Jill Stein has selected her running mate the day before the convention opens: Cheri Honkala, of Pennsylvania. CBS has the story, in the inimitable style that is the Mainstream Media attempting to understand something that hasn’t been gatekeeper-approved yet. At least CBS isn’t openly mocking Stein, but read the story and see if there isn’t an undertone there of, “Wait…who are you again and what are you doing in our election?”
The choice is mildly interesting. Honkala is National Coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, among other accomplishments in a fairly impressive resume; I’d put her up against Joe Biden, certainly, and whomever Mitt Romney chooses. Her record and speaking style (I have heard her speak briefly) suggest someone who can stand her ground, and her choice highlights Stein’s commitment to domestic economic issues as the primary focus of her campaign. It also represents something of a reversal for Stein, who during the primaries suggested she would be looking for geographic balance for the ticket, which seemed to indicate Kent Mesplay of California, who ran a distant third in the voting in his third attempt at the nomination. Mesplay certainly would have been the better choice in terms of foreign policy and environmental policy, but wasn’t a dynamic speaker, sometimes coming across as awkward and ill-prepared.
Honkala has a few obvious deficiencies, the biggest of which is her narrow focus. The Stein campaign will have to get her up to speed on a host of secondary issues. While Honkala’s approach can be a bit unpolished, she’s principled and progressive, she seems intelligent, and she should be easier to train than, say, Sarah Palin. Lack of experience unfortunately comes with the territory: the Greens’ local focus means that those who are elected generally don’t view their offices as stepping stones as the duopoly candidates often do (thereby counting out another good candidate, Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of Richmond, California). The idea of two women on the ticket was already established by the Greens in 2008, and shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of novelty or negative. And, of course, there’s her lack of fame.
The obvious choice, and one that I thought was more possible the longer it took Stein to make a decision, was Roseanne Barr, who finished second behind Stein in the delegate count. Barr’s candidacy – and Stein’s – highlighted the basic dichotomy that the Green Party runs into in every single election under our rigged two-party system in the United States. While they agreed broadly on the issues, as Greens in the Presidential primary tend to do given that they are more focused than either the Republicans or Democrats, their approaches couldn’t have been further apart. Stein outlined a progressive Green agenda, labeling it “the Green New Deal”, integrating a host of new policies in the domestic economy, labor, trade, and the environment together. The approach was criticized by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, one of the few reporters who treat full democracy candidates as equal to the duopoly, as being light on specifics, which was only somewhat valid; the more cogent takeaway from Stein’s Green New Deal is that neither Obama nor Romney is proposing anything remotely similar, not because of the usual fairy-tale excuses of blaming “the other” for laws they didn’t attempt to pass in the first place, but because they quite obviously don’t want what Stein wants for America – in other words, something actually progressive and sanely populist in nature.
Barr, on the other hand, fell back on her Hollywood roots and concocted a campaign that was more performance art than electoral politics. If Stein was light on specifics, Barr skipped them altogether and proudly announced she didn’t know a thing about various bills that were in the legislature or diplomatic negotiations with any countries overseas. She had no plan and no campaign other than to loudly and repeatedly announce her frustration with the duopoly on talk shows, peppered with shoot-from-the-hip comments on all things political and a few things that weren’t (such as the Catholic Church). She hated the current system and was going to use the largest megaphone possible to let people know – and, admitted, a lot of those people she was talking to understood precisely where she was coming from, and still do.
The problem was that Stein and Barr aren’t Democrats or Republicans. The method for campaigning within those two parties is fairly well-established: obtain elite approval and line up the money; this in turn will engage the correct flavor of Mainstream Media, who will, without much filtering, broadcast your every word. (Opposing flavors of MSM will oppose you regardless of what you say, but that is also used to energize your campaign.) Greens and other full democracy parties are ignored because they have no approval from anyone special, and therefore receive no money, no voice, and no special laws or regulations to keep them from being arrested. In response, one can just go home, and give up on the process, or one can join an approved duopoly party, and give up on your principles, but if you choose to stay in the fight, there are basically only two ways around this lack of democracy in our country: run a dignified campaign that is every bit the equal or better of the duopoly candidates in substance and tone, or be a celebrity and/or make as much of a spectacle of yourself as humanly possible to attract the miniscule attention of the MSM as a novelty, and collect a few votes from those who consider you as such. Stein chose the former; Barr, the latter.
There are huge pitfalls to both approaches. Celebrity candidates often haul along a huge ego – Ralph Nader’s was essentially his Achilles’ heel, and it caused him to break from the Greens and damage both their brand and his own while he blithely jumped the shark as an independent, assuring his accrued energy in the progressive movement all but dissipated. On the other hand, homegrown candidate David Cobb was completely ignored out of existence during his run in 2004. Greens enthusiastically supported Cynthia McKinney in 2008 as what seemed like a reasonable combination: a former Congresswoman who’d gained some fame in her own right as a firebrand progressive, but she proved to be unstable, combining the worst aspects of both: an egotist who dabbled more in conspiracy theory and political stunts than presenting actual political solutions.
A Stein/Barr ticket had a similarly high potential upside, but carried the same risk. At its best, Barr’s star power would have attracted the cameras for Stein’s big ideas and Presidential rhetoric. At worst, Barr’s antics would overshadow Stein and damage the Green brand, and Stein’s reasoned approach would produce yawns from a criminally ignorant MSM who were out looking for the latest contestant on Dancing With the Stars. It should be noted that Barr has the speaking slot directly before Stein at the convention, and one hopes that she’d keep the ego in check, engage the brain-to-mouth filter, and congratulate Stein politely to move the party forward (she had earlier sent out a tweet saying she felt “ignored” by the party).
Did Stein make the right choice? It remains to be seen…but what’s clear now is that she is steering the Green Party in favor of standing on its political chops and hoping that the better mousetrap – and not the glitzy packaging – will indeed cause people to beat a path to the door.