The Universal Notebook: What's left of me?

16

Over the 14 years I have been writing this column, I have grown accustomed to being called a communist and a socialist by anonymous posters who disagree with my liberal political views.

But I am not as far to the left as some folks seem to believe.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a communist, though I do see value in the forms of democratic socialism that exist in Scandinavian countries, where they have a higher standard of living than the U.S. as well as better education and better health care.

Most of the time I am defending myself from people who are to the political right of me, but a few weeks ago I found myself in the novel position of defending myself from someone more liberal than I am.

Bowdoin College professor emeritus John Rensenbrink, a founder of the Green Party in Maine and the nation, challenged me at a neighborhood gathering to defend my support for Hillary Clinton, whom he sees as just another military imperialist. I told Rensenbrink I respect his idealism, but the political purism of the Greens is just not pragmatic in my view.

In a recent issue of Green Horizon, Rensenbrink reflected on the 2016 election by suggesting that Trump voters were people “left in the lurch by the madness for imperial power and military solutions by top Democratic echelons.”

“They voted against the party that had for decades claimed to be their succor of support,” he argued, “but which had gradually over those decades switched more and more to imperial and attendant military adventures and militarist thinking.”

It’s my impression that Trump supporters want more militarism, not less.

Rensenbrink rejected the observation that he is farther to the left than I am, saying he doesn’t think in those terms. Fair enough, but I do and, along the American political spectrum from socialism on the left to constitutional nationalism on the right, what’s left of me are Greens and socialists.

I would label myself a progressive Democrat, to the right of which are moderate Democrats, libertarian Democrats, conservative Democrats, Main Street Republicans, libertarian Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party Republicans, far right Republicans and Constitutionalists. Out on the far fringes of solipsism, where left meets right, there are the anarchists who embrace radical individualism.

I voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, foolishly accepting the mistaken idea that there was no meaningful difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore, both solid establishment candidates. I will never make that mistake again.

So when Green Party candidate Jill Stein said, “There are differences between Clinton and Trump, no doubt, but they’re not different enough to save your life, to save your job, to save the planet,” I frankly wrote her off as a self-righteous fool. The fact that she sat at Putin’s table at that infamous Russian TV gala along with Gen. Mike Flynn pretty much confirmed as much.

Third-party and independent candidates reflexively reject the suggestion that they are spoilers, but they often are. If you can’t win, you can’t help. Ralph Nader was the spoiler in the decisive Florida race in 2000, and Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson were the spoilers in 2016. Just as Eliot Cutler’s quixotic quests for the Blaine House delivered Maine into the darkness of eight years of Paul LePage, so Stein is partially responsible for the pall the Trump presidency has cast over America.

In the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump eked out his shallow victory, Stein and Johnson took away enough idealistic votes to deliver a Trump Electoral College win. Trump only won by 11,000 votes in Michigan, for example, where Stein got 51,000 votes and Johnson 172,000. Were it not for these wasted spoiler votes, the United States would not be the laughing stock of the world on the brink of nuclear war.

No meaningful difference between Trump and Clinton, Ms. Stein? Not in Supreme Court nominations? Environmental protection? Energy policy? Civil rights? Health care? Foreign policy? Don’t be ridiculous.

I believe pretty much what Buddhists believe, but I am not a Buddhist. I am a Congregationalist. And I believe pretty much what Greens believe, but I am not a member of the Green Party. I am a Democrat. That’s because the perfect is the enemy of the good. If you demand ideological purity you hand power to your opponent.

The narrow Republican victory in 2016 was in large part a function of the fragmentation of the left, the failure to unite behind a candidate who could win. That candidate was not Bernie Sanders. It was not Gary Johnson. And it certainly was not Jill Stein. That candidate was Hillary Clinton.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.