The question facing every independent candidate for President is credibility. Common sense may question how Democrats and Republicans remain credible, but the hard fact remains that the two major parties effectively credential themselves by duopolizing government. That forces independent challengers, most of whom, unless they've bolted from one of the major parties, to propose different standards of credibility or different credentials qualifying someone for the Presidency. The Green Party faced a challenge of credibility within its own ranks this spring. Its principal contenders for the presidential nomination were Dr. Jill Stein, a Harvard-educated physician, expert in environmental medicine, and community activist, and the standup comedienne turned sitcom star Roseanne Barr. In theory, Barr was no less credible as a political candidate than Al Franken, though Barr lacks an equal record in politically-oriented writing. Unfairly, perhaps, it is more difficult to imagine Barr participating in dignified parliamentary deliberation than it was to imagine such a role for Franken, who made his name in part by playing a mock-serious commentator on Saturday Night Live's news segments. Unfair it may be, but it would always be difficult to distinguish the message from the messenger in Barr's case, and her persona as an abrasive, obnoxious blowhard certainly helped make her candidacy implausible for a majority of Green primary voters. She won delegates to represent her at this weekend's national convention in Baltimore, but in the end Dr. Stein outpolled her by nearly three-to-one on the first ballot. The convention then tapped Cheri Honkala, once a homeless person, as Stein's running mate.
Stein certainly has the educational credentials as well as a respectable occupation. She has considerable experience as a campaigner, but very little in governance above the town-meeting level. She may prove a familiar face to Mitt Romney, should she be allowed to participate in televised debates, since they shared a stage when both were candidates in the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial election, in which Stein won 3% of the vote. If administrative or executive experience in the political realm is demanded of a President, Stein must fail to meet expectations. Should those be the only expectations of a candidate? The Green campaign inevitably must be one of ideas, with Stein pitching radical new approaches to economic recovery under the rubric of a "Green New Deal." If you agree with the ideas, should you ask whether Stein actually can implement them? The Greens would help answer that question if they'd run more candidates for Congress. Still, a President Stein would have the "bully pulpit" and would probably never be accused of double standards should she need to denounce a "do-nothing" Congress. Many anti-Bipolarchy advocates would rather see independents focus on smaller, local races first and build a national movement by increments. There certainly should be more independent candidates in every congressional district, but it doesn't follow that one strategy must preclude the other. We need every reminder we can get that there are more than two choices at every level of government, and if our presidential votes are as much matters of principle as our congressional or mayoral votes, then whether the best candidate on principle can accomplish anything in a hostile Capitol isn't automatically the decisive consideration. It's too soon for this blog to endorse a candidate, but I wish Dr. Stein the best of luck in her campaign.
To read more about the Stein-Honkala ticket, visit the Greens' website and Stein's campaign page.