Sustainable full employment is within reach: Green Party U.S. presidential candidate Stein

October 3, 2012

As Americans get ready or tonight’s presidential debate, there’s one candidate they won’t be seeing on television and may not even have heard of: Jill Stein, a Harvard-trained doctor and Green Party candidate. Stein is promising a Green New Deal that she says could create more than 20 million jobs, 16 million through a government-sponsored program for full employment and millions more due to the increase in demand that would come from the new investments. She wants to expand Medicare coverage for all Americans and sharply reduce military spending, and says her policies would reduce the deficit by boosting tax revenues. She spoke to Reuters recently by telephone. What follows is an abbreviated transcript of the interview.

The Green Party does not appear to have realistic chance to win a major election at the moment. What is the goal of your candidacy?

An election is a wonderful time when people get involved and have a much broader conversation than usual. My hope is that we can drive some really critical solutions that already have majority support from the American public, that we can actually drive them into a political system that has been terribly hijacked and disconnected from the interests of everyday people.

I think it is beginning to spread like a little bit of a wildfire. I’m not holding my breath that we are going to turn the White House into a Green House. Someday that will happen, I’m not sure whether it will happen this time or not.  But regardless I think, if we don’t win the office we still can win the day by driving these critical issues forward and into the public dialogue that are otherwise just going to be completely swept off the table. Really creating jobs. Medicare for all. Public higher education for free. A Moratorium on foreclosures. Bringing home our military.

How difficult would it be to accomplish these things politically given the resistance that, say, the Obama administration faces when it attempts anything that even edges close to the word stimulus. Why do you think the political system continues to support leaders that work in a way that’s so different from the vision that you have?

In a way that’s so contrary to the expressed priorities of the public. The public wants jobs, they don’t want tax breaks. The public is concerned about jobs, not about paying down the deficit, in poll after poll. Yet Washington is totally riveted on the deficit. It’s quite clear that our democracy has been hung out to dry. We have the best democracy money can buy and both political parties are competing within a narrow spectrum for their corporate funders’ dollars. That’s essentially what they’re competing for, that’s what their election’s about. And the American public has been entirely lost in the shuffle.

There are statistics from 2011 for example that clarify how incredibly hijacked the whole campaign finance system is, looking at Barack Obama’s funding through the Joint Victory Fund, which is for the Democratic National Committee as well as Barack Obama’s campaign contributions. The numbers are absolutely mind-boggling. It’s something like 99 percent of all donations are coming in chunks of $1,000 or more. Who has that kind of money? These donations for our political system are coming from a tiny tiny fraction – something like a millionth of a percent, something on that order. So it’s no surprise that the political agenda has nothing to do with, and in fact is quite contrary to, the interests of the vast majority of the American public, who are paying dearly, with their homes, with their prospects of education which is no longer affordable, with our climate that is in an all-out meltdown and is only getting worse. Those key issues don’t count and what the establishment is doing is not only not fixing them, both parties have actually been accelerating them in the wrong direction, to the point where people are actually waking up now and that’s very much because everyday people are in the crosshairs.

One out of every two Americans is now in poverty or low-income heading towards poverty, whose ranks are growing by the millions every year, so people get that doing more of what’s gotten us here is not a solution. In fact, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan for that matter have any solution that provides an exit strategy from the crises we face. They basically provide more of the same with greater intensity. It’s basically failure on steroids that they’re offering, without acknowledging that the system is not working.

How much of a handicap is campaign finance? Now that you’re actually running – why is it that popular sentiment, if it is sufficiently strong, has so far been unable to overcome the moneyed, subsidized interests that you argue are running politics?

That’s the question: Can we overcome this system that is sending us really on a trajectory for catastrophe. It’s much like the question faced by the people of Egypt. There, they were facing a 40-year entrenched dictatorship with all the power of the military behind it, and no one in their right mind would have thought for a minute that they had a prayer of a chance of changing things. Yet they booted that dictator out on his head in three weeks of getting out and making themselves heard.

In many ways we have similar drivers here. That is, a generation of young people that does not have a future, who do not have jobs. The jobs they have flipping burgers aren’t sufficient to pay back their loans. They’re effectively indentured servants. And on top of that they’re looking at a climate which is crashing on their heads. So there’s a lot of desperation out there among young people. There’s been an incredible political transition.

Let me just describe to you if I could one incident that really turned my head around. I thought I was doing my citizen duty, my duty as a mother, to run this race. I felt it was outrageous that the attack on Medicare and Social Security that was launched by President Obama a year ago, when he put them on the chopping block as part of the solution to a debt-ceiling crisis. That was the first time I became involved in national politics at all, I’d always been involved at the local level, building up from the grass roots, which is the way democracies could grow. And when I heard that the Democrats would be leading the charge against Medicare and Social Security, I thought it would be absolutely unconscionable to let this go unchallenged in this election. For the first time I became involved with the national network of the party to help find and recruit some poor soul to run for office and ensure that this not go unchallenged. In the process I got recruited myself. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it expecting it to be a very bitter, vicious, contested role to play. But I found once I got out there that it was exactly the opposite. This is the easiest campaign I’ve ever run. In fact it’s like giving out candy. Because people are so hungry for what we’re talking about. It’s just astonishing that there’s been a political sea change happening really under the radar.

Let me ask you a little bit about the specifics of how you envision getting there. While the deficit may not be the top issue on people’s agenda, people are still concerned about it and they have the impression that we are on the wrong path and that the debt is going to get us into trouble. Is that the case and, if so, how do we do both? How do we pay for the things that you envision doing?

We can do this. I don’t discount its importance as a long-term issue. But given where we are now, the way to actually deal with the deficit is by establishing jobs now which are secure, which transition us to a secure, sustainable economy that begins to return those revenues which were the key driver of the sky-rocketing deficit. We see the Green New Deal as really critical for jumpstarting those jobs which are community-based, which reestablish local economies where dollars recirculate. Every dollar counts for more because of the multiplier effect where the dollar circulates through an economy rather than being shipped overseas to corporate headquarters or the Cayman islands. Local economies have an inherent efficiency.

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