This past weekend, Jill Stein was officially nominated by the Green Party as its candidate for president of the United States. Here at Tablet, despite Stein’s Jewish background, we haven’t covered her campaign. In large part, this is because her story was eclipsed by the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in American history. Indeed, unlike the Vermont senator, Stein has proved largely inconsequential to this point.
But at a time when a third of Sanders supporters still haven’t committed to backing Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump in the general election, where every percentage point will matter, Stein’s candidacy looms larger. Many good people are only just discovering her campaign, and wondering if she might be worthy of their vote. Which is why it’s time for responsible political observers to say what has been commonly understood among those who have followed Stein for years: Friends don’t let friends vote for Jill Stein.
To be clear, this post is not meant as a criticism of Stein’s supporters. In my experience, many of these well-meaning individuals imagine they are voting for a bold, progressive changemaker who won’t pander to special interests and who will demonstrate the knowledge and political courage to enact real reform. Even if Stein won’t win, these idealists believe that they are voting their conscience by backing the candidate who best represents their values.
The only problem is, upon closer inspection, Jill Stein bears no resemblance to such a candidate. Let us count the ways.
She stokes ignorance rather than dispelling it. A Harvard-trained doctor, Stein has nonetheless consistently pandered to the ignorance of her supporters in her area of expertise, rather than educating them. Sometimes, this can be amusing, as when Stein granted credence to a constituent who agitated about the dangers of Wi-Fi. “We should not be subjecting kids’ brains, especially, to that,” the Harvard M.D. said.
But even this entertaining exchange has darker implications. After all, Wi-Fi has been a remarkable resource for poor communities, libraries, and schools. It has granted access to the internet and online educational tools to thousands of students and teachers, all without the costly hardware and set-up of wired connections. To fearmonger about Wi-Fi to uninformed parents, then, is to risk depriving students of basic building blocks for their futures.
Other times, however, the dangerous consequences of Stein’s irresponsible pandering are readily apparent. Such is the case when it comes to her hedging on the efficacy and alleged hazards of vaccines. “As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved,” Stein told the Washington Post. “There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury, which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.”
As the liberal site Vox pointed out, “this seemed like a dog whistle and pandering to anti-vaxxers, who say vaccines are unsafe and cause autism, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows otherwise.” (All of the concerns Stein raised are reasons wrongly proffered by anti-vaxxers for why vaccines cause autism and other alleged maladies.) Stein later deleted a tweet stating that “there’s no evidence that autism is caused by vaccines” and replaced it with one saying merely that “I’m not aware of evidence linking autism with vaccines.”
As this delicate equivocation shows, the problem is not that Stein thinks that vaccines (or Wi-Fi, for that matter) are genuinely harmful. It’s that she is unwilling to forthrightly face those who think otherwise and tell them the unvarnished but necessary truth. Which is, of course, what we rely on our leaders to do when it comes to difficult subjects.
She expresses strong opinions on important issues, then completely reverses course with no explanation. In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in the U.K., Stein posted a celebratory statement on her website. “The vote in Britain to exit the European Union (EU) is a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination and who reject the pro-corporate, austerity policies of the political elites in EU,” she declared. “Britain has spoken for much of humanity as it rejects the failed vision of a world that prioritizes profit for the few amidst hardship for the many. Now we must build on this momentum.”
This was a strange stance to take, since Brexit was largely opposed by progressive forces in Britain and Europe, and especially by young people. Stein was quickly hit with withering criticism from these quarters. But rather than defend her stance, Stein simply deleted and replaced her statement with an anti-Brexit one, with no explanation or apology.
The issue here is not whether Stein was right or wrong on either of these subjects. It’s that she appeared to be entirely ignorant of them, and as such found herself enthusiastically cheerleading for prominent causes, only to disavow them almost immediately afterward. This lack of basic fluency, competency, and transparency is not typically what one expects from a presidential candidate, let alone one running as an enlightened progressive.
She traffics in extreme and irresponsible rhetoric about her opponents and elevates conspiracy theories into the discourse. Last month, Stein was asked by a Boston reporter how she’d feel if her campaign siphoned votes away from Hillary Clinton and gave Donald Trump the presidency. Her answer was astonishing:
The answer to neofascism is stopping neoliberalism. Putting another Clinton in the White House will fan the flames of this right-wing extremism. We have known that for a long time ever since Nazi Germany. We are going to stand up to Donald Trump and to stand up to Hillary Clinton!
Stein’s claim that Clinton-esque neoliberal policies somehow had anything to do with Nazism was not only ahistorical and nonsensical, it cheapened the Holocaust to make a dishonest political point.
But casting Nazi aspersions on the Clintons and doubts on vaccines and Wi-Fi are not the only conspiracy theories Stein has laundered into the mainstream. She has even peddled misinformation about her prospects to her own supporters in requests for campaign cash:
Jill Stein fundraising off a poll on the website of a local TV station that was obviously swarmed by her supporters. pic.twitter.com/8m4lu69uVs
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) August 2, 2016
Meanwhile, earlier this year, Stein’s running mate, Ajamu Baraka, contributed an essay to a volume edited by Holocaust denier and 9/11 truther Kevin Barrett. The anthology’s title? Another False Flag? Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernadino. A veritable who’s who of bigots and conspiracy theorists, the book posits that the Charlie Hebdo attacks and many others were perpetrated by the CIA and Mossad.
She has whitewashed abusive dictators and despots. In December 2015, Stein visited Moscow, where she publicly denounced American foreign policy, then personally dined with Vladimir Putin. At no point did Stein criticize the Russian leader for his repressive regime and in particular its cruel treatment of LGBT people.
This tendency to turn a blind eye to the abuses of despots is shared by Stein’s hand-picked running mate, Baraka, who deemed Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria who has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people, to be a man with democratic legitimacy.
Looking at the above, it is striking how many of these criticisms pertain not just to Stein, but to the Republican candidate she claims to oppose: Donald Trump. He too plays on the ignorance and fears of his followers. He too reverses himself on key issues, demonstrating a total lack of fluency. He too has an affinity for Vladimir Putin and other human rights violators. He too spreads conspiracy theories. And he too deploys extreme and irresponsible rhetoric about his rivals.
Stein has invested considerable time and effort attempting to liken her progressive rival Hillary Clinton to Trump, as any glance at her Twitter feed and speeches will attest:
“Donald Trump says despicable things, but Hillary Clinton has a terrifying track record.” #GNCinHOU #ItsInOurHands pic.twitter.com/d2zkz8VhCz
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) August 6, 2016
I am truly terrified by two candidates who compete for who will be more destructive to the world. #DemsInPhilly
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) July 29, 2016
While it’s horrifying to hear the draconian things that @realDonaldTrump is talking about, we’ve actually seen @HillaryClinton doing them.
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) June 10, 2016
Yet, like Trump, Stein panders to the worst of her constituents rather than using her platform to bring out the best in them. Whether through ignorance or intent, she has given cover to some of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers. And she and her running mate have fanned the flames of disturbing conspiracy theories.
Jill Stein is entitled to do all of this. She is even entitled to parade herself as a progressive paragon while trampling on that community’s cherished values.
What she is not entitled to is your vote.