Third-party options sabotage progress

Brandon Shi, Opinions Editor

The 2016 presidential election has exposed deep-seated flaws in our electoral system and produced the most unpopular mainstream candidates in 40 years. But considering third-party options is misguided.

While Donald Trump and his supporters seized control of the GOP, the Democrats ran into problems of their own — after Hillary Clinton successfully fought off her socialist primary challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, leaked emails proved that party leaders showed bias in Clinton’s favor. In documents released by WikiLeaks, Democratic Party leadership denounced Sanders as a “liar” and planned to attack his Jewish faith, thereby assisting Clinton in the presidential primary. Afterward, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned.

The controversies have alienated many voters, particularly millennials, prompting some to support Green Party candidate Jill Stein as a more progressive alternative to Clinton. Others have adamantly refused to vote for Clinton through protest movements such as #BernieorBust and #NeverHillary, major voices of dissent at the Democratic National Convention in July.

Yet voting for Stein or demanding #BernieorBust ultimately hinders progressive change. Besides helping Trump in battleground states, these movements underestimate Clinton’s positive qualities and her commitment to progress.

Come Election Day, a third-party vote for Stein or a write-in vote for Bernie Sanders would hurt Clinton and help Trump in key swing states such as Arizona. According to a poll conducted by NBC, the Wall Street Journal, and Marist College, Clinton leads Trump by three percentage points in Arizona until Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are thrown in the mix, cutting both Democratic and Republican candidates to 37 percent each. Considering that other key states such as Florida have Clinton and Trump separated by less than one percent, third-party candidates could very possibly tip the balance.

This mirrors the 2000 election, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader siphoned votes from Democratic candidate Al Gore in Florida, and America got eight years of a Bush presidency.

In addition, Jill Stein is polling extremely low — a RealClearPolitics poll puts her at 4 percent nationally. In Texas, a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in August showed that she was tied with Harambe, the gorilla killed in a Cincinnati zoo in May, and was still behind Deez Nuts, a fictional politician.

According to Ballotpedia, only seven states allow unconditional write-in votes, effectively rendering #BernieorBust a futile effort. Most states require extra paperwork for write-ins, and nine states do not allow them at all. Thus, in some places, a “protest vote” for Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein may not even be possible. Whether these laws favoring a two-party system are fair is irrelevant, as the rules will not be changed for this election.

Therefore, voting for Stein or Sanders may result in a Trump presidency — a reckless, immoral gamble in a high-stakes election. The consequences of this cannot be overstated.

Besides dismantling the human rights of Muslims and undocumented immigrants, a Trump presidency would have the power to nominate a Supreme Court justice. Due to Senate Republicans’ obstruction, a replacement for deceased Justice Antonin Scalia has not been confirmed.

Trump has put forth the names of 11 potential Supreme Court nominees, people he believes would have “similar views and principles” to Scalia. (One of these principles is originalism, the belief that the Constitution should be interpreted to closely follow its original intent, as a 200-year-old document written by white men who owned slaves.) One such nominee, Judge William Pryor, has denounced the abortion rights-affirming 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade as the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,” because centuries of slavery and Jim Crow can be ignored when they don’t fit a pro-life agenda.

On the other hand, Clinton‘s vision of the Supreme Court is one that “will stick with Roe v. Wade … and … marriage equality,” she said in a speech at Washington University in St. Louis.

Should Clinton be elected, the ideological balance of the Court would shift from conservative to liberal for the first time in more than 40 years, with far-reaching consequences in generations to come. The last liberal-leaning court, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, desegregated schools, expanded the constitutional rights of the accused and struck down anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited interracial marriage.

Conversely, a Trump presidency would almost inevitably result in a reversal of abortion rights and the erosion of choice.

Clinton has experience and commitment to progressive change, with decades as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, and her political pragmatism makes her well suited for the presidency.

To be sure, Clinton has made mistakes during her time in office. These include her racially coded rhetoric in support of mass incarceration, her apathy about the repeal of the Glass-Steagall regulations, her vote for war in Iraq, her lukewarm support of same-sex marriage and her failings in Benghazi. Lack of transparency is her critics’ favorite talking point, manifesting itself in her elusive Wall Street speech transcripts and use of a private email server as secretary of state. But at the end of the day, a flawed record is preferable to a nonexistent one.

Despite these shortcomings, Clinton has undeniably participated in many successes — among them health insurance expansion and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to close the wage gap. During her time in the U.S. Senate, poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight ranked her as one of the upper house’s most liberal members.

In addition, Clinton, as well as the Democratic Party’s platform as a whole, has been influenced by Sanders’ platform, proving herself responsive to public pressure. For example, she has promised to tackle America’s student debt, an issue at the forefront of Sanders’ primary challenge.

Clinton has vowed to support college affordability through legislation that would enable families earning less than $125,000 a year to send their kids to public four-year institutions for free. The Clinton campaign stated that this plan was a direct result of Clinton’s June 2016 meeting with Sanders, in which the Vermont senator laid out his policy goals.

On a personal level, Clinton has shown understanding of this crippling problem.

In a leaked fundraising recording, the Democratic candidate said, “They [Sanders supporters] feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don’t see much of a future … I think we all should be really understanding of that.”

Statements like these show that Clinton is not entirely out of touch with the needs of American citizens. According to The Economist, Americans owe more than $1.2 trillion of student debt, a statistic that likely factored into millennials’ overwhelming support for Sanders.

Of course, critics contend that Clinton’s words mean nothing and that if elected, her administration will fail to keep its platform’s promises (such as the $15 minimum wage position adopted at the DNC). Yet Clinton’s receptiveness to popular opinion provides incentive for her to deliver, because if elected, she would almost certainly run for re-election in 2020.

In contrast, Stein’s only elected office is that of a town council member. With her lack of experience, there is no indication that she will be able to carry out her policies on a national level while maintaining a spotless record of uncorrupted political idealism.

But perhaps most importantly, this year is not solely a presidential election. In addition to the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, countless politicians on a state and local level are up for reelection.

Bernie Sanders himself has emphasized this point by simultaneously supporting Clinton while endorsing other politicians on more progressive platforms — a number of which are campaigning for office in the Bay Area. Some of those he has endorsed include Justin Bamberg, an African-American attorney who represented the family of Walter Scott, a victim of police brutality. (Bamberg is running for re-election in the South Carolina House of Representatives.) Another is Korean-American Jane Kim, who fought for affordable housing and against gentrification as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. (Kim is running for a first term in the California State Senate.)

Politicians like Bamberg and Kim offer a clear choice for millennials disillusioned with Clinton. They present the left with a fighting chance in an America where issues such as mass incarceration, climate change, police brutality and economic inequality are becoming more urgent than ever. Should progressives seek to make real change, it must originate from below, in city councils and state legislatures. Idealism and hope best belong in these offices — not the presidency, where they are dampened and disappointed by the trade-offs and negotiations that the position entails.

Movements in favor of third-party candidates and #BernieorBust are nothing more than misdirected anger. And in November, they could very well facilitate a Trump victory, an outcome of unfathomable disaster — not just for liberalism, but for the nation and the world as a whole.