On Voting and Responsibility: The Green Temptation in NY 19


A recent WAMC debate between the candidates in the closely contested New York 19th congressional district was a surprise in that, according to many of my friends from across the political spectrum, it was won by a candidate few had heard of, the Green Party’s Steve Greenfield.

It is likely, even certain, that some of those impressed by Greenfield’s performance will support him at the polls next week thereby taking votes away from the Democrat Antonio Delgado to the benefit of the Republican John Faso.

One outcome, however, is certain: whoever wins, it won’t be Greenfield who will acquire no more than a small fraction of the total votes.

The reason for this has nothing to do with Greenfield’s positions which, as Greenfield himself points out, are widely popular compared to those of his competitors. For example, neither Delgado nor Faso supports Medicare for All. Greenfield does, in accordance with the views of almost all Democrats and even a majority of Republicans.

Greenfield’s dismal showing will not be a reflection of his platform but rather of the organizational support which the Green Party can offer its candidate. This is, to put it bluntly, negligable compared to that of the Democrats and Republicans. Any number of indications of will suffice to make the point-the countless flyers from the major parties and allied organizations, the barrage of social media ads, the thousands of canvassers knocking on doors and phone bankers enlisted by the two major party candidates. We have all received these. Only one of these hundreds of pitches for my vote came from the Greenfield campaign or the Greens.(1)

The result of this disparity is that only a small fraction of voters know who Steve Greenfield is. Of those who do, probably most are aware that he is marginal and will not waste their votes on a sure loser.

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If Faso wins the result will be a paradox for many of Greenfield’s supporters: by voting for the candidate who is most closely representative of their views, they will have achieved the victory of the candidate who is least representative of them.

But such is the nature of our first past the post electoral system.

Those using it to express what they want the most often provide a victory for what they want the least.

That means that progressives will need to work within the primary system to obtain candidates acceptable to us. Fortunately, as should be obvious, this approach has proven to be very successful over the past few months with the primary victories of Democratic Socialists Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, James Thompson, Randy Bryce, Richard Ojeda and many others.

A primary victory could have happened here in NY 19 with two progressive candidates competing against five centrists last September. Had progressive groups not split their vote between Jeff Beals and David Clegg, their combined total would have been sufficient to put a candidate over the top. But regional progressives have yet to obtain the organizational strength to recruit and advance their own candidates and operate in effective coalitions with each other. The result is that we had to choose from an unsatisfactory field among whom Delgado was the best financed and the favorite of party insiders.

In any case, to maintain the illusion that third party congressional candidates have anything other than a prayer to compete against major party candidates stuffed with millions of dollars is foolish. Nor does it do anyone any good to ignore the fact that the consequences of supporting Greenfield could very well be a Faso victory. That would make more continuing Republican control of the house more likely.

The prospect of two more years of the most dangerous organization in human history in unchecked power is nothing that any rational person should want to imagine.

And we should do everything in power to prevent it, as we should have in November 2016.

(1) My receipt of Greenfield’s campaign literature likely was due to my having been, like Greenfield himself, a two term Green Party official.  (See here.)

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