an opportunity to consider what many progressives consider heresy: voting for a third-party presidential candidate. To be sure, the political stakes are high. Four more years of a Trump administration conjures dystopian visions of a fascist dictatorship and an unbridled assault on civil and political rights—a prospect that would encourage any sentient being to cast their ballot for Trump’s Democratic challenger. Yet, there are circumstances in which support for a third-party presidential candidate is politically appropriate this fall. In particular, protest votes for the Greens in non-toss-up, non-battleground states would both reveal support for a more robust left political agenda and avoid throwing the election to Trump. Alas, making this happen, without alienating labor and community groups loyal to the Democratic Party, requires walking a political tightrope with a tattered safety net.

So, what’s the connection between street heat and electoral action in the less than 100 days leading up to the election? It’s that millions of protest votes for the Greens in non-toss-up, non-battleground states can be a prelude to that fight and a teaching moment for U.S. labor and others. A Green breakthrough could be a marker for what an articulated politics can accomplish. The tough question is where can the breakthroughs occur, and how so without giving the election by default to the kleptocratic Trump. Equally important, can we militate labor and community groups into doing the smart thing electorally and vote Green or other third-party efforts in the plurality of states where opting to oppose either pro-capitalist candidate won’t throw the election to Trump?

Why Voting Green in Safe Sates Matters

The Greens are likely not a palpable or viable alternative to the two-party duopoly. but a vote for them anyway is necessary in the lead up to November 3 in the many states sagely predicted now to go for either Trump or Biden hands down. In that majority of non-swing states—36 at last count in which Biden or Trump can be safely predicted to cinch—the left should tout the Greens, including not just boosting them largely as an electoral adjunct to the brilliant mass movement in the streets to defund the ill-serving, misplaced police—the healthiest extra-parliamentary effort since Occupy—but as a win-win that can potentially challenge the Democrats programmatically and in actuality, picking up on Bernie’s pre-collapse efforts. Would that be possible? I think yes. Because there is every reason to break with the Democrats, but not everywhere just now.

In only a minority of states will a Biden vote by leftists matter and need to be called for. An effort by any socialists for Biden is defensible and necessary in defeating Trump only in the 14 battleground states at present as demarcated in the Cook Political Report for late July, showing four states (Arizona, Georgia, Maine 2nd CD and North Carolina) as toss-ups, seven leaning Democratic (Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska 2nd CD, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), and three leaning Republican (Iowa, Ohio and Texas), of which there may reasonably be fewer in the weeks leading up to the general election on Nov 3. Absent those 14, polls show that the rest appear now to go for Biden or Trump by comfortable margins.

Of course, it’s too early to know the outcome. Closer to the election we will see if any others emerge as toss-ups, if the 14 remain close, or if more collapse for one or the other sad, bad and dangerous-to-know candidate. It’s also only in that minority of states that the pro-Biden argument holds water and where a vote for the Greens over Biden would prove mischievous at best and, to too many allies, traitorous at worst. 

Here’s Why I Say What I’m Saying

If I lived in Ohio or Michigan, for example, and had relations with labor activists sweating blood for Biden, I could not in good faith sit that one out, let alone militate for the Green candidate. As I live in New York, I owe Biden and his pro-capitalist, careerist DNC machine fixers nothing. In the other 35 states, any leftist urging a vote for Biden when the results are foreordained will seem like a naïf engaging in a will o’ the wisp. A Biden vote would add nothing either propaganda-wise or in building a left alternative base. In those 36 states he’s already either won or lost; the outcome’s not looking to be close.

It’s also now far too late in this election cycle to institutionalize a third-party effort or even do much to build the Greens. Still, where either the Dems or the GOP are safely expected to win the race, it’s better to give a third party a boost. Should Biden win, we’ll be battling him the day after his election. Where we disagree is supporting neoliberal Biden in the safe states. There he doesn’t deserve us or need us, nor would we be doing anything to materially hurt the GOP raptors and their white nationalist/killer clown president or build a socialist left. Howie Hawkins, to his credit, is campaigning for the presidency as a socialist. He comes with a long and meritorious labor pedigree. Voting for him in the 36 safe states makes good sense. Helping the Greens in the far fewer battleground areas is a nonstarter as well as a potentially catastrophic game changer.

At this moment—and things can get far better or worse, given Trump’s law-and-order piratic elan, his flagrant deployment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol thugs in their decades-long attacks on desperate asylum seekers and their marauding in Portland and other cities the closest approximation yet to a domestic fascist militia—and his coup-like threat to negate an electoral defeat no matter how clear the result means a close race in just those 14 battleground states matters. A vote for the Greens, the only national alternative to the duopoly no matter its inherent weaknesses, will not come at the expense of Democrats either in the bulk of presidential or down-ballot positions. Taking control of the Senate from the hard-right GOP and handing it to the Israeli settler/Mossad enabler and laggard centrist Chuck Schumer will be no relaxed walk in the woods, but he does respond to pressure, and a solid vote for Greens in all but the toss-up states will embolden a movement to strengthen opposition both inside and outside the Democratic structure.

DSA, to its credit, is amicably working both sides of the fence, though that may be more a reflection of few factional body blows and contending egos than a healthy respect for differences, though that could change given how difficult it is for comrades to socialize absent in-person formal meetings—thank you COVID-19—when political chatting over drinks and sundry at a pub can be worth more in recouping common ground than the best informed debate polemics.

Electoral politics under monopoly capitalism is in most instances a snare. Absent social movements banging on the door and knocking recalcitrant heads to keep them honest—how many AOCs can we expect to put and prize in office absent irrepressible pressure from an organized rank-and-file social movement keeping electeds accountable?—or in optimal circumstances forming countervailing power centers (workers’ councils, anyone?)—we leftists go into the new electoral cycle woefully ill-prepared. Add the number of election-avid wannabe fixers infesting campaign circles—some in DSA, sad to say—and it’s fair to ask “Which side are you on?” For all of the Greens’ missteps, their side in the class war at least is not in doubt. Promoting the Greens in the time remaining is no stairway to heaven, but it’s inescapable in the bulk of states in the run-up to November 3. Just refrain in those few states where the outcome seems shaky. Your conscientious protest vote could come at your base’s expense. Your allies will hate you for it, should Trump win, and they’d be right to write you off as narcissists not unlike Trump. Try overcoming that in the short run, when a unified fight back regardless of which mainstream party stooge wins the presidency in November will need maximum cooperation nationwide in a united front effort against capital in crisis.

Bottom line: the larger a vote for the Greens equates with more pressure that can be put on Biden post-victory to address labor and community issues and bring down attention to those suburban insecurities of the professional/managerial class that draw media and politicians’ attention but detract from the needs of working-class people. Bernie addressed these needs—needs Bill Clinton and Barack Obama only addressed largely rhetorically and that Biden will likely do as well. But Bernie’s campaign is over. A vote for Hawkins in any of the non-battleground states, if only de minimus to secure ongoing ballot access and federal funding for the party’s effort to soldier on, is the least we leftists can do.

About Author
MICHAEL HIRSCH is a New Politics editorial board member. An erstwhile sociology and labor studies college teacher as a 20-something, he left Boston academia to industrialize into the Midwest steel industry during the 1970s and 1980s. Following the mass layoffs of the early and mid-80s, Hirsch became a union staff writer. Now retired, the New York City-based Hirsch remains a labor and politics writer, a member of the National Writers Union (CWA) and a moderator for the Portside news service. He pays dues to Solidarity, a revolutionary socialist–feminist organization, and DSA, where he works with the Lower Manhattan branch’s political education working group.

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7 comments on “Why Leftists In Most States Should Vote Green
  1. Eric Lee says:

    Michael asks “Biden’s chief virtue is that he’s not Trump. Is there a better reason to wish his candidacy well?” The short answer, is yes — there are many of them. The 110 page Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations may have one or two.

    One of the co-authors of that report is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who is an actual democratic socialist. Of course she hardly has the stature of a Howie Hawkins, whose career seems to consist of a series of endless pointless campaigns for office.

    Read the report and tell me again that there’s no difference between Trump and Biden. I dare you.


  2. Geoffrey Jacques says:

    One problem with countering the point of view Michael Hirsch advances in this article is that there are those that are so wedded to the left-socialist brand of third party idealism that there’s almost no argument that can dislodge such partisans from this stance. Even an argument that points to the distinction of this particular election is often greeted with a cold shower. Hirsch tries to thread this needle by saying that pro-socialist third party partisans can be excused for betraying their alleged principles and voting for Democrats in this election if they live in swing states. But in states where the election is allegedly foreordained, such apostasy is to be discouraged, if not outright forbidden.

    Hirsch’s “have your cake and eat it too” approach rests on ignoring the fact that nothing is particularly foreordained in elections. Biden may be ahead as I write this in early August, but that’s only, for the Democratic candidate’s advocates and supporters, a tool to work with; it is by no means a prediction. The 2020 presidential election could just as easily be a close one. Trump could abuse the system and steal the White House once again. In that case, a strong popular vote majority for his opponent, even without an Electoral College victory, would be a far better and stronger tool in the hands of the progressive forces than would be a progressive vote that is partially dissipated by the ephemeral salve of marginal voting. No third party running in U.S. presidential elections over the last century has proven has proven itself a significant force (other than as a spoiler that takes votes from the party that’s closest, politically, to it), if it hasn’t at least aimed at winning a majority of votes in a state, and thereby winning some electoral votes.

    (The argument Hirsch advances also rests on a particular view of the class and social nature of the U.S. political party system in general, and of the Democratic Party in particular. That’s a much older, larger, and more complex discussion than there is time and space, here and now, to address.)

    Finally, perhaps the most significant thing about left wing third parties in presidential elections is that they have never won a single Electoral vote, let alone a single state. Electoral College vote-free left wing third parties, and there have been many of these, have also been characterized by their inability to put significant political pressure in their own name on any governing majority. Despite this, some left wingers continue to argue for the virtue of voting third party, in Hirsch’s case, the Green Party, under limited conditions, as either a protest or to count the number of left wing votes. But in an election year in which 9,378,376 voters cast ballots for the democratic socialist candidate for president (and during an election campaign in which the democratic socialist is now a part of the Democratic Party candidate’s team), it’s hard to credit either the “count your forces” or the protest argument.

  3. Gabe Gabrielsky says:

    American politics, the American left and facebook are all consumed with which individual candidate each of us as individuals plans to do secretly, in the (metaphorical) privacy of the voting booth for a few moments on Election Day. As politics in general and socialist politics in particular is a collective project, this whole way of thinking about the issue flies in the face of a socialist way of looking at the world. Given the nature of American political parties, even the bourgeois parties, this is not surprising. Ever since the primary system became the basic way in which party candidates are chosen, the institutional role of the party itself in that process has diminished considerably, though the influence of the donor class is often decisive. So rather than talking about the policies of this or that party we end up as fans of this or that candidate (including very good candidates such as Sanders or AOC).

    As an organization with fantasies about becoming a major party the Green Party is not immune to this. Central to this is the ongoing debate within the Party about whether or not it should be a membership organization and the consequences such a decision would have on its status as an FEC recognized Party. There are, of course, other debates such as that between avocados and watermelons and a rather substantial contingent of tankies active in the Party. But frankly, I these disputes are not really the central issue for the Party. I’m a registered Green. In the past I have run three times for public office on the Green Party ticket and would do so again were I asked. In my experience the central problem for the Green Party is its almost total lack of infrastructure. Undoubtedly both its failure to become a membership organization and internal factionalism on other issues contributes to this, but the sad fact is, there is no there there. There are very few Green Party clubs that function on an ongoing basis and pretty much not at all outside of specific electoral campaigns. And virtually nowhere is there a sufficient infrastructure to run a full slate of candidates.

    Virtually every political theorist who has given any thought to the question agrees that if a new party is to be built it needs to be built from the ground up, winning local, state legislative and Congressional races before effectively tackling a serious Presidential run. Yet, again and again, efforts to form a new party devolve into this or that charismatic (or not so charismatic) Presidential candidate.

    After his substantial showing in the 1932 Presidential election Norman Thomas took an automobile trip around the nation to assess the strength of the Socialist Party assuming that it might be revived to become a real alternative to the bourgeois parties. What he learned was a revelation to him. The Party was a shambles. Outside of a handful of middle sized industrial cities it had virtually no infrastructure. From that point until he threw in the towel on Presidential campaigns after the 1948 election Thomas no longer viewed the Socialist Party a a possible viable alternative to the existing major parties. Rather, he saw it as part of a larger mosaic toward the building of a broadly based mass labor party. My own view is that is pretty much the Green Party is now.

    It can be argued that the Green Party has almost no links to traditional organized labor or other social movements, but the same can be said of DSA. The issue should not be what individual each of us as individuals plans to spend a few moments voting for in the metaphorical privacy of a voting booth on Election Day. For socialists the issue is the same as it has been since the New Deal era. Should we attempt to build a progressive opposition within the Democratic Party and attempt to take it over or should we endeavor to build a new party? By no means to I see the Green Party as the only alternative to working in the Democratic Party. There are numerous other possibilities. DSA or BLM could declare itself a party. I’m not suggesting that either of those would be necessarily a good thing, only that these are possibilities that I have heard spoken of.

    In my experience talking with someone about what they plan to do on Election Day is neither very interesting or productive, nor is it likely to change anyone’s mind. What I think can make a real difference is what people do on the other 364 days.

  4. newpolitics says:

    [Editor’s note: the following comment was sent by Howie Hawkins]

    Hi Michael,

    I think your description of the state of the left, and particularly the Green Party, is on the mark. I understand better now how true that is after campaigning across the country for the Green nomination. Unfortunately, the shortcomings of the Greens is due not just their own serious shortcomings as organizers and as an organization. It is also a reflection of the state of the broader left and progressive social movements.

    I think you can take one of your battleground districts off your list: Maine’s 2nd CD. The electoral votes in Maine and in that district will be allocated by a ranked-choice vote. Those voters can rank me 1st and Biden 2nd and not help Trump at all.

    I also have to say that Biden taking a low profile instead of using his status as presumptive Democratic nominee to point the country in the direction we need to take to deal with the pandemic is infuriating. He lives within commuter distance of the White House press corps. He could convene them for socially-distanced news conferences like Cuomo did early in the pandemic and pound away in the mainstream media to mobilize the public behind a test, trace, and quarantine program like most other organized societies in the world to suppress community spread of the virus. Instead, he just seems content to let Trump stupidity rule and take the blame. Biden’s failure to provide leadership and direction on this makes him complicit in the death and destruction. It deepens the health and economic crisis he will inherit when he takes office.

    Meanwhile, thanks to Cuomo’s rider to the state budget last April that tripled ballot access requirements and doubled the frequency we have to meet them, the Green Party in New York is fighting for its life. Only Nader in 2000 and me in 2014 have got enough votes as Greens statewide to meet the new vote standard for ballot access. The 5% I got in in 2014 came in large part from state employees protesting Cuomo’s fiscal conservatism. We may lose the ability to protest electorally the public austerity we are going to get from the Cuomos and Bidens going forward.

    We need a viable socialist alternative more than ever.

    Best regards,


  5. George Fish says:

    Fantasy time! That’s the best that can be said of this article. The stakes are simply too high–and remember, what the left forgets is that it is not the popular vote which elects the President, it’s the undemocratic Electoral College. Remember, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote by 3 million votes–yet lost the election because of the Electoral College. In reality also, few and far between are the true “safe states.”

  6. Gabe Ignetti says:

    Hi Michael,
    As you know I’ve been a vocal advocate and supporter for the Green Party going all the way back to the Nader campaign but I have since reversed my thinking for a crucial reason. I’ve come to realize that the Green Party’s positions on science are quite reactionary and anti-scientific. The scientific consensus on GMOs and nuclear power are that they are both extremely safe and vital to tackling climate change, disease, species extinction, and ocean acidification. The Green Party’s position flies completely against the the accepted data that nuclear power is the safest form of energy per kWh worldwide. Even the idea that there is a nuclear waste “problem” is a pure fiction given that it is accepted science that depositories for spent fuel will be safe far into the distant future and that nearly 100% of this “waste” is reusable as fuel for advanced reactors, space robotics, nuclear medicine and even numerous precious metals that are extractable and usable. The Green Party even opposes research on the only viable solution to this “problem” in advanced reactors that would be super cheap, mass producable, exponentially more safe, and physically impossible to meltdown. They would be abile to turn nuclear waste into energy for centuries to come. The use of spent fuel would be so complete as to leave nothing left to constitute a nuclear proliferation threat whatsoever. Viable plans for construction of these reactors are on the table right now. As to GMOS the overwhelming scientific consensus is that they are every bit as safe to people and the environment as regular food. The denial of the solid and accepted science on all of this is palpable. Given the severity of our climate crisis these failings are crucial. As bad as Donald Trump is on the climate even he does not support the shutting down of over half of our clean energy infrastructure and 80% in the case of Indian Point in NYC. The end result is that we would end up spending enormous money and losing precious time digging ourselves out of a hole of our own creation instead of moving forward as we must do to decisively tackle the climate crisis. Germany spent over a half a trillion Euros attempting to do just that and ended up leading the EU in CO2 emissions, deaths from coal pollution, and the cost of energy as well. The fact is that the 2014 IPCC report has called for the tripling to quadrupling of nuclear power. The IPCC’s team of 91 scientists came up with 90 different mixes of solutions that would keep warming limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but NONE of them work without atomic energy. The 100% renewable approach of the Green Party can only have one outcome: failure. Such an outcome here would be a tremendous blow to both the Left that supports this and and to the cause of climate activism as well. It is a Rube Goldberg approach. Without a true science based politics the cause of independent progressive politics becomes a non starter at best and disaster waiting to happen. We can do better.

  7. David Melnychuk says:

    What seems to have been lost in the above discussions is that an important part of the American bourgeoise and state apparatus has lost total faith in Trump and will be working relatively hard to defeat him.After the debacle of the Sanders campaign it is very hard to see why any support in any form should be accorded to the Democrats. It is hard to say what impact third party vote totals will ultimately have at this time but I feel it is important to push the message of support for independent working class and socialist political alternatives.

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