In addition, Sunday night, John Oliver actually deigned not only to mention Jill Stein and the Greens, but to take Stein's candidacy seriously—as seriously as a comedy news analysis program should, anyway. He also took Gary Johnson's Libertarian candidacy seriously for a few seconds...and then totally didn't.
The crowd at Last Concert Café Saturday (pictures here and here and on Brains & Eggs) was large and enthusiastic. However, not everyone in attendance came in as Stein supporters, and not everyone left as Stein supporters. Some came just out of curiosity, to find out whether Jill would be a better choice than the abhorrent major-party nominees.
A couple of friends, progressive but not hardcore Greens like me, accepted my invitation to the campaign event at LCC. They reported afterward on Facebook that the event gave them a bitter taste, partly from what Jill or the other speakers said from the stage, but more due to what they heard from the crowd. Somebody busted out with a cry to put Hillary Clinton in prison, a line more befitting a Trump rally, and another referred to Secretary Clinton as "Shitlary."
I had to assure my friends that longtime Greens try to eschew that kind of talk, especially in public, not that we're always successful in that effort. Trash talk of that sort comes mostly, though not exclusively, from people who are new to the movement and don't understand the importance we place on civil discourse. Another friend commented that you see and hear a lot worse at rallies for major-party candidates.
Another point my friends made was that several speakers lamented repeatedly that the body politic does not treat the Green Party as a legitimate party—which is very true and easily explained. A great many Greens are former progressive Democrats who bolted when the Democratic Party drifted to the right under President Bill Clinton. They could have just remained independent, or straddled the Blue-Green fence as many of my acquaintances do, but a goodly chunk of that group preferred to join a party that could embody progressive ideals.
The major parties have thrown buckets of tire-busting debris in third parties' road to legitimacy, including state ballot access laws and the entry criteria imposed by the Commission of Presidential Debates. The Greens, Libertarians, and other minor parties need 5% of the popular vote this November in order to tap into the same federal funds that the major parties take for granted. They can also avoid spend time, money, and shoe leather on petition drives to get on state ballots.
I took my friends' criticism as constructive. I encourage Greens not to feel threatened by criticism from without or within: We need to identify our shortcomings and work to correct them. If we want to be treated as legitimate, our candidates and spokespeople have to start acting legitimate—i.e., conforming to some degree, in our speech and our appearance, to the expectations of voters.
This is why I welcome John Oliver's Last Week Tonight examination of Stein and Johnson. He at least isn't completely writing off Stein and the Greens the way Samantha Bee has done.
Regarding Stein, Oliver began by stating that there's a lot for progressive voters to like in Stein's policy prescriptions. Then he spent about five minutes critiquing Stein on three fronts:
- The centerpiece of her campaign is wiping out student debt, which she plans to accomplish through convincing the Federal Reserve to undertake a quantitative easing just like the bank bailouts of 2009. Oliver may be right that, as Wonkblog has noted, it's a bad idea that will have bad ancillary effects on the larger economy. (Yes, I'm linking to yet another overwrought hit piece from Clinton's bullhorn the Washington Post, because it helps to know what one's opposition is saying. I'll even double down and link to this one from Daily Kos.)
- Stein also has an unfortunate habit of trafficking in what the mainstream media and public consider conspiracy theories. Any time she lends even a shred of legitimacy to Anti-Vaxxers or 9/11 Truthers, she gains their trust at the expense of her broader credibility.
- Stein's contributions to the world of music, with her '90s folk-rock group Somebody's Sister, apparently aren't to Oliver's tastes. Johnny-boy, I've heard much worse efforts from candidates and celebrities who think they can sing, play, or write songs.
Oliver may believe that he has eviscerated Stein's campaign by highlighting the non-feasibility of her signature proposal. Although I support forgiving college debt for the reasons Stein gives, I (who am certainly not an economist) have my own doubts about the use of QE. I agree with Oliver that there is no perfect candidate in this race, and that Gary Johnson has revealed himself to be a major putz (Bill Weld looks embarrassed to be running on the Libertarian ticket with that Johnson). But I'll take the Green agenda, including the Green New Deal, over all the others any. fucking. day.
BTW, folks, Stein really does understand QE and its inherent risks. But she also knows that any explanation of it would be too long and complicated for a televised interview. It's a rare case of her keeping her answers short and tidy by not explaining how issues intersect in the real world. Rather than dismiss it as a "magic trick," however, she should encourage voters to Google the phrase "quantitative easing" and learn for themselves how it works or doesn't.