One week after a CNN town hall event which created a momentary spike of interest in her presidential campaign, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. She hoped to convince reporters from establishment media outlets to give her campaign more coverage because voters are “hungry for more” information about her candidacy.
Washington Post columnist and contrarian Dana Milbank was present. He published a piece on Stein based on what he heard (and decided not to hear) at the Press Club. This was not the kind of media coverage Stein wanted, but it is about what her campaign could expect from a seasoned Beltway hack, who thinks everything he does is hot fire.
Columns from the Washington Post are syndicated widely. Just as the Washington Post introduced Americans to Jill Stein through an article that underhandedly suggested she was anti-vaccine, this column will make an impression on voters. That is why it deserves to be rebutted in its entirety.
In the piece, Milbank attacks Stein for a tactical disagreement with left-wing scholar Noam Chomsky and does so with a joke because Milbank thinks he is hilarious. He once made a joke about what kind of a beer Hillary Clinton would be, “Mad Bitch Beer,” and had to apologize for it. (Yes, sometimes his edginess gets the best of him.)
Milbank cites polls and argues Stein helps Donald Trump by being in the race, which is true, but he did not write a word about the presence of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. His presence in the race is affecting Clinton too. Does he have any sick burns for Johnson?
He praises Stein for calling attention to the planet’s climate emergency then pedantically criticized her for going off message to talk about Clinton’s emails.
During the press conference, the one question Milbank asked related to how the press related to media stories, which ignore the issues. (He introduced himself with a joke because, again, he is one witty guy.)
MILBANK: Dana Milbank with the Washington Post segment of the corporate media. So I have a conundrum I want to present to you. I could write about today, and others could report here, about what an important issue climate change is, and we’d publish it or broadcast it. The fact is that very few people read it, and they’re going to go read or view stories about Trump’s staff machinations or Clinton’s emails. So I’m not sure that the issue is necessarily corporate media but what people are demanding. Why is that?
This is a quite cynical and patronizing view of readers. Most readers are intelligent. In March, Gallup found U.S. concern about global warming is at an eight-year high. If a media organization covered climate change, like they do disarray in the Trump campaign, readers would respond favorably.
Also, Stein started the press conference with a report on the devastation she witnessed in Louisiana from the floods. Milbank could have made that the centerpiece of his post and highlighted how Clinton and Trump are not doing much to connect the disaster to climate change. He chose instead to write this smug column.
Stein answered, “When we have greater diversity of candidate opinion, there is an opportunity to have a more diverse discussion,” and argued issues like the climate crisis were part of discussion months ago because Bernie Sanders engaged a “whole other body of voters” often written off by the media and political campaigns.
Milbank maintains his colleague, Dave Weigel, published a story ignoring more substantive parts of the press conference, like the climate crisis, and it was Stein’s fault because apparently Weigel and other journalists are docile animals in a herd, who only go where political candidates lead them.
Ignoring the past remarks of Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, he asks whether she could expect to garner more than three percent of the vote if she continues to talk about “boycotting Israel, spreads unwarranted fears about vaccines and WiFi, and has a running mate — Ajamu Baraka — who called President Obama an Uncle Tom.”
The answer to this rhetorical question is no. If columnists like Dana Milbank are going to be intellectually dishonest, readers will see Stein as nothing but a hippie crank. And that may be the point, seeing how establishment pundits are not particularly fond of dissident politics.
Milbank wrote a column earlier this year arguing it was insane for the Democratic Party to nominate Sanders for president. He was worried Democrats would have to defend socialism, “massive tax increases,” and a “dramatic expansion of government.” It was better to stick to corporate politics and a culture that prioritizes schmoozing with donors in ritzy hotels over the needs of poor and working class voters.
“Most disturbing is the Green Party nominee’s creation of a phony equivalence between Clinton, a flawed and unloved but conventional candidate, and Trump, who is running a campaign of bigotry, xenophobia and intimations of violence,” Milbank contended.
This is Milbank’s childish response to Stein comparing herself to Clinton and Trump. She never suggested Clinton is a bigot, xenophobe, or violent agitator. She never said there are no differences between Clinton and Trump.
Here is what she said, when disagreeing with Chomsky’s support for a lesser of two evils voting strategy, and what was so flabbergasting to Milbank:
This politics of fear that tells you you have to vote against what you’re afraid of rather than what you truly believe—So Noam Chomsky has supported me in my home state, when he felt safe to do so. I think it’s safe to say my agenda is far closer to his than Hillary Clinton, but he subscribes to the politics of fear. Maybe there’s a generational difference here, but I think young people growing up today do not see the Democratic Party as the party of the New Deal.
She added young people don’t see it as a party that will save young people. They see the Democratic Party as the party of fracking, opening up the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, drone assassinations, wars, and immigrant deportations, detentions, and night raids.
“Donald Trump says terrifying things. Hillary Clinton actually has an extremely troubling record from leading the charge into the catastrophe of Libya to saying send them home to the children fleeing Latin America, which she herself had a hand in by giving a thumbs up to the coup in Honduras [and] ushering in that incredible violence from which tens of thousands are fleeing,” Stein stated.
Milbank’s reaction to examples from Clinton’s record is to declare, “This is the sort of stuff I heard driving between campaign stops with Nader in 2000. It wasn’t entirely true then. Now, with Trump on the ballot, any attempt to draw parallels between the two parties is preposterous.”
What Milbank lacks the fortitude to do is engage in the substance of what Stein said about Clinton. In fact, it is not like Milbank claims Clinton has not been involved in all of those horrible things Stein listed off. It is just that Milbank thinks Americans live in times, where citizens cannot object to Clinton because Trump is far worse.
“In ordinary times, a voice such as Stein’s contributes to the national debate. But these are not ordinary times,” Milbank believes.
His belief is similar to the belief he promoted around Sanders. It was wrong for Americans to support the “political revolution” because if Democrats wound up stuck with a candidate, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, they would not know what to do. So, less democracy is the answer.
Milbank, and other columnists, make these kinds of superficial arguments because they do not think they will be challenged. To them, Stein will be another third-party candidate who flounders. They can mock and marginalize Stein with spoiler mythology that contains all the fallacies of the 2000 Election, which are repeated reflexively every four years. She will not matter because the two-party system will do its job and keep her outside the debates, where she can be arrested by police for engaging in civil disobedience in order to possibly force her way on to a stage.
What is remarkable is somehow what Stein and her supporters stand for is more ludicrous than Milbank’s approach to elections. In 2010, he expressed the following:
My policy in each presidential race is to vote for the best candidate who is not on the ballot. I think this is superior to the Len Downie approach of not voting at all; I don’t have to commit to one candidate or the other in the race, but I can still go through the exercise of who would be a good president. So I voted for McCain in 2000, when Bush and Gore were on the ballot. I voted for Chuck Hagel in 2004, when Bush and Kerry were on the ballot. And I voted for Mike Bloomberg in 2008. I should also add that I live in D.C. so it doesn’t make the slightest difference how I vote.
Anyone who takes this approach can barely be taken seriously. They are obviously so insulated from the realities facing everyday Americans that they treat voting like some personal exercise of virtue, the exact thing which third-party voters are frequently derided for doing.
Let’s be clear: it is not voters, who break with the two-party system in this election who are sanctimonious and out-of-touch. It is people like Milbank, who actively argue against voting your conscience when the stakes for the planet are so high.