It was reported earlier today that Jill Stein, the assumed presidential candidate of the Green Party, offered to step aside if Bernie Sanders wanted to run on the party’s ticket. This is an interesting proposal, especially since just yesterday it was leaked that Sanders will supposedly endorse Clinton at an upcoming rally next week. The idea isn’t completely ludicrous, after all Sanders served as an independent in Congress and his ideas match up more smoothly with the Green Party. In fact, as a sign of support, during the California primary Jill Stein actually urged voters to vote for Sanders if they were registered as Democrat or independent, saying that “The more the Sanders team can raise the bar for the people not the billionaires, the stronger we will all be for it.”
This raises more crucial questions about the function of third parties in the U.S. First off I’d like to mention the abuse of the term ‘third party’ when every organization that isn’t the Democrats or Republicans is merely called the ‘third party’, in a way hinting at it’s own failure. But it turns out that the Green Party is the second largest alternative party with ballot access in 20 states in the country, right behind the Libertarian Party with access in 34 states.
The issue is, which would really be the most beneficial solution? Suppose that Sanders does endorse Clinton, that doesn’t automatically mean that all of his supporters will vote for her. In fact it seems the only reason the Democrats want the endorsement from Sanders is really just as an admission of defeat. Only that way will the party begin to pacify many of its more outraged members. But imagine if Sanders turned around and endorsed Stein? That seems much more likely than Sanders running on the Green Party ticket, and it would mean an unprecedented amount of people would suddenly very seriously consider the party. Sanders began endorsing and fundraising for progressives running for local elections, the most impressive feat being the fundraising of $250,000 for Tim Canova, an opponent of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
I don’t expect this to ever happen. Sanders is already poised to have a great deal of influence in the Democratic party and will likely continue to influence generations of voters. But a move like this would grant him the same status as Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate often accused of taking votes from the Democrats clearing the way for the 2000 Bush election. In an election season without Donald Trump I would fully support this, but for now the best thing might be for Sanders to continue to build the new labor movement, regardless if it is within or outside the Democratic Party.
However the future of any alternative party does not depend solely on Bernie Sanders. The biggest issue at the moment is exposure, the fact is that the majority of Americans couldn’t identify an alternative party to vote for. This is being remedied in some ways. For instance in late 2015 the Green Party and the Libertarian party filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates in hopes to gain access to the national debates. The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the exclusion of alternative candidates violated antitrust laws, and in many ways actually does. The ideal for the new system would be any candidate would be featured in the debates if they had secured their place on enough state ballots to potentially win a majority in the electoral college. This seems to be a reasonable way for candidates to actually earn their place on the debate stage rather than having it handed to them.
Despite this being a reasonable solution it is unlikely to succeed. Prior to 1988 the debates were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, however after the group chose to pull out of the debates the Democrats and Republicans put together a joint effort to create the CPD. Although technically the CPD is a non-profit organization you can imagine the amount of influence the two major parties have over their operations. As a result in 2000 the rule was created that for a candidate to be featured in the debates that candidate would need to garner at least 15% of national support across five polls. Of course it’s extremely difficult to poll that high without any sort of national recognition such as a debate would bring. This is exactly what the Green’s and Libertarian’s lawsuit would seek to end.
There is a great deal more that needs to be done to see the growth of an alternative party. Although an endorsement from Bernie Sanders would seem like a quick fix there is still other issues inherent to these parties. The biggest example is the mentality of the “Lesser of two evils.” The idea is that you vote for the least despicable of the two major candidates simply to deny the worst candidate from winning. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree with the person you voted for, the mentality just states you vote for the person you disagree with least. This is such a silly idea you could hardly find anyone that seriously supports it.
There are a number of problems with this argument. While it is largely utilitarian, your vote would be much better spent going towards a candidate you actually agree with. Not only would you be putting your effort towards ideals you believe in but you wouldn’t have to compromise yourself into this trap of “lesser evils.” Think of it this way: if Hitler and Stalin were campaigning on the Republican and Democratic tickets, respectively, would you vote for the lesser of two evils? You wouldn’t vote for Stalin simply because you believe he is the less despicable, you would simply revolt. And that is all there is to do.
The thing about the lesser of two evils is that they are both still evil, which in my mind means that we can do better. However, I’ll be honest. I would much rather see a comprehensive labor movement in the U.S. than a new party, but I’ll take what I can get.