Is Jill Stein the Ralph Nader of 2016?

Dana Mil­bank

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

— Jill Stein, the Green Party pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, fa­vors al­ter­na­tive en­ergy — and

WASH­ING­TON

she leads by ex­am­ple. On Tues­day, she burned one of her own sup­port­ers.

Stein, mak­ing an ap­pear­ance at the Na­tional Press Club in Wash­ing­ton, took her cam­paign on an un­ex­pected de­tour when she ac­cused the famed left­ist Noam Chom­sky of be­ing cow­ardly. The 87-year-old icon of the left, though a backer of Stein’s, has said that the only “ra­tio­nal choice” for swing-state vot­ers is to sup­port Hil­lary Clin­ton over Don­ald Trump.

“How do you get past that hur­dle?” Sam Hus­seini from VotePact, a group that sup­ports third par­ties, asked Stein from the au­di­ence.

The can­di­date, in re­ply, ac­cused Chom­sky of em­brac­ing “this pol­i­tics of fear that tells you have to vote against what you’re afraid of rather than for what you truly be­lieve. So, Noam Chom­sky has sup­ported me in my home state, you know, when he felt safe to do so. I think it’s fair to say my agenda is far closer to his than Hil­lary Clin­ton. But he sub­scribes to the pol­i­tics of fear.”

If op­pos­ing Trump is sub­scrib­ing to the pol­i­tics of fear, then put me down for a life­time sub­scrip­tion.

In or­di­nary times, a voice such as Stein’s con­trib­utes to the na­tional de­bate. But these are not or­di­nary times. Trump’s nar­row path to the pres­i­dency re­quires Stein to do well in Novem­ber, and polls in­di­cate Trump does bet­ter with her in the race. But, 16 years af­ter Ralph Nader helped swing the pres­i­dency to Ge­orge W. Bush from Al Gore, lib­er­als (in­clud­ing Bernie San­ders sup­port­ers) who oth­er­wise agree with Stein are more in­clined to rec­og­nize that she makes more likely the sin­gu­lar threat of a Pres­i­dent Trump.

That’s why, even in this year of change, she’s polling about 3 per­cent in the RealClearPol­i­tics av­er­age of polls. And that, in turn, is why only about half of the 20 seats were full when I ar­rived in the Press Club’s Bloomberg Room (even the Green Party nom­i­nee can’t es­cape those bil­lion­aires) a few min­utes be­fore her news con­fer­ence.

There is much to like about Stein, 66. She ar­rived by cab and took all ques­tions — in marked con­trast to Clin­ton, who has gone more than 260 days with­out a news con­fer­ence. Stein spoke with a pas­sion for pol­icy, re­mark­ing un­bid­den on the plight of the “Stand­ing Rock Sioux in North Dakota” and speak­ing with a physi­cian’s au­thor­ity about “air pol­lu­tion and its var­i­ous se­que­lae.”

“We have a cli­mate emer­gency,” said Stein, “an ab­so­lutely dev­as­tat­ing sea-level rise that would es­sen­tially wipe out coastal pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, in­clud­ing the likes of Man­hat­tan, and Florida” in 50 years. She called this “a Hail Mary mo­ment,” and one in which “we’re re­ally look­ing our mor­tal­ity in the face.”

Stein of­fered a re­fresh­ing break from the 2016 de­bate, which ric­o­chets from Clin­ton’s emails to Trump’s out­rages and staff shake-ups but rarely set­tles on sub­stance. “Our fu­ture is im­per­iled,” she said. “There are more im­por­tant things for us to be talk­ing about.”

But a mo­ment later, there Stein was say­ing Clin­ton “put at risk” na­tional se­cu­rity and the names of CIA agents. Stein said Clin­ton’s char­ac­ter is “not com­pat­i­ble with some­one that you want to trust as the leader of the coun­try.” She con­tin­ued to talk this way about Clin­ton with re­porters in the hall­way af­ter the ses­sion, which nat­u­rally led to head­lines not about cli­mate change but along the lines of this from David Weigel’s ar­ti­cle in The Wash­ing- ton Post: “Jill Stein: Clin­ton emails re­veal se­cu­rity risks, ‘spe­cial deals’ for donors.”

Stein com­plained about the 15 per­cent polling thresh­old keep­ing her and Lib­er­tar­ian Gary John­son out of the pres­i­den­tial de­bates. But can she ex­pect more than her 3 per­cent when she talks of boy­cotting Is­rael, spreads un­war­ranted fears about vac­cines and WiFi, and has a run­ning mate — Ajamu Baraka — who called Pres­i­dent Obama an Un­cle Tom?

Most dis­turb­ing is the Green Party nom­i­nee’s cre­ation of a phony equiv­a­lence be­tween Clin­ton, a flawed and unloved but con­ven­tional can­di­date, and Trump, who is run­ning a cam­paign of big­otry, xeno­pho­bia and in­ti­ma­tions of vi­o­lence.

“Don­ald Trump says ter­ri­fy­ing things. Hil­lary Clin­ton ac­tu­ally has an ex­tremely trou­bling record,” Stein said Tues­day, call­ing the Democrats the “party of frack­ing,” the “party of ex­pand­ing wars” and the “party of im­mi­grant de­por­ta­tions.”

This is the sort of stuff I heard driv­ing be­tween cam­paign stops with Nader in 2000. It wasn’t en­tirely true then. Now, with Trump on the bal­lot, any at­tempt to draw par­al­lels be­tween the two par­ties is pre­pos­ter­ous.

Noam Chom­sky knows that. It ap­pears vot­ers do, too.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Contact him at danamil­bank@ wash­post.com.

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